Community Radio Station Thrives by Celebrating Native American Culture

KSUT Public Radio is one of the first public radio stations to offer comprehensive Native American programming in the U.S. Forty years later, it continues to grow and flourish, with additional staff, programming and an anticipated new space.

View Team

IGNACIO, COLORADO — KSUT Public Radio started as a one-room low-power radio broadcaster offering Native American programming more than 40 years ago. There was only one employee then. Now, the community radio station has more than 40,000 listeners and is housed in a five-room building in the town of Ignacio, in the U.S. state of Colorado. One of the rooms is used for recording shows.

The station’s now 11-member staff has outgrown this space.

Before year’s end, they will move to a 5,000-square foot media center named after one of the radio’s longtime board members, Eddie Box Jr.

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The red-brick building that is currently home to KSUT Public Radio, one of the first eight tribal radio stations in the U.S., was once part of a medical facility that closed in the 1980s. The new media center will be located less than 1,000 feet from this building.

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Husband and wife Ray Dekay (left) and Williamette Thompson-Dekay have been volunteer radio hosts with KSUT Public Radio since the 1990s. Around the same time, their daughter started playing basketball at Ignacio High School.

That gave the couple the idea for a radio show that provided community members with an up-to-the-minute experience from games at the local high school.

“We went on the road and community members would call me and ask are you going to the game and announcing,” Williamette Thompson-Dekay says.

The Dekays are looking forward to the new media center, which will have multiple production rooms for community members and volunteers to work on special projects.

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Mike Santistevan’s love for pow wow music, which is played at tribal gatherings, is what brought him to KSUT Public Radio from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s purchasing department. Santistevan is the host of the station’s Tribal Radio Morning Show, a two-hour long program featuring the music he loves. The self-taught radio host says he carefully selects each song he plays. Some songs can only be played during certain times of the year, he explains.

Santistevan says he’s excited about the new media center for two reasons.

Once the facility is up and running, he will be able to host in-studio performances with local artists. He hasn’t been able to do this because the equipment at the current studio is outdated, he says. Santistevan will also have the opportunity to pass on his musical knowledge to young members of his tribe, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, as one of the center’s resident trainers.

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The narrow hallway leading to the only recording studio at the KSUT Public Radio station contains shelves full of CDs. These CDs will become a part of a larger archival library at the new media center.