PORT TOWNSEND — On its 10th anniversary as a nonprofit radio station, KPTZ-FM 91.9 is about to move into a building more than three times the size of its old digs.
The eclectically formatted station signed onto the air May 14, 2011, with a crew of volunteers and an 800-square-foot studio in a portable building next to the Mountain View Pool. Its mission: to build and strengthen community across the North Olympic Peninsula with programs that educate, entertain and, in case of emergency, provide free information over the airwaves.
Two years ago, long before the pandemic, KPTZ’s Robert Ambrose, host of the program “Rhythm Connection” and president of the board, launched a capital campaign to move the station into Fort Worden’s Makers Square. This campaign would go on to raise nearly $1 million for renovation of one of the oldest structures on the Fort Worden campus: Building 305, known as the Quartermaster Storehouse when it was constructed in 1905.
Ambrose, with his fellow volunteers and a large flock of local listeners who are also donors, raised the money. KPTZ will move into the 2,500-square-foot building this summer, to become Makers Square’s anchor. The station’s board signed a 19-year lease last month with Makers Square Master Tenant LLC, under the nonprofit Fort Worden Foundation.
“There are all these creative organizations here, producing culture,” Ambrose said of the fort campus.
“From the beginning, we’ve wanted to connect with them,” by hosting live performances and collaborations with neighbors such as Centrum.
Over the past 14 months, KPTZ has stepped much deeper into its role as emergency information provider. Multiple public service announcements, weekday newscasts, interviews with healthcare providers and broadcasts of Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke’s briefings to the county Board of Commissioners have filled the days as the pandemic developed.
At the same time, the station reduced its volunteer corps to a skeleton crew and closed its cramped studios to the public in an effort to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“What a year. What a year and a half,” said Chris Bricker, the volunteer host of both “Compass,” one of KPTZ’s public affairs programs, and “Morning on the Salish,” his music show from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays.
Bricker was part of the crew staffing the table outside KPTZ on Thursday. The station has just begun its fundraising drive with volunteers greeting listeners outside the studio at 1925 Blaine St., while encouraging online donations at KPTZ.org.
Throughout the long emergency of the past year, the station has also continued broadcasting rock’n’roll, jazz, pop, blues, classical, African, Romani, Brazilian and even disco music programs. Dozens of locally produced shows range from “Deeper Blues” with Chicago Bob Longmire on Tuesdays, “Bring Your Records” with station cofounder Larry Stein on Wednesdays and “Beach Rumble” with Ruby Fitch on Saturdays, to “Exploring Music” with Tigran Arekelyan and “KPTZ Goes to the Opera” with Colin Foden on Sundays.
Kate Ingram is the general manager of KPTZ and one of a handful of paid staffers. The station’s budget has grown to $144,000 this past fiscal year, she said — with the majority raised from listeners. During the fundraiser running through next Wednesday, Ingram and crew hope to raise $50,000 for operating expenses.
Ingram also looks forward to launching new programming focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, and adding more people of color to the station’s volunteer ranks.
Both Ingram and Fitch, who is the station’s programming lead, believe KPTZ has made it to this point thanks to its supply of volunteer energy.
“Anyone can join. Anyone can contribute,” said Fitch.
“That’s what inspires me … It’s powered by the community, you know?”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] news.com.