A little bit of magic & a whole lot of FM radio skip

I have a tale to tell about connection over distance, and a little bit of magic—at least it felt that way to me.

Have you ever had one of those days, only for something a little magical to turn it right around? Last Friday was such a day. I felt overwhelmed by work, and was struggling to focus. And then this email arrived:

Dear KDRT,

I wanted to drop you a line after picking up your KDRT signal on 95.7 from really far away! No, I'm not talking Vacaville, Stockton or Yuba City. I am in Laramie, Wyoming which is 875 miles away from Davis, CA.  I was truly using a regular FM radio and antenna. When the atmosphere "pukes up" just right with a combination of clouds and temperature inversions, some very freaky FM reception can occur over many many hundreds of miles.

Alright, this had my interest.

My reception of KDRT happened on Friday May 15 at 6:13 pm MT, with a local program with a female host in studio talking to a male phone-in guest, talking about work force, a local relief fund discussing Covid 19, and mentioned Davis and Woodland. Here is an audio recording of the KDRT signal as heard at my location: (just click the link and hit play, no downloading required): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xrVW4aX-WIpgxKnOiG52YLVZ3fSmyV21/view?u...

The audio is fed directly off my radio's audio outputs to the input of my digital recorder so the quality as about as good as it gets.

So let me get this straight: a guy in Laramie, WY managed to hear my interview with Yolo County Supervisor Gary Sandy out of a 100-watt Low-power FM station here in Davis., CA, over the air. What the what?

Turns out this gentleman, Paul Walker, also works in radio. “I’ve been in commercial radio for 17 years, mainly as an on-air talent, production director, and digital media guy.  Most of the stations I work for, while commercial, have a strong sense of community and commitment to listeners. I purposefully seek out stations making a difference when looking for work.  I also work part time for a radio network that provides 24/7 formats to smaller understaffed radio stations and am syndicated across the country seven nights a week for a six-hour classic country overnight shift.”

I wrote back to Paul, explaining that I was his mystery radio host, and asked how this had happened. Paul went on to explain the phenomena that made this little bit of radio magic possible.

“After I got around to processing through my audio and checked out the program schedule, I figured out it was you who hosted the show. I've been doing this long-distance radio hunting thing a long time (25 years) and been working in radio 17 years…but it still amazes me.  I understand it, but I don't understand it... if that makes any sense. There's things no one quite understands about what makes FM radio skip the way it does. 

“For what it's worth, unlike AM skip—which we’re all aware of and the more power the better—FM skip isn’t about power or height, it’s all about location. The day I picked up KDRT, I had from Fresno to Redding. FM Skip is generally confined to a region but changes slightly as weather may change. KDRT is the lowest-powered signal I've heard at a long distance. 

“I love life’s little magical moments like this, it’s what makes me smile. I also appreciate stations like KDRT and the local mission. Despite most of my career being in commercial radio, I did spent time at a very very very rural NPR member station which brought me a newfound appreciation for lots of things. Glad to get a reply so soon and I'll be keeping an eye on the KDRT Facebook page, which I just liked!”

We chatted back and forth for a bit, and Paul let me know that I could listen to him, too— from 3 -7 pm MT, Monday through Saturday at Hits 106 KLMI Laramie, WY http://www.myhits106.com , and overnights seven days a week, midnight-6 am EST on about three dozen stations, with http://www.959thelegend.com as an example.

Since the earliest days of planning for KDRT’s launch in 2004, I’ve always called it The Little Radio Station That Could, an allusion to its low power but remarkably high impact (a force for good in our own community, listeners in 30+ countries, and now, apparently, Wyoming).

Dusting myself in the magic to power through another week. Thanks, Paul, for your interesting hobby, and for reaching out and connecting our little corners of the world.

—Autumn Labbe-Renault


Such a wonderful story, Autumn. Here's to community and the power of radio to connect us all together!


Thanks for publishing this. No matter what else i log via fm skip this summer, KDRT will without a doubt be one of my best logs/highlights/most favorites!!

Paul Walker

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