Ten Years of Redding's Talk Radio with Carl and Linda Bott
By Melissa Mendonca
Tuned to Community
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Nigel Skeet
IT'S A SAFE BET Carl Bott never imagined co-owning a radio station with the blond beauty who kept catching his eye as he scrolled through the photos on his phone from his night at The Golden Boot Awards in Los Angeles back in 2006. There he was with Ann-Margret, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, so many greats of Western movies. But his eyes kept going back to the photo he had with the director’s assistant, Linda Regan, who had ushered people on and off stage, including him when he opened with the Pledge of Allegiance. There had been a connection, he felt, but he’d returned to Fallujah, Iraq with the Marines the day after the ceremony, and she’d returned to Redding, where she had a career in corporate radio.
“I never knew what her name was,” Carl says of the woman who would soon become his wife and is now known as Linda Bott. He sent an email to the producer of the awards ceremony and asked him to send it on in an effort to establish email communication with her. That first email went to her spam account.
The connection was eventually established, however, and Carl soon was calling in from Iraq to Linda’s radio program during holidays to update the community on active-duty life. When it came time for him to be discharged and return to the United States, Linda started with the hard sell on the merits of Redding, not the least of which that it is supportive of veterans.
“People ask why I moved to Redding and the answer is simple,” Carl says with a laugh. “Linda was here.” Turns out he didn’t require the hard sell at all. By the 2007 Golden Boot Awards, they attended as an engaged couple. They married January 1, 2008.
Carl, now a retired lieutenant colonel, began enjoying a live, on-air rapport with Linda at her corporate radio station, and the couple was settling into domestic bliss in Redding. It didn’t take long for troubles to brew at Linda’s station, however.
“The station sold to a new owner in New York,” says Carl. “On a Friday we were their favorites and on Monday they no longer needed us.”
Rather than retreat, the couple simply decided to start their own media company. Free Fire Media was born December 12, 2009 with KCNR 1460AM.
“It wasn’t a grudge,” says Linda. “It was more like, ‘You’re not going to interrupt our flow.’”
Says Carl, “We believed the concept of community radio was alive, and you don’t find it in a lot of places. The whole premise when we started the station was that it would be a community station.”
The heart of the station is the couple’s Monday-through-Friday program, Free Fire Radio, a live, open-line call in program they run from 7-9 am. “On our show we welcome everybody. We’ve had everyone from Moveon.org to the California State Militia, and everyone that runs between,” says Carl. “We try to do it like we’re having coffee and not get into big arguments. Everything is as civil as can be.”
The first 10 years of Free Fire Media seem to have flown by for the couple and they’re preparing a big celebration on Oct. 3 from 5-8 pm to mark the success. “We wouldn’t be where we are without all of the people who have supported us,” says Carl. They will pre-empt regular programming during their anniversary celebration to have quick interviews with listeners, advertisers and community leaders. “A lot of them see what we do and want to be part of what we do,” says Linda.
This year is about more than simply 10 years in business. In February, the station took on an FM frequency at 96.5FM. “We can reach more than 150,000 people on our FM station,” says Linda. “The reach is so much further.”
Plans are also in the works for nationwide engagement. “We’re going to take Free Fire Radio across the country next year because it’s the elections,” she adds. Says Carl, “We’ll travel the northern route and then the southern route to see what America is thinking.”
“We believe that Redding is in a growth cycle,” he adds. Free Fire Media is expanding as the community is deepening its engagement and the Botts are proud to amplify voices within this change. “We can help people talk about things that touch people, whether it’s medical or on the literary side.”
“We don’t want to stop because it’s purposeful,” says Linda, noting that it’s been a surprise that both she and Carl have established roots anywhere. “Carl and I pretty much had international lives,” she says. “Here we are in Redding and loving it. We’d never had roots before, but we do now. This is home.” •
Free Fire Media • 96.5 FM, 1460 AM
1326 Market St., Redding
10th Anniversary Celebration - October 3, 5-8 pm