By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
There’s a new player on the radio scene in Wyoming, seeking to place an FM station in none other than Ralston, a small community that lies between Cody and Powell.
Skye Media has filed a petition with the Audio Division of the FCC that seeks to acquire the allotment for Channel 233C at 94.5 MHz for Ralston, Wyoming. As part of that process, Skye Media has also filed a construction permit application, and has paid the associated filing fees.
A comment period will run from Jan. 23 to Feb. 7 to get public input on the petition. The complete filing can be located here.
Paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office shows that Skye Media filed its Wyoming paperwork on Sept. 28 of this year. The registered owner is listed as Shelby Meredith Patrick in Cody, but the phone number associated with Patrick is from Ontario, Canada.
Cowboy State Daily has reached out to Patrick, as well as the attorney who filed Skye Media’s FCC paperwork, to ask for more details about the plans for the Ralston station. They had not responded at the time this story was published.
Not A Town
Ralston does not have an existing radio station, and is not actually a town. It is a census-designated community of 240 residents, based on the most recent Census data.
But it does have a zip code and a Post Office, and a concentration of interesting businesses, such as Heart Mountain Pub, Barrows Z3 Retreat, 20th Century Collectibles, Wyoming Heritage Grains, and more.
Rebekah Burns, executive director for the Powell Chamber of Commerce, which serves the Ralston community, told Cowboy State Daily the community straddles the highly traveled 14A Highway.
“14A between Cody and Powell is a busy highway for our state,” she said. “We’re also on 14A and get about 4,500 cars a day. I think Ralston gets even more.”
Burns has not yet heard anything about a new radio station locating in the Ralston community, and was surprised to hear of it.
“The only building project that I’m aware of that’s going on in Ralston right now is building a larger gas station,” she said.
Radio Licenses Are Tricky
Don Day, Cowboy State Daily’s meteorologist, is co-owner of a radio station in Saratoga. He told Cowboy State Daily that it is not uncommon, when licenses are sought for small communities, to see the station move to a different location after the license is secured.
“The FCC’s mindset, whether you agree with it or not, is that the more stations in a community, the more diversity of programming, the more diversity of information and those types of things,” Day said. “The FCC doesn’t really say you have to have a town of this size, or that there have to be this many people or this many businesses, that type of thing.”
Day has also seen cases where investors pick out-of-the-way places on the outskirts of a large metropolitan area and then turn around and sell it for a killing.
“There was a gentleman who ran some radio stations here in Cheyenne a while ago,” Day said. “He was a genius at finding these small towns.”
Day said the individual bought a radio station license in a town called Timnath in Colorado, which he ultimately sold for millions.
“He was able to successfully place the transmitter in a spot that would cover all of Denver,” Day said. “He made gobs of money. So, there’s ways people can, if they’re clever enough, kind of use the way the FCC manages these licenses to make it work to their advantage. It’s all an engineering game, a signal strength game.”
Ralston can’t support the intense investment it takes to set up a radio station all by itself, Day said.
“It’s how can you maximize your reach by hitting the most number of people possible and stay within FCC rules,” he said.
Day said this dynamic has led to licenses for very small towns in Wyoming before, among them Bairoil, which is near Muddy Gap.
“I mean nobody lives there,” Day said. “It’s probably less than 100 people, but the FCC doesn’t know that.”
Regardless of how things ultimately end up for the station in Ralston, Day said the entry of a new radio station to the Wyoming market is encouraging on several levels.
“A lot of people have said, you know, radio is going to die, radio is dead and struggling because of the Internet and satellite radio and Spotify and all of those things,” Day said. “But radio is still uniquely positioned to be able to provide the local information that people aren’t going to get from new media, it just isn’t.”
With such great distances between Wyoming towns, and with all the locations where cell signals are lost and Internet signals just can’t be found, the radio station still has a vital role to play in the Cowboy State, he said.
“It’s still very robust in terms of how important it is,” Day said. “Another radio station in Wyoming can be viewed as good news, because that means the people who are investing in, you know, putting their selves out and spending this money, think that there’s opportunity.”
Such an investment also bodes well for economic development in general, he said.
“A radio station is a significant investment,” Day said. “So, when someone comes in and invests money in a community like that, they are betting that the community is going to grow.”
Such an investor is generally betting the community will be bigger in a short timeframe, too, within the next five, 10 years, Day said.
“That’s what you’re hoping for when you make an investment like that,” he said.