Cheyenne River Reservation Has A Radio Station

Jan 8, 2019

In The Moment ... January 8, 2019 Show 490 Hour 1

Credit Lee Strubinger

The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation now has a tribal radio station.

K-I-P-I has had its FCC license for about a month and will serve a valuable role for the community. Tribally run radio stations are important for those in Indian country, especially hyper-rural areas where broadband access is limited.

SDPB’s Lee Strubinger reports…

The call letters for K-I-P-I radio are perfect for the Eagle Butte station.

“KIPI is a Lakota term meaning ‘to come home.’”

That’s Tom Eagle Staff, station manager for KIPI radio.

“We’re in the process of branding ourselves by inviting everyone to come home to our radio station.”

That home is a 100-thousand watt commercial FM radio station. They have an HD transmitter, in the heart of the Cheyenne River reservation – and a 653 foot tower. The station’s range covers a big chunk of the state - from Union Center to Faulkton, and southern North Dakota to Badlands National Park.

Eagle Staff says KIPI radio will use a community radio format, offering a wide range of programming which is unique for a commercial station.

“We’re playing oldies, rock n’ roll, country western,” Eagle Staff says. “Later in the evenings we switch to hip hop to address the younger crowd.”

They’ll broadcast more than just music. Eagle Staff says the station gives airtime to the tribe and local schools for educational programs. KIPI also calls games for the local high school teams.

Many Native-run radio stations are non-commercial public radio stations, which are supported through a range of grants and donations.

Tribally-owned commercial stations that sell advertising are rare.

Eagle Staff says KIPI will operate as a straight commercially run venture without assistance from federal grants or the tribe for operational costs.

“They gave us some seed money and that was it,” Eagle Staff says. “We’re just going to be a commercial venture and we’re going to be dependent on all of our neighbors to help support us by advertising through us. I hope that they see us as being just as capable as our neighboring commercial radio stations and that we are reaching the people they are serving as well.”

Eagle Staff sees KIPI radio as filling a void those ‘neighboring’ commercial radio stations can’t or won’t.  The nearest stations broadcast out of either Mobridge or Pierre, which are both about 90 miles away and primarily serve their respective communities.

Eagle Staff says the catalyst for a radio station in Cheyenne River came after a severe storm damaged a community building during a tribal counsel meeting …

“But there wasn’t any weather warning from the local radio stations and there wasn’t anything that anybody had heard over the radio or even on television that forewarned them that there was wind shear in the excess of 70 mph headed their way.”

In 20-10, the Federal Communications Commission created a policy to expand the number of tribal radio stations in Indian Country. The Tribal Priority FCC rule made it easier for tribal entities to obtain a radio license.

Loris Taylor is president and CEO of Native Public Media, an organization that looks to strengthen and expand native media. They helped trained KIPI radio employees to respond to emergencies as a communications resource for the tribe.

Taylor says examples like severe weather are one of many reasons native media are important.  

“If you can’t get weather. If you can’t get civic information. If you can’t get information that’s important for your public safety. You’re literally invisible, you don’t exist,” Taylor says.

Taylor says radio helps address that lack of communication… and as for it being an old fashion technology…

“I honestly don’t believe that’s true.”

Taylor says radio is often overlooked until a natural disaster occurs. That’s when it becomes an important, reliable medium.

Tribal radio stations often cover very rural areas, where broadband internet access is limited or not available. Taylor says these stations keep their community informed about themselves and the world . She points to tribal coverage of actions against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock as an example. She says the national major media networks largely ignored the issue until after the election that year.

“If it’s not a story to the rest of the world, but it is to us, and there’s going to be no coverage, it just signals the importance of broadcast ownership,” Taylor says.

After a few roadblocks, KIPI finally went on the air with its first song in August. The song was a cover of 40 Dayz by Wyman and Company, a Standing Rock band. Station manager Tom Eagle Staff says it was a long time coming.

“For me, it was a relief,” Eagle Staff says. “And at the same time it was like, ‘Hey, we did it.’ You know?”

Now that they are successfully on the air, the staff at KIPI radio will focus on the ways they can share valuable and essential information and give the tribe a new voice.

For SDPB Radio, I’m Lee Strubinger in Rapid City.