‘Outlaw’ brings country to city

Camas-based nonprofit radio station KIEV switches from Slavic to country

Outlaw Country 102.5 FM plays classic country music, including Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton.

A mixing board inside the Camas-based Outlaw Country radio station, one of two control centers for the local nonprofit.

The inside of the Vancouver studio for Outlaw Country radio, where Gerald Gaule hosts his "Country Connections" show.

Did you know that Camas has its own radio station? You’ll be forgiven if you answered, “No.” Many people have never heard of KIEV-LP FM. And, if they have, they’re likely part of the area’s Ukrainian community.

Had you tuned into KIEV before the start of this year, you would have been listening to Slavic music and Christian programming — passion projects for the station’s evangelical Ukrainian-American founders. You also would have been listening to KIEV at 102.7 on the FM dial.

Post Jan. 1? KIEV switched over to 102.5 FM and you may have noticed that, instead of Slavic music, you were more likely to hear the sweet sounds of Dolly, Willie, Merle, Reba and Johnny. Now known as Outlaw Country radio, KIEV is now a classic and “outlaw” country music station.

David Stepanyuk, a 2004 Camas High graduate and the station’s manager, controls the station’s technical side from his parents’ Camas home. He also has a more traditional radio studio in Vancouver, where longtime radio professional Gerald Gaule, the station’s public affairs manager, broadcasts his “Country Connections” show on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

Like the majority of low-power FM (LPFM) stations, KIEV’s roots are religious.

The elder Stepanyuks, through their “Way to Salvation” church, applied for an LPFM station license a few years ago, during one of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s rare LPFM application windows. The station operated as KCVD-LP from 2014 to 2015, and then became KIEV-LP, a Christian station serving the area’s Slavic community.

The station had a strong signal and a loyal following for most of its run, but had recently hit a few snags. First, a growing, but dispersed, Slavic population meant that KIEV had programming competition in the region. Second, and even more important to the station’s survival, KIEV found itself in a fight for airwaves with a few Goliaths, taking the shape of commercial FM stations and powerful translators that cut into the station’s protected airwaves.

When KYTE-FM moved its station from the central Oregon coast to Salem, Oregon, the signal was so strong, it interfered with KIEV’s 102.7 FM channel. David did everything he could to maintain KIEV’s standing on the dial, but knew he would probably lose out to the larger, commercial station.

“The FCC favors the commercial stations … especially under Trump,” David explains. “The commercial stations have the money. We’re a nonprofit. A low-power (station) relies on underwriters and listeners. We can’t afford to hire lawyers.”

In the end, David agreed to move his station from 102.7 to 102.5 on the FM dial. Now, he says, KIEV has gone from having one of the best-sounding LPFM stations to having a station that has constant interference from translators and needs a booster — or its own translator, which is tricky — to be heard in its own protected area, which encompasses Camas and Washougal.

“They hear us better in Gresham than they do in Camas … and we’re a Camas station,” David says, shaking his head.

He explains that the FCC is supposed to make sure that stations are operating within their protected space on the airwaves, but that, lately, the federal agency seems more concerned about helping the larger commercial stations make more money than protecting the nonprofit low-power stations. For instance, KIEV is supposed to have a protected radius around the Camas-Washougal area when people tune in to 102.5 FM. Their signal should come in from 102.4 to 102.6, to provide a sort of buffer. A station that is set at, for instance, 102.3 on the FM dial, should not be able to “come over” into that 102.4 through 102.6 range. But they do, David says, and they do it all the time. The FCC could fine them, he adds, but many big stations don’t care about the fines.

“They’re big, they have money, so $10,000 to them is nothing,” David says. “But to us, $10,000 would be everything. We couldn’t do it.”

David is working to restore the station’s broadcasting range and to at least have Outlaw Country radio heard within its protected Camas-Washougal airwave space. He’s applied for a booster from the FCC and is looking for a private landowner in a specific part of Camas — the details are on Outlaw Country’s website at www.outlawcountry.net under the “Contribute” button — to let KIEV set up an unassuming transmitter and antenna. The station would pay “rent” for the site, pay for any electricity or Internet services required, maintain the transmitter and antenna and only need to physically check on the equipment every few months. Having a better transmitter and antenna site would mean more people in Camas-Washougal could actually hear their community radio station on the radio — instead of just online.

In the meantime, listeners interested in the station’s classic and “outlaw” country formats who can’t hear the station on 102.5 FM, should head to www.outlawcountry.net.

Outlaw Country plays a blend of “outlaw” country stars like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard plus classic country female singers such as Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.

“I’ve always liked the ‘outlaws’ of country music,” David says. “To me, when I think of outlaws, I also think of my family, of my parents and grandparents, who were outlaws and had to come to this country to avoid religious persecution.”

He explains that “outlaw country” is really its own distinct type of music, concentrating on country music stars who shunned the traditional studio-made songs and, instead, struck out on their own to make their own albums and their own sound.

“The whole station is traditional country and the roots of country music,” says Gaule, Outlaw Country’s host of the “Country Connections” show, which takes dedications and song requests, gives anniversary and birthday shout-outs to listeners, and offers an assortment of non-political Camas-Washougal area news. “We gravitate toward the ’50s through the ’80 … It’s been a long time since this area had a classic country (radio station).”

With more than 40 years’ worth of radio experience under his belt, Gaule, 54, says he fell in love with radio as a young boy and has stuck with it ever since. He remembers walking into Vancouver radio station as a young man and telling the owner that he would sweep or clean or do whatever they needed, if they’d just agree to take him on.

“I was hooked,” Gaule says of that first radio station experience. “And I’ve loved it ever since.”

He worked for radio stations in Oregon for many years, including one station owned by Oregon Public Broadcasting and run by the Oregon Commission for the Blind, as well as several country music stations. When he moved back to Clark County a few years ago, Gaule discovered KIEV-LP FM. This was during the station’s Slavic programming days. Gaule has his own community radio show, which he broadcasts from Paper Tiger Coffee Roasters in Vancouver every Sunday, and wanted to know if David would come on his program to talk about the work they were doing at KIEV.

“It’s a very fun show, mostly one on one interviews with people,” Gaule says. “I was trying to learn the language because my grandparents and great-grandparents came from Ukraine … so, I called David and said, ‘Can you come on the show?'”

That interview led to a friendship and working relationship. When Gaule heard that KIEV had switched from Slavic programming to classic country, he perked up.

“I have a background in programming and missed being on actual radio,” Gaule says. “So, I came up with the idea of having a show with requests and dedications and non-political community news.”

The idea grew from a once-a-week, 60-minute show to the current “Country Connections” show, which runs from 8 to 11 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Outlaw Country radio.

Both Gaule and David say they want Outlaw Country to be a community radio station that folks from Camas and Washougal can be proud to call their own.

“It’s a work in progress and we have some limitations right now, but that will improve,” Gaule says. “We’re working on the music every day, growing our list … We’re the hometown station for Camas and Washougal and we just want to be there for the community.”

As a nonprofit, low-power station, Outlaw Country depends on contributions from listeners as well as corporate and nonprofit underwriting. Unlike bigger, commercial radio stations, the FCC license to operate a low-power FM station does not allow for lucrative radio advertisements. Instead, the station is reaching out to community members in the Camas-Washougal area who want to have a strong community radio station — or who just love listening to classic country music. To listen online to Outlaw Country radio, find out more about the station or see a few of the station’s most pressing needs, visit www.outlawcountry.net.