CRESTVIEW — While city leaders have cut spending and enacted furloughs to help balance the budget, one local business leader has quietly donated nearly $138,000 in services to the city over the last four years.
Jimmy Whitaker, founder of Crestview radio stations WJSB-AM and WAAZ-FM, began Whitaker Communications in 1954 and immediately established a tradition of community outreach by providing airtime and advertising revenue to Crestview's Jaycees.
"That was seed money to start the Old Spanish Trail Festival," Cal Zethmayr, the stations' ad director, said, noting city fathers including former Mayor George Whitehurst, chamber of commerce co-founder Foy Shaw and retired educator and current Military Appreciation Recognition Celebration organizer Bob Lynn benefited from Whitaker's generosity.
Beginning with the July 2009 installation of a 100-watt repeater station for the Crestview Fire Department at Whitaker Communications’ 250-foot Seventh Avenue broadcasting tower, the radio station has provided the department's high-gain VHF antenna, a feed line, power, repeater building and a 30,000-watt natural gas generator at no cost to the city.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the federal government mandated local responders switch to "narrow banding," in which there is less separation among VHF radio frequencies, reducing the effective range of the equipment.
"What affects the range of a transmitter is power plus elevation. In order to continue to be able to cover the city the way we needed to, we needed to go to a higher elevation,” Fire Chief Joe Traylor said.
The tower at City Hall is 130 feet tall, Traylor said, adding he sent feelers to Whitaker after his department's first option — leasing space on another existing tower — proved cost prohibitive.
Whitaker stepped in and provided the service, which expanded the fire department’s coverage area and reportedly saved the city an estimated $51,000 to date.
Crestview Broadcasting has also installed equipment at the Crestview Public Library to allow staffers to record complimentary public service announcements, saving the city about $1,800 per month, Zethmayr said.
Whitaker has been approached several times to sell his radio stations to national companies that periodically buy stations in the county’s south end, but he will not sell stations to anyone who will not keep them local, Zethmayr said.
“Our stations serve this city and that's why we gave $137,725 to the city of Crestview over the past four years,” he said.