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KJRZ will return to full power, but not full staff

| July 27, 2007 12:00 AM

By KYLE McCLELLAN The Western News

Libby's only FM radio station that devoted airtime to jazz and alternative rock has gone off the air after a series of disagreements in the station's upper management, according to former DJs and a former station manager.

KJRZ 105.3 is currently broadcasting at an extremely low 10 watts until the current manager, Jim Nelson, relocates the station to a new studio and installs new antennas.

Nelson said he hopes to have the station operating at full power in about two weeks and at full effect for Ignite the Nights, when the station will blanket the classic car show with major coverage.

But former DJs and radio show hosts said that Nelson took control of the station in a sudden and secretive manner.

KJRZ is a non-commercial radio station that operates on sponsorships and donations. The Libby Chamber of Commerce controls the station's broadcasting license.

The chamber operates the station with the Libby Video Club, another not-for-profit organization that relays television satellite signals from all over the region to Lincoln County.

Rick Vogel, the former station manager who sat on the video club board with Nelson, said that the two agreed to meet with the board to work out any disagreements.

That didn't happen, Vogel said. And he later found out that he was eliminated from the board at a meeting he didn't know took place.

On Monday, he said even the president of the chamber of commerce just learned that Vogel had been eliminated from the video club and KJRZ, a station with two middle call letters that stand for "Jim" and "Rick".

That led some to suspect that the ousting of Vogel was done without the complete consent of the chamber and its board members.

During the past several years Vogel persuaded his employer, MontanaSkyNet, to donate a generous amount of equipment and services to KJRZ, including three high-speed internet lines, five remote controllers and $1,000 worth of equipment.

Meanwhile, SkyNet and Nelson were working on an agreement to share a transmitter site.

Vogel described Nelson as "a great guy to work with."

"He and I have very similar interests," Vogel said

But relations between the managers started to deteriorate in May, Vogel said, as numerous unrelated yet troublesome rifts appeared.

First SkyNet officials noted the frequency with which Nelson visited Vogel at work, which went against company policy. The company noted this in a formal e-mail to Nelson.

"That's when things got stressful between he and I," Vogel said.

Then, there were accusations of playlist tampering and explicit lyrics slipping by uncensored in alternative rock songs.

Although Vogel says he may have missed a profanity in a Green Day song, he never altered Nelson's playlist.

Mostly, though, the differences were the result of the two managers' diverging visions for the station.

Vogel supported its previous format, with several different DJs, guest hosts and a more eclectic music schedule, while Nelson said the station needs more consistency and stability with less "head-banging" music.

"As far as I'm concerned, the station was never intended to be owned and operated by the few people who do their shows," Nelson said.

He said that music has turned off a lot of Libby business owners from playing the station inside their establishments.

"We're not Missoula…Libby isn't just a bunch of young adults living here."

The new format, according to Nelson, will air adult contemporary music, a 60s and 70s mix and then classic rock in the evening.

"But I'm not going to have stupid stuff on there," he said, citing the music of Missoula's 96.3 The Blaze as the epitome of what he wants to avoid.

Another video club board member, Jim Miles, put it another way: "As I understand it, it was more of a case of people running it (the station) without authorization. The chamber wanted the station to return to its original format."

That format, according to Miles, was in the interest of the community and served to support the community.

DJs and hosts, however, said the station's community support was best provided by the community itself, which they constituted and, thus, represented.

"We were gaining sponsorship, we were gaining live shows. It was just a good thing. People were starting to really listen," said former host Moira Blazi.

Her shows, "Libby Voices" and "Kootenai Talks", were a vehicle for more than 150 community members who shared their visions and ideas for the area.

"We all got along really great. We worked together really well, respected each other, listened to each other. Everything just kind of flowed along, except for Jim," Blazi said.

She said he and Vogel worked seamlessly for two years but Nelson "never really was on the same page as the rest of us."

"He acted like he felt like he was left out of the process," she said.

Retired journalist and former Missoula professor John Hermann went on air with a popular weekly jazz show.

He said that though he disagreed with Nelson's actions, he understood Nelson's motivations.

"He likes his music and he didn't like what we played. He didn't like the new shows he didn't know anything about," Hermann said.

Hermann noted that many people approached him with positive feedback about his jazz show and that the chamber's board of directors "was always pretty much in favor of what Rick was doing."

He also noted that some supporters of KJRZ are demanding refunds from the chamber for donations they made that were intended to support the station's previous format.

According to Hermann, a local veterinarian who pledged six-month's worth of money in support of Hermann's show is now requesting that money back.