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14 Jul 2016

Off the Air: Community Radio Station KDHS Shifts Its Focus After a Licensing Snafu

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According to station owner Michelle Ann Rizzio, her father received a fraudulent license when he founded the station years ago. According to station owner Michelle Ann Rizzio, her father received a fraudulent license when he founded the station years ago.

Desert Hot Springs’ community radio station is off the air—but the family that runs the station still has big plans for what is known as KDHS.

The Independent did a piece on KDHS back in March, when the low-frequency station was on the air at 98.9 FM. The story, however, raised the eyebrows of at least one reader, who noted that those call letters were licensed for a station in Alaska. Around that same time, station owner Michelle Ann Rizzio—who a while back took over management from her father, who founded the station—said she learned that something was amiss.

“Essentially, I went to check on our (FCC registration number) and validate it, since the story was published. I had my questions about the license, because it didn’t look the way I had seen licenses at stations I worked at in the past,” Rizzio said. “I had brought it up to my dad, and he had said he was sure it was OK—but one day, I went by intuition and looked up the FRN. I did, and that number was registered to another person in Texas.

“We knew of one other KDHS in Alaska, and we had been in contact with each other through the years. Then I found out there were no call letters related to our station.”

She said she discovered the license that had been sold to her father was fraudulent.

“I looked under the person who sold the license to my father, and under his name, and I found a myriad of (low-power FM) licenses, none of them registered under KDHS,” she said. “My dad paid him something like $250 to have this FCC license. You usually don’t have to pay for it; you just apply, apply for your antenna, and pay for everything yourself once the FCC approves you. So it’s not this pay-to-get-a-license thing, especially for low-power FM stations. They’re usually given for educational reasons, church reasons and community reasons.”

Rizzio said she spent a whole day on the phone talking with people at the Federal Communications Commission in an effort to clear things up.

“I was like, ‘Can you guys please help me? I can’t seem to find my license anywhere,’” she said. “They looked through everything and called many different offices. There was this one lady I called back throughout the day after she gave me her extension, and she said, ‘I don’t understand this. Why would someone charge your dad? This isn’t right, and something is wrong here.’ She asked how long we were operating for, and I said, ‘A long time.’ She said, ‘And you don’t have a license?’ I said, ‘I do, but obviously… .’ She said, ‘My recommendation would be to go off the air right now.’ They were very kind, and they did say to use precautions moving forward.”

Rizzio said she received some criticism following the publication of the article in the Independent.

“I did get some backlash from the community, and there were a couple of radio broadcasters who caught on to what was going on around the same time I had caught on to everything,” she said. “They started calling me a ‘poseur with a keyboard’ and messaging me really nasty things on our Facebook when I was in the process of rebranding.”

As for that rebranding: Rizzio is still using the KDHS name to promote events such as local music shows and a record swap meet, and to have a presence on social media.

“I decided to pull the string, go dark for a while, and focus on building the Facebook and doing a lot of footwork following up with getting a public production space in Desert Hot Springs,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lead for a space on Pierson Drive, and I’m putting in a proposal into the city. As soon as that proposal gets approved, then I get to propose my full business plan and what I want to do. The city is willing to pay for me to do it and (allow me to) use the space rent-free. I’ll be able to get the volunteers from KDHS to work in the space, and might even be able to pay two people to run the space.

“I shifted from the community-radio concept to creating a local music stream, which will be on 24/7, and it will be all music from the Coachella Valley. I’m waiting until we get 24 hours  of music, given I only have five hours right now, and I don’t want it to be the same annoying five-hour stream.”

Rizzio said she also wants to help people in the community learn valuable skills.

“I’m also transitioning that into a company called Knowledge Desert Hot Springs,” she explained. “It will be a knowledge hub where you’ll walk in and be greeted by one of our people, and they’ll help people make a business plan, reach out to venture capitalists, and get them started. We’ll be teaching résumé building, business-model and business-plan building, and the entire Adobe Creative Suite and Illustrator. I want to offer these to anyone who comes in … because I have all the education and resources to teach them how to use it.”

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