Kay Clements life in radio from a grassroots start and a sense of adventure

By Gretchen Wehmhoff

In October 1995, a week-long fire engulfed the communities in West Marin, California near Point Reyes. The Vision Fire was destructive, burning an entire ridge, including 45 homes. Communication was minimal, if at all, and the community had no means to receive information in a hurry.

After the fire it really sunk in that a community radio station was needed.

“There was no way to contact people with information or evacuation. The Sheriff’s office just didn’t have an effective communication path to reach people,” said outgoing KHNS general manager, Kay Clements, who lived in West Marin at the time.

“It became really clear we needed a local media.”

Clements joined a group of West Marin locals and professionals who were ready to work together to create a radio station in the area.  

“It was grassroots radio from the ground up,” she said.

It took a few years to gather equipment, arrange for space and work out the technical radio hardware and wavelengths. Volunteers and radio folks dug through their closets and boxes to find enough equipment to piece together the first station. By 1999, the radio station was licensed with FCC, had achieved 501c3 status and settled on the call sign of KWMR, which seemed to fit West Marin. 

Murial Murch, a founding colleague and friend from KWMR, writes about Clements on the radio’s website.

“As different pieces of the project took hold it became clear that Kay had an equal ability and interest in talking with the engineers, lawyers, and music studio producers as I carried with local programmers and so the board in its wisdom blessed our partnership, Kay as Station Manager and Muriel as Program Director,” Murch writes.

In addition to managing the station and reporting news, Clements had her own show – Kay’s Roadhouse Twang Show.

In 2010, Clements looked north for new experiences. KHNS, the public radio station serving the Upper Lynn Canal, was looking for a new general manager.

Clements was one of 13 candidates vying for the job vacated by former general manager John Hedrick. 

The interview board was impressed with her California experience as a founder as well as the manager of a seven-person staff, grant writing experience and her responsibilities garnering major funding.

“In 2010 I flew in during the Eagle Festival for my interview,” Clements said. “The next January I came up. I’m really fortunate I landed here.”

She told the Chilkat Valley News about the station in West Marin after her hire.

“I just got connected with this group of people, and we started working together on it,” she said. “I’d never done any radio before, but it was a really fun project, just to create something from scratch like that and then have it be a really wonderful little station years down the line. It’s been a really satisfying project.”

The satisfying project had over 100 volunteers and a budget of $430,000 when she moved on to Haines.

During Clements’ time with KHNS, she focused on better serving Skagway.

“She’s been a real advocate for extending our reach in Skagway, both improving the sound quality there and advocating for more programming and news,” Director of Development and Operations at KHNS Dawn Drotos said.

“In Skagway, she definitely familiarized herself with many of our members and listeners in the community,” Drotos said.

Drotos shared that Clements regretted she was unable to attend the recent annual meeting in Skagway. KHNS was undergoing its annual audit at the same time. And so she was tied up with that and couldn’t make the trip over. 

“She always felt very warmly welcomed in Skagway, and pushed to do what she could to increase our presence,” Drotos said.

“I would say another marker of her tenure that I’ve heard from both longtime DJs and former and current staff members, is that she brought a lot of stability to the station. She just had a steady hand and really stabilized the ship, and people were really grateful,” Drotos said.

Drotos said the staff felt that they could finally focus on producing good radio and feel supported.

Clements said that one of her many lessons learned in managing radio stations was to step back, loosen the reins and give staff what they needed to do their job.  

Clements lives in a 1100 square foot home that looks out over the water and Battery Point with her terrier, Sully. 

“I really do like my home, it’s very comfortable in a beautiful place”

“I’ve had a fortunate life filled with beauty and this is a great community.”

Sully started coming to the station as a four-month-old puppy when Clements returned from a sabbatical. He was eventually joined by other station dogs. 

As Clements readies to leave KHNS after 13 years at the helm, she doesn’t plan to leave Haines anytime soon. She will travel and has already made plans to stay involved with the station.  

She plans to take a few weeks to help the new general manager, former Chilkat Valley News owner, Kyle Clayton, transition to the job.

Clements hopes KHNS continues to stay accessible to the community. 

“There are lots of great volunteers,” she said.

Clements says it’s difficult to constantly seek funding to keep public radio stations going. Sometimes it’s discouraging, but she believes that the free access must be there for the public.

“It’s the simplest, easiest way to access information. It’s always there,” she said.  

“You shouldn’t have to have a subscription to access the news.”