Jonathan Westerling: Maintaining Sausalito’s Community Voice

By Steefenie Wicks

Jonathan Westerling on air.
Photo by Emmanuelle Delchambre

Radio has always played an important part in helping communities communicate.  During WWII, broadcasts from Treasure Island became the voice of freedom for many American POWs as they cobbled together clandestine radios in their prison camps to tune in to a twice-weekly newscast.  In Sausalito, the first radio station came on the air in 1949 with the call letters KDFC; this classical music station still exists today, only now in San Francisco.  But its strong signal is still being transmitted from Mount Beckon, which is located just above Wolfback Ridge in Sausalito.

When Jonathan Westerling first moved here in January of 2000, he lived in a small two-room cottage close to the Rotary Club Senior Housing complex.  Growing up in Hartford, Massachusetts, he had always been involved with technology and by the time he was 14 he had built his own radio transmitter.  While unpacking, he realized this radio transmitter had made the trip with him, and wanted to see if he could transmit music from the bedroom to the kitchen so he could hear it while he was cooking.  He hooked the transmitter up to his computer and began to broadcast 1940s big band tunes.  Little did he know that his neighbors in the senior complex next door could hear the music through open windows.  Soon everyone was talking about the new jazz radio station.  It was around this time that Marin Scope printed an article by Mark C. Anderson in his column “Mark My Words,” about this new mysterious jazz station in Sausalito.

Eventually, Jonathan was discovered and asked if he would consider creating a real local radio station.  Radio Sausalito made its first formal broadcast in March of 2000.  Westerling became the founder and president of the station and he basically takes care of everything so that volunteer broadcasters can have fun on the radio.  He would be the first to explain how Radio Sausalito is a not for profit station.  There are no commercials or sponsors that take over these local airwaves.   He feels it is important to keep the station a nonprofit, because this leaves the air space open for music, local announcements, tide reports and any community updates. 

Jonathan feels that radio is a simple medium which allows people to communicate. He tells of many instances where someone in the community or a local group has approached him to help out.  He is supported by the Sausalito Library, Heath Ceramics, Sausalito Women’s Club, the Rotary Club, just to name a few of the many community groups that believe as he does in the importance of a community voice.  Radio Sausalito has become that voice.  This was proven when the station had to move from its original location in Sausalito’s old police station.  He made an announcement over the air that Radio Sausalito needed a new home, and got eight very generous responses.  The best was from a father and son who were in the middle of a renovation of their home in the Sausalito hills.  They offered to build a studio in their home; soon Radio Sausalito was part of a new family in its new studio.  

Over the years Jonathan has seen his costs go up because he now has to pay more for licensing music from some artists, but is upset that more of the independent artists he plays still don’t get paid.  He also says it’s been proven that if you want to make a million dollars in radio, then you need to start out with $2 million.

He feels that Sausalito in many ways has become unique with its own radio station.  Also, Radio Sausalito is now working with local TV stations that are being broadcast from San Rafael.  Channel 26, 27 and 30 now play Radio Sausalito between their scheduled programs.

A lot of people tell him they want to be on the radio, but to show up every week with a fresh programming idea can be a problem for some. Still, over 20 individuals now come to the station, and set about doing their own radio shows, all volunteers. 

As a trained bassoonist, Jonathan feels that music is a key to life, and that jazz, in particular, seems to resonate with just about everyone. It’s a type of music that makes you feel better off.

One of the features of Radio Sausalito is Sausalito’s Secret History, a series of brief spots covering historic local tidbits.  They can be heard on the air at 1610AM, or via podcast at: