Farewell Silver Dollar Radio

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Local radio station KWAL has shut down after 80 years of serving the Silver Valley community. Photo by JOSH MCDONALD

After 80 years the KWAL-AM 620 radio station signed off for the final time at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday night.

The third oldest radio station in the state had been a hub for mobile information over the years providing local listeners access to election results, school lunch menus, school closures, regional and national news, and local sports.

The station in its current form came to be after Paul Robinson and other investors bought the station from Lee Black in the fall of 1971 and reopened the station in 1972.

In 1977, Robinson hired his right-hand man and local legend George White, and the two have been riding the waves together ever since.

Over the years, Paul and George would be seen doing just about everything together, the chemistry between the two evident when listening to any of their broadcasts.

Over the years the station experienced the financial hardships that are being felt by nearly every smaller media outlet across the country, but KWAL would power through them.

“The internet is killing small business,” Robinson said. “The other day I got an ad on my phone for Levis jeans. You can buy directly from Levis now. What does that do to Sears, J.C. Penney or Macy’s? What does that do to the little mom and pop businesses that are selling Levis? These are businesses that advertised and sponsored with us and it’s killing them.”

Besides lost revenue to the internet, KWAL suffered a death blow when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declined to renew the station’s extension to utilize their single radio tower at 250 watts and would only allow them to operate at 60 watts.

What that means is they would only be able to power a signal as far as Silverton.

They had a second radio tower, but in 2016 the tower was destroyed after an inattentive driver clipped the guy wire, pulling the tower down into the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River.

That second tower was vital for the station, allowing it to operate at night on a lower strength signal, so as to keep the signals from crossing with signal in Spokane, western Montana, and even as far away as Portland, Ore.

After the tower was destroyed, the FCC allowed the station to use the remaining tower to broadcast at 250 watts, which kept the signal strong enough to broadcast from Kingston to Mullan.

“It was enough for us to cover the local towns,” Robinson said. “And it kept us out of the western Montana area and over the hill. We had six months to get a new tower up and after those six months, we got an extension. I think we got four extensions.”

Unfortunately, the driver who pulled the tower down also hit some power poles that caused the power to go out in the Sunny Slopes area and after the power company got their cut of the insurance money, there wasn’t enough left for KWAL to pay the near-$200 thousand it would take to get a new tower and then have it set up and calibrated.

Even as they stare retirement in the face, the two DJs look back fondly on their time behind the mic, but will miss one thing in particular.

“I’m gonna miss sports the most,” White said. “We saw so many good athletes over the years. We are going to miss calling the ball games.”

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