Tiger Radio, named for the school mascot

Our local radio station is licensed to the high school. Seriously. And it’s as quirky as KHBR-AM 570 in the legendary TV series “Northern Exposure,” even without Chris Stevens as the DJ. Or I’d contend, even more.

The television show never got into young people, for one thing, but there aren’t many in Sunrise County, where the seven public high schools together have about 200 graduates a year, half of them from just two schools. A private academy adds another 100. It’s a long stretch, by the way.

Pointedly, Eastport’s Shead Memorial High has only about a hundred students, down from 300 a few decades earlier, and a faculty of 11, some of whom also teach at the junior high or elementary. The principal serves all three. The school proudly proclaims its emphasis on personalized education, which I applaud. What’s obvious is the incredible student-faculty ratio.

One big challenge is in trying to find ways to lure more of the younger generation into staying put here. Maybe the economic tide is changing in that direction.

In the meantime, the radio station gives them an opportunity to learn production skills. In fact, the station started out as a school club in 1983 and took off from there. Throughout the day, the station’s IDs feature the different kids, however bashfully, and it’s charming.

Much of the programming is a stream of music, a mix of blues, jazz, rock, country, bluegrass, and more, I’m assuming streamed from somewhere. Yes, and there are public service announcements as well as the honor rolls and other local touches. Truly. And then the DJs kick in, including some of the kids, with surprisingly sophisticated tastes.

They’re not the only ones.

The station’s modest tower sprawls over the high school. Here it’s seen from the front.
And from the back, by the gym.

The local demographics skewer sharply upward, and volunteers at the station are welcome. In fact, they create much of its most distinctive programming. As I was saying about do-it-yourself participation?

There’s Cracklin’ Jane, with only 78 rpms, a weekly theme, and radio dramas from a golden age, including commercials for brands that no longer exist. And others like Sam’s Caffeine Café, yes, it’s redundant, but mostly acoustic Americana two mornings a week; the Bass Lady’s informed insights into anything with a bass line, Chloe’s folksy Friday afternoon transition; Firedog’s Electric Doghouse, Boldcoasting; and the like.

Well, this is a town filled with eccentrics and geezers. Its low-power radio station reflects that. And to think, it all started as a school club in the ’80s!

I think of it as Radio Free Eastport, broadcasting to the free spirits on and around our islands.

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