From Yakima-Herald.com, Phil Ferolito, Yakima Herald-Republic, 11 Aug 2011.
GRANGER, Wash. — After about two years of turmoil and uncertainty, Radio KDNA in Granger may be headed for better days under the reins of a west-side nonprofit.
Sea Mar Community Health Centers based in Seattle could officially begin operating the Spanish-language station known as “the voice of the farm worker” on Friday, said Sea Mar Executive Director Rogelio Riojas.
Sea Mar is waiting for the station’s board of directors to officially sign off on the deal, which could happen as early as this week.
“It’s really up to them,” Riojas said during a Wednesday telephone interview. “They make the final decision.”
The station’s board fully supports the move that has been in the works for months, said chairman Julio Romero.
Station operations have been threatened since labor disputes began driving away financial backers, causing a prior board to resign.
But now Sea Mar, which operates roughly 50 medical, behavioral health and dental centers in the Puget Sound, will infuse funds to keep the station going, Romero said.
“Sea Mar came to the rescue of Radio KDNA,” he said. “So I think it’s a good thing for the community.”
Sea Mar has already received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to take over the station’s license, Riojas said.
KDNA won’t be Sea Mar’s first radio station. Last year it acquired El Rey, a Spanish-language station in Seattle.
“There’s just a strong sense that we’ll do what we can to serve our community, and radio has become a part of it,” said Sea Mar spokesman Ricardo Sanchez.
KDNA officials contacted Sea Mar in hopes that it would lend a helping hand, Sanchez said. The station and its umbrella organization, Northwest Communities Education Center, will become an affiliate corporation under Sea Mar.
The station is housed in NCEC’s community center, which provides other services, ranging from mental health to adult education.
Sea Mar’s board of directors will replace the station’s current board — which will resign — and decide the best route for the station to take, Sanchez said.
“That’s kind of first and foremost — to get the ship righted and get things going for Radio KDNA without any- more interruptions,” he said.
Labor disputes began in late 2008 after the station hired a new director, Maria Fernandez, to take over after founder Ricardo Garcia retired.
While Fernandez maintained that a series of employee terminations were justified, workers protested, resulting in disputes that left the station in turmoil.
In the end, Fernandez was fired and most of the terminated employees returned to their jobs. Fernandez filed a wrongful termination lawsuit that is still pending.
The station so far has racked up about $20,000 in attorney fees in the case. Meanwhile, it’s about $40,000 short of securing a $200,000 federal matching grant for operations, Romero said. “We lost time and money,” he said.
The biggest challenge will be raising funds, but Sea Mar has a long history of doing just that, Riojas said.
“We’re confident that we can do it,” he said. “We have experience in writing grants. We don’t see a major problem doing that.”
* Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or firstname.lastname@example.org.