NOME, AK (April 20, 2010) – Fifty years to the day that KICY radio broadcast its first signal, more than 400 people attended a banquet Saturday celebrating the ministry’s outreach to Alaska and the Russian Far East.
The celebration was held in the Nome Recreation Center, site of the celebratory Iditarod closing ceremonies and banquet. It was broadcast live to the surrounding villages, which rely on the radio station for news, personal messages, music and Christian teaching.
Several media outlets covered the event or are planning to run stories. The Moody Radio Network is planning to air a story on its Primetime America program from 4 to 6 p.m. (central) Thursday. The program will feature interviews with station manager Dennis Weidler as well as Evangelical Covenant Church President Gary Walter, both shown in the center photo (Walter, left, and Weidler). The website for the National Religious Broadcasters also will run a story later this week.
The station was started by Art Zylstra, a former missionary with HCJB radio in Quito, Ecuador, and Ralph Fondell, a former production engineer with WMBI in Chicago, Illinois.
They had met in the late 1950s and believed that God was directing them to start the first station in Northwest Alaska, according to Weidler. After spreading their vision to churches and youth groups around the country, they were able to raise enough money to launch KICY.
On April 17, 1960 – Easter Sunday – the station sent out a 5,000-watt signal. Zylstra let the listeners know that the “Voice of the Arctic” was there to minister to them. Zylstra served as the station’s manager, and Fondell as the chief engineer.
For the first time, the gospel was communicated over the air across the frozen tundra of the region. The response was overwhelming and mail poured in from across the state, Weidler says.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later gave permission to KICY to increase their power to 10,000 watts. That enabled the station to reach far into Russia with Russian-language programming at night.
The station (lower photo) now operates at 50,000 watts non-directional during the day and 50,000 watts directional at night into Russia. The station receives grateful responses from as far away as Norway and Sweden.
Luda Kinock (top photo), whose life was dramatically changed by the station when she was a child in Russia, is now the director of Russian programming.
Honorees during the evening included Ralph and Gert Fondell. The Fondells were presented a plaque renaming the KICY studio building as the Fondell Broadcast Center.
Citations were presented to former station managers Ernie and Barbara Hanson, Jim Brewer, John and Sheri McBride and Dave Oseland, as well as the Fondells. The Hansons had not been to Nome since leaving in 1967, and were among several employees who returned for the occasion. Other past employees attending the celebration were Dave and Kathy DeVries and Terry and Lind Reynolds.
Each person was presented a bag that included a DVD of interviews with former KICY staff and an audio clip of the original sign-on announcement by Zylstra. The bag also included a solar-powered fixed-signal portable radio like the ones being distributed in the Russian Far East and a copy of Ptarmigan Telegraph, the official history of KICY and Covenant missions in Alaska authored by pastor and former volunteer Greg Asimakoupoulos.
Walter commended the station for its ministry to the people of Alaska and Russia. Audio greetings from the current Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee were played to the gathered crowd. Letters of commendation from the National Religious Broadcasters and the Alaska State Senate also were read. Asimakoupoulos shared a poem, “The Dawn of a New Day,” he wrote for the occasion.
A southern gospel concert followed the banquet featuring the Musical Calhouns from Fairbanks. Southern gospel is the most popular genre of music in the Alaskan Bush, says Asimakoupoulos.
The anniversary was held in conjunction with the Annual Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska at the Nome Covenant Church. Walter preached at the concluding worship service Sunday morning.
“The weather of the weekend was a symbol of the radio station’s impact in this area,” Asimakoupoulos says. The weather shifted from harsh wind and blizzard conditions on Saturday morning to bright sunshine and 60 degrees on Sunday morning.
The station is owned by the Arctic Broadcasting Association, which is a non-profit affiliated corporation of the Evangelical Covenant Church. It is the only commercial radio station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast into another country in that nation’s own language.
Editor’s note: Photos courtesy of Dave Oseland.