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Independent Radio Station Goes Solar

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“Big Rick” Kitzmiller

Long before you could post photos of your used refrigerator or car for sale on the internet, somebody in the rural United States was calling a local radio station to tell neighbors about their valuable castoffs. Back in the 90s, listeners in East Tennessee could call in live on the air during Trading Time.  On WYSH am 1380 today, loyal listeners are still calling in and trading to their hearts’ content.

“It’s a whole lot quicker than e-bay, you don’t have to take all the pictures,” says Ricky Kitzmiller, the radio host they call Big Rick. From the sound of the 10:00 am show, lots of boat motors, washing machines and livestock seem to get bought and sold in the town of Clinton and the surrounding area.  

There isn’t much talk about green lifestyles or sustainability.  Yet, the people who use this free community service seem to let nothing go to waste.  One man wanted to sell his wife’s old laptop computer before they could afford to buy a new one.  Some household items are just given away.  If you’re looking to buy a backyard chicken, someone else on Trading Time may have one for you. Kitzmiller faithfully jots down each item along with the caller’s contact information, in case an interested person calls back later.

News and Sports Director Jim Harris

Listeners also loyally tune in for a segment that follows Trading Time, called Ask Your Neighbor.  News and Sports Director Jim Harris says it started off just like it sounds.  “We’d always get calls from people that would go ‘hey how do I get bugs out of my kitchen, how do I stop my joints from hurting?’, things like that, and kind of started off as just a program where people would call in and offer helpful suggestions to their neighbors or find out answers to questions. A lot of things about planting, a lot of things about gardening in general.” Harris says the program has expanded to include local politics, sports and other topics of interest in the community.  On the day I visited, the program included an interview with the mayor as well as a preview of a school’s cheerleading camp.

From the callers’ accessibility to the hosts’ down-to-earth demeanor, it’s clear that the emphasis at this radio station is local.  Harris stresses,  “It’s all about the local community, because if these people out here didn’t listen, if they didn’t have that format to call in and get answers to their questions or at least vent a little bit, we wouldn’t be here.”  Harris and Kitzmiller are both sure to thank the mostly local sponsors.  On Trading Time, callers are required to say the sponsor’s “password” to prove that they’ve really been listening to the show. The station simulcasts to WGAP am 1400 in Maryville, while classic country music  fills the airwaves via an fm affiliate.

The strength of the station’s connection showed during a rare telephone outage on the Trading Time program. Kitzmiller says, “We’ve had our phone lines go down during the show and oh my goodness you’d think the world had crashed! People were coming up here, ‘what’s wrong, what’s wrong, I can’t get my stuff on trading time?'”

During a recent summer storm that knocked down a tree near the station, loss of power was not a concern.  That’s because the station’s photovoltaic system went online July, with all of its daytime power coming from 36 solar panels atop the building.  Station owner Ron Meredith has said it was purely a business move to cut energy costs and save jobs when he decided to have the panels installed.  They produce 9 kilowatts of electricity. The station hopes to eventually add battery storage and be able to sell its extra power.  Federal stimulus grant money helped the independent station afford the switch to solar energy.

Some listeners may realize they’re supporting one of the nation’s first radio stations to go solar.  Others just care that the old boat motor that’s been setting around will soon be gone from their yard.  Either way, they plan to keep on talking and trading over the airwaves.

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