Joe Schmitt writes a weekly blog called The Good Life, featuring information about the region’s history, culture, climate and economy. The blog also showcases new residents, clubs and organizations, outdoor recreational opportunities and local events.
Located in the quaint small town of Granger, Washington resides a radio station that is the voice of Central Washington’s Spanish speaking population. KDNA (which sounds like the Spanish word cadena, meaning chain or link, when spoken quickly) is the original 100 percent Spanish-speaking radio station in the U. S. providing entertainment and music. More importantly though KDNA provides valuable information to newer immigrants and farm workers helping them find educational resources for both adults and children. In the early 70’s, a youthful man named Ricardo Garcia was the director for a community-based organization named Northwest Rural Opportunities.
He wanted to get into radio broadcasting, and subsequently met a couple of young men experienced in broadcasting children’s programs, and a plan was born. Dan Robel, Julio Guerrero, and Garcia jump started their radio program by working with a Seattle public radio station that operated out of an abandoned fire station. According to Ricardo it was, “Run by a group of hippies but they got the job done and were nice.” Through this partnership they began broadcasting from Lynden, Washington. Dan and Julio would gather news via newspapers, radio, and television and then translate and broadcast it each day in Spanish.
After getting more established the three gentlemen agreed this to move the station to Yakima County because it was home to one of the largest Hispanic populations in the state. Setting out to find a location to broadcast from, they found it in the very first hotel built in the Yakima Valley in 1909 in Granger, WA. The hotel had been turned into a school a few decades after opening and Ricardo, Dan, and Julio leased two rooms and turned them into a broadcasting booth and office. They also brought on Rosa Ramon, who operates a parent child learning center, as their station manager. She would be responsible for writing most of the material and was the first Hispanic station manager in the US.
The group purchased a used 80 ft. broadcasting tower from a station in Spokane and they worked with the Yakama Indian Nation to lease space atop of Ahtanum Ridge, where the tower is still in use today. After setting up shop in Granger, Ricardo and his friends applied for the signal 91.9 FM, KDNA to the FCC in 1976 for and begin the process of satisfying all the requirements in beginning a public broadcasting non-profit radio station. By 1978 KDNA had approval with the FCC to begin broadcasting but due to several engineering delays they went on air December, 19th, 1979. In addition, they partnered with the Northwest Chicano Radio Network (NCRN) to ensure they were broadcasting to farm workers and their families. An interesting note is just five months after the fledgling station began, Mount St. Helens volcano blew on the morning of May 18th, 1980.
The staff ensured the station stayed open to broadcast emergency information in Spanish. They listened to Yakima radio station KIT 1280 AM and simply translated the emergency information. After this event, KDNA was recognized by other media as providing a valuable service to the Hispanic community. Over the years KDNA has grown its operation to become a major public radio station that emphasizes educating farm workers of their rights as citizens, encouraging them to establish roots in their communities for the benefit of their children, providing resources for adult language classes and education, and broadcasting well-regarded educational children’s programs.
Only 30 percent of their programming is music with 70 percent focused on education and encouragement. KDNA has received numerous broadcasting awards during its history including the prestigious the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, Community Impact Award in 2001. In addition, KDNA’s Ricardo Garcia was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Latino Radio Summit in 2002. According to Ricardo, “We really didn’t know much about broadcasting when we started but always had supporters along the way. We’re proud of being the very first 100 percent Spanish language radio station in the US and for making a difference within the farm workers community in the Yakima Valley.” Ricardo Garcia ultimately retired from KDNA after a 26 year career as their station manager. He helped nurture an idea that has become a great community resource and institution for the Yakima Valley. Towards the end of his career Ricardo led community efforts to build a new, state-of-the-art facility for Radio KDNA.
The new center houses a radio station and is as alive today as it was the day it started.