East Hawaii News

Ka`u Radio Station in Danger of Closure, Requests Donations

December 19, 2012, 1:05 PM HST
* Updated December 19, 4:54 PM
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The owner of the sole radio station in the Ka`u area has indicated that KAHU 91.7 FM faces significant financial hurdles if it is to continue operations.

Station owner Christine Kaehuaea told Big Island Now yesterday evening that KAHU, which faces expenses of approximately $8,500 per month, is currently over $100,000 in debt.

KAHU is currently the only radio programming available in most of the southern Big Island, covering an area stretching roughly from Volcanoes National Park to Ocean View.

“If this station were to close, it would be like Ka`u going silent,” Kaehuaea said.

KAHU, whose staff consists of around a dozen volunteers, currently has one paid employee besides Kaehuaea, a janitor who reportedly earns $15 per week cleaning the station. Kaehuaea explained that she herself had not taken a paycheck “in months.”

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The company recently dismantled its sister antenna in Na`alehu, which had cost between $1,700 and $2,000 to operate. Kaehuaea intends to sell the antenna in order to continue paying the company’s bills. KAHU now broadcasts from its sole, station-mounted antenna in Pahala.

KAHU FM faces the same FCC regulations as stations like NPR.

KAHU FM faces the same FCC regulations as stations like NPR.

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KAHU, which is listed as a nonprofit entity with the state of Hawaii, reportedly survives solely on donations. Operating under the same FCC rules as stations like National Public Radio, KAHU isn’t allowed to sell radio advertising in a way that compels listeners to purchase products.

“Businesses can sponsor us, but we’re not allowed to issue a call to action on their behalf” explains Kaehuaea. She indicates that this has made soliciting businesses to sponsor the station difficult. Another challenge has been the station’s status with the IRS.

“Our donations aren’t yet federally tax deductible” says Kaehuaea. She feels an inability to write-off donations has kept many businesses from getting involved, but is optimistic about the future, adding “We’ve filed a 501c3 application with the government, and once that’s approved, it should really help us.”

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According to Kaehuaea, KAHU’s creditors have so far been lenient about its debts. The Hawaiian Electric Light Company, who KAHU owes approximately $10,000, has so far kept the power on. “HELCO and Oceanic Time Warner are our lifeline,” explains Kaehuaea “power and internet service are what keep us going.”

Pahala brush fire.

Pahala brush fire. Photo courtesy Hawaii Fire Dept.

Kaehuaea said that after the station’s coverage of the October tsunami and June brush fire in Pahala, the community response to KAHU’s woes became amplified. “People are on notice now that this is an important resource, and businesses are starting to express interest.”

Individuals and businesses interested in donating to KAHU FM can visit their website at Kahufm.com for more information.

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