Pala Rez Radio station manager John Fox knew the importance of promoting the FM radio station at the San Diego County Fair, and Pala Rez Radio had a booth at the county fair on various days in 2012 and 2013. On June 7 of this year, Pala Rez Radio had a booth at the fair on Opening Day for the first time.
“We just thought we’d like to try Opening Day this year,” Fox said.
An earlier than usual fair opening date along with horse racing’s Belmont Stakes that afternoon in which California Chrome had a chance of winning the Triple Crown led to lighter than expected Saturday attendance.
“I thought the crowds were a little underwhelming in terms of numbers, but it was a nice bunch of people,” Fox said.
Fox noted that during the first two years many attendees were unaware that Pala had a radio station.
“This year people are starting to come up and know who we are,” he said. “Not everybody has to be totally educated about who we are and where we are and how you can hear us.”
Pala Rez Radio is at 91.3 on the FM dial but only transmits with 100 watts. “There is just virtually no room for a Class A, B, or C station in Southern California,” Fox said.
On the FM dial Pala Rez Radio is between 91X, a Mexican (in terms of transmitter location but with English-language programming) Class C station at 91.1 on the FM dial and KUSC, a Class B Los Angeles station at 91.5 on the FM dial. Those two stations block out Pala Rez Radio in much of the area outside the Pala reservation.
“Rainbow Heights can hear us and portions of Fallbrook, including the Gird Road, Bonsall Heights area,” Fox said.
The mountainous terrain hinders the line-of-sight transmission of the FM band, although wavelength reflection may work in the radio station’s favor and reception can sometimes be obtained along East Mission Road in Fallbrook.
“Sometimes you find us in unexpected places,” Fox said.
Pala Rez Radio transmits from the San Luis Rey River Valley.
“The transmitter is kind of unusual and less than ideal because it’s 1,000 feet below average terrain,” Fox said.
“We’re surrounded by hills that are at least 1,000 feet higher than us,” Fox said. “If we had some height, 100 watts would be great.”
Fox has been involved with Pala Rez Radio for approximately 3 1/2 years.
“I put the station on the air,” he said. “The project had been in the works as far as applications and stuff for about two or three years before I got here.”
Fox’s mother lost her Valley Oaks Park home in the October 2007 Rice Fire. The limited information about the nearby fires led to the Pala tribal council’s decision to launch a radio station to provide emergency information.
“They really wanted it so that they would have decent emergency communications,” Fox said. “They never really thought about what else they would put on it.”
Fox is a 1974 Fallbrook High School graduate who moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State University. While still in high school he worked at KMLO, which at the time were the call letters of the Vista station at 1000 on the AM dial.
“I had a little bit of professional experience by the time I got to San Diego,” Fox said.
The experience enabled Fox to obtain a college job at KFMB, the call letters of the Channel 8 television station, 760 AM, and the 100.7 FM station then known as B-100. “That developed into 16 years there,” he said.
Fox’s time at KFMB included being a disc jockey on B-100. The promotions at the time included FM converters for automobiles, which at one time had AM radio only. “When I got into radio, FM was just starting to happen,” he said.
Fox noted some comparisons between the development of FM radio, including converters, and the development of Internet radio which allows Pala Rez Radio to be heard by those outside the station’s transmission area.
Fox then took a position with the morning show at KEZY in Los Angeles, which was followed by a position as the network director of Catholic Radio Network. He then took part-time jobs at KSWB in Los Angeles, KOLA in Redlands, and KCBQ in San Diego. He was living in Corona, and on some occasions he worked in all three cities on the same day.
“The rat race of running between all the part-time jobs got to me,” he said.
Fox spent eight years away from radio. “I still kept my ear in it,” he said.
Fox and his wife, Susan, also continued to frequent the Fallbrook area. He had heard about the opening for the station manager at Pala. “It’s not anything like any radio job that I’ve ever had before,” he said.
Fox and his wife had dinner at the Pala Casino buffet shortly after he heard about the position. His mother had passed away the year before, and one of her favorite foods and final requests was Bananas Foster. That evening at Pala Casino the buffet dessert options included Bananas Foster. “Susan and I said to each other: ‘you’ve got to apply for this job; it’s a sign’,” Fox said.
Fox is the station’s only full-time paid employee. As the station manager he is responsible for the format.
“Being a non-commercial community station, I felt like we shouldn’t just be playing music,” he said.
The 24-hour station includes an automated music mix but also includes local talk and news, Native American culture, and classic radio shows. Fox noted that his top priorities in terms of information are the Pala reservation, the general nearby community, and native people on a national basis.
The music includes Native American songs, and it also includes reggae from 7 to 8 p.m. “Reggae is extremely popular on the reservation,” Fox said.
The Old Time Radio Hour from midnight to 1 a.m. features different 30-minute shows each day of the week.
“That’s all public domain, so we can just toss that on the air,” Fox said. “I got the idea because KNX in Los Angeles used to do that.”
The episodes from the 14 radio programs include the commercials which were part of the broadcasts at the time they originally aired.
“You’ll hear commercials for stuff which isn’t even made anymore,” Fox said.
Pala Rez Radio also has an affiliation with iHeart Radio. “We have a very strong Internet presence,” Fox said.
That allows Pala tribal members who do not live on the reservation to listen to the programming and also makes the station accessible to other radio fans outside the reservation.
After Fox launched Pala Rez Radio, he contacted the San Diego County Fair about the possibility of having a booth. “We’re now on their radar just like any other station,” he said.
The fair assigns each radio station specific days. This year Pala Rez Radio will have a total of six days at the fair; the final two will be June 26 and July 1.
“This is my dream job right now,” Fox said. “It turned out to be a really good fit.”