In June of this year, Bellevue College’s radio station, KBCS, had planned to let go of both the news and program directors of the station, lacking funds to keep them on board. However, in just a month, listeners and community members stepped up to demand the director positions be protected, and that the stories they report continue to keep their place on campus.
KBCS is a public radio station affiliated with Bellevue College and located on the college campus. Its origins can be traced to a student sit-in protest in 1973 demanding student radio journalism, and its subsequent authorization. Now, 46 years later, KBCS has become a professional community radio station, heard by listeners from Bellevue to Snohomish. While the station covers a variety of music from Latin to Jazz, a key element of the station has been its news programs, which are covered and produced by KBCS journalists. These programs tell stories of climate change education and local Seattle social justice events, all of which have been critical to informing the local community.
The historic importance of KBCS was challenged when the contracts of the KBCS News Director and Program Director were not renewed. This decision came from the KBCS general manager, as the station lacked the revenue they needed to keep both positions. Even though KBCS did meet their fundraising goal this spring, those funds were not enough to cover the station’s expenses. Additionally, KBCS was not allocated the $180,000 in college funding originally promised by former President Jerry Weber.
Yuko Kodama first came to KBCS as a volunteer, and since 2016 has served as the news director. Kodama has covered and produced many stories within the community regarding culture, history, activism, and ensuring populations often not heard have a voice on the station’s platform. As news director, her contract was set to expire on June 30 of this year, and she would not return to KBCS.
The news of her removal, however, did not bode well with the community. Kodama’s awarded work to the station was recognized by many listeners and community members, who rallied behind a change.org petition titled “Keep News Director Yuko Kodama on Staff at KBCS.” The petition was a direct call on the Bellevue College Foundation and the Bellevue College Board of Trustees, who handle the financial matters and broadcast licensing of KBCS, to reconsider their options and find a way to secure Kodama’s position. As a Japanese-American journalist, the petition also implored sentiments of Bellevue College’s March incident where two former Bellevue College administrators had defaced a “Never Again is Now” Japanese incarceration art piece on campus, created by artist Erin Shigaki. The petition reads, “As a Japanese American and one of the very few women and people of color in a leadership new director role in the media industry, Kodama’s voice is vital to healing our community and country.” The petition received over 2,000 signatures.
Funding for KBCS is also limited by Bellevue College’s Associative Student Government’s decision to end ASG’s funding of $32,000 to the station. KBCS has been operating under deficits in recent years, with Bellevue College subsidizing roughly $774,000 in the last five years to support the station. KBCS’s primary sources of funding are donations, advertisements and grants for public broadcasting. This year, these sources were not enough to maintain funding for the position of the News and Program Director, whose responsibilities would have been split among remaining KBCS staff members.
Following the community vocalization of the importance of Kodama’s career as a part of KBCS, Interim President Governor Gary Locke addressed the Bellevue College community with an email, writing that he “agreed to a one-time allocation from the president’s discretionary account to KBCS, but the station must become financially self-sufficient and balance its budget in the upcoming years without subsidies from the college.” When we asked Governor Locke if he would continue to support the station in the event it was unable to become financially independent, Governor Locke said that, “a lot of the community groups said that they could raise the money to maintain the positions that were in question. And so, I’m taking them at their word.”
While Kodama’s job has been saved and KBCS has been allocated funding for the upcoming year, through listener funds and donations, community support will continue to be vital in order for KBCS to maintain its place at Bellevue College.