In the remote, arid desert of Arizona, hope beckons, sending out a signal loud and clear. KTNN, the voice of the Navajo Nation, is proudly broadcasting from its new facility, which opened in March, thanks to the work of architect Kurt Kerns and the dedication of station manager Troy Little.
“To build a facility that is multiformat is always a bit of a challenge,” says Kerns, who has been designing and building radio stations for decades, “but the importance of this was making sure we developed something that reflected the Navajo culture.”
The result is a state-of-the-art studio that melds current technology with ancient Native American values and beauty. It’s home to a station that reports on tribal issues, plays country music, broadcasts a number of shows in native Navajo language, provides school updates, has a horse show minute and rodeo report, and airs NBC news at the top of every hour. Its programming is as diverse as life on the reservation, and now its studio properly reflects that beauty.
Walls in the recording studio are the deep red found in sunsets on the reservation. Glass in the media center allows DJs to report on passing traffic, and offers the opportunity for curious onlookers to stop by the station and watch as shows are being broadcast. Indigenous wood covers the ceiling, while open rooms and beautiful rugs reflect the Navajo’s rich history. It was certainly a change from most of V Three Studios projects, which are niche communication studios, with very high-end, specific gear, whether it be for broadcasting college sports or meeting network needs.
“We tried to think about it from a Navajo native’s perspective and make sure it was something they would have derived at, and not as if it came from half way across the country,” states Kerns, who is based out of St. Louis, MO.
When he was initially approached by Little, Kerns was enthusiastic, albeit a bit skeptical. This was the third time the Native Broadcast Enterprise was trying to build a station, and the company had been struggling to meet its mission of educating, informing and entertaining the Navajo people because they were using 40-year-old equipment housed in dilapidated buildings. KTNN 660 AM broadcasts throughout the reservation, which spans four states and is equivalent to the size of Rhode Island at 26,000 acres. When Kerns landed in Albuquerque and drove over three hours to Window Rock, he was awed by the vastness and shocked by the gaps in cell service.
V Three Studios worked pro bono on the feasibility and planning aspects, which took a while to conclude back in 2014. Once Little got approval from the station’s board of directors and the tribal council, he secured funding and the construction began. Challenges included getting adequate power to the site, which has a cattle guard across the property’s entrance; finding equipment that’s sophisticated enough to take advantage of podcasting and streaming, yet is accessible enough so KTNN’s versatile DJs could master their use; and working with contractors who’d never built a station before.
“We saw the pictures, and then to feel it and touch it, it’s completely like ‘wow’,” explains Little. “Things are exactly the way they looked on paper. It’s really something when you come into the facility.”
When they officially opened the doors in March, so many people attended that the festivities ran well into the night. With visitors ranging from passersby to students on organized school trips, the station still averages two tours a day. “Our listeners are just so happy and excited for us that we have a new home,” concludes Little.
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