Ricky and Katie Ratzlaff sit in front of their radio transmitting equipment, consisting of a 2-by-2-foot electronic platform, coaxial cable, home computer, rarely-used microphone, and antenna. The setup, minus the microphone and the computer they already had, cost about $800. The experience of owning and operating a radio station is a reminder that people can realize their aspirations if they want, the couple said.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Ricky and Katie Ratzlaff sit in front of their radio transmitting equipment, consisting of a 2-by-2-foot electronic platform, coaxial cable, home computer, rarely-used microphone, and antenna. The setup, minus the microphone and the computer they already had, cost about $800. The experience of owning and operating a radio station is a reminder that people can realize their aspirations if they want, the couple said.

Local couple operates independent radio station

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Ricky Ratzlaff's favorite moment of the past four months running an independent radio station with his wife, Katie, came when a friend stumbled upon his broadcast and simply liked what he heard.

"He just came on it looking for something to listen to, and he liked it," said Ricky, who at 25 is the co-owner of Craig's newest radio station on 101.9 FM being run out of his basement apartment.

"Then, when he found out it was us, he couldn't believe it," Ricky said.

Therein also lies the couple's greatest disappointment.

The disbelief that people have when they learn that Ricky and Katie, 21, own and operate a radio station speaks to a larger issue, they said.

"People need to see you can do more," Ricky said. "It seems like there's this kind of attitude that people say to each other, 'Oh, you can't do that.'"

People may hold themselves back but that's just not the way life is, Katie said.

"I can tell you that every single dream we've had, we have pursued, and we've gotten it in a pretty short amount of time and without a lot of effort," she said.

In addition to starting the radio station, Katie has recorded several musical albums of her own, and she has plans for future efforts in opera singing and Christmas music.

But a radio station seems like something only wealthy people can have, Ricky said.

"When they hear that I, lowly Ricky Ratzlaff, has a radio station, they say, 'Why? You're not rich,'" Ricky said.

Little do people know, however, that the entire setup of a transmitter and antenna cost them about $800, and from there it was plug-and-play setup with their home computer.

Still, many seem to jump to the conclusion that it must not be legal.

That's far from true, the couple said.

Their station operates under the Federal Communication Commission's non-commercial educational classification. It cannot collect any revenue, but can operate without applying for a commercial license, which can cost about $21,000.

Katie and Ricky said they were as surprised as anyone they could legally operate on a radio frequency for free.

"We thought that if we have freedom of speech, why don't they have free licensing?" Katie said. "Then we looked it up, and they did. We thought, 'This is news to the world. Shout it from the rooftops."

The station plays a lot of techno, ska and other rock during the week, with Sunday reserved for hymns and classical.

The couple hopes to make 101.9 a home for local talent, and they leave a timeslot available at 7 p.m. Mondays for area performers.

"We wanted this to be a way to connect to the community and for the community to connect to itself in a lot of ways," Katie said.

She later added, referring to local musicians and artists, "I think these people need to be found. We feel everybody should be able to document their creation, document that time in their life when they did this."

Ricky and Katie don't want to limit the station to Moffat County artists.

"If you know someone, that's local, it's local to you," Ricky said.

The couple said anyone is welcome to contact them with requests or new content, from music to poetry to short stories. They also have a separate recording business for people who haven't put their work to CD.

The couple can be reached through the station's e-mail at Radio101.9@gmail.com.

Ricky and Katie said they hope more people look into creating independent stations for local listeners.

They purchased their equipment from Free Radio Berkeley, based in California and founded by Stephen Dunifer in the early 1990s.

Dunifer said transmission equipment is available for as little as $300, which still can reach out four to five miles depending on terrain.

He said he started Free Radio to put the power of communication into the hands of ordinary citizens, like Ricky and Katie.

"We want to be able to counter what at that time - and what is even more apparent today - is this consolidation of media resources into fewer and fewer hands," Dunifer said. "We want to give people radio equipment so they can exercise their inherent right to freedom of speech."

Assembling radio equipment and starting a broadcast is not that difficult, he added, provided a person has a general understanding of mechanics.

And if not, Dunifer said his group provides tutorials and training.

Information about Free Radio can be found at the group's Web site, www.freeradio.org.

"Despite the high-tech of the Internet and everything else, there's still quite a place for local community radio," Dunifer said.

Ricky sees things the same way, especially when he scans the radio frequencies in and around Craig.

"When you drive around town, you turn on the radio and hear commercials," he said. "When there are songs playing, it's top 40, country and that's about it. If more people would participate on the airwaves instead of just say, 'Oh that's for rich people,' then we wouldn't have to listen to what rich people think we should listen to and hear commercials about things rich people think we should buy."

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