Big Cabbage Radio Thrives With Volunteers’ Donor Dollars

Contributed by K.T. McKee

Public radio is powerful. Through it, Radio Free Palmer sheds light on the stories of everyday people in our community who are affecting our lives. 

Big Cabbage Radio is one of the threads that connects us as an Alaskan community. And they’re available to more than Palmer and Glacier View residents now. Thanks to a new and improved transmitter planted on Lazy Mountain earlier this year, Radio Free Palmer can now be picked up in Wasilla on 89.7 FM.

As always, anyone in Mat-Su and beyond can listen to live streaming of important government meetings, to podcasts of fun and informative radio programs and local talk shows on their website at

RFP CEO, Mike Chmielewski, and his wife, Lee Henrikson, who serves as board president, can’t say enough for those who have given of their time and money to help make Big Cabbage a success in its cozy abode next to Fireside Books on Alaska Street in Palmer. 

“In a world where there seems to be an increased sharing of dark opinions putting others down, stories that inspire coming from every part of the community color our lives,” said Chmielewski, a 36-year Palmer resident and retired Mat-Su educator who made good on his promise to become a green-haired “cabbage head” when a fundraising goal was reached recently. “There is joy in both the telling and the hearing of our shared experiences.”

Henrikson agreed, adding that being involved in the Valley’s only commercial-free radio station has meant more than simply providing services other local stations haven’t. 

“For me, radio is about community,” said Henrikson, an instructional designer at UAA who has lived in Palmer for sixteen years. “I love meeting other people who live, work and volunteer in the Valley and hearing their stories. I love giving voice to others - literally - by letting them tell their stories on the air.”

To Chmielewski and Henrikson, Big Cabbage Radio would be nothing without its network of volunteers, some of whom serve on the Board of Directors or the Citizens Advisory Board. Others help with programming, fundraising or a myriad of other tasks and projects. 

Volunteer, Dorothy Shepard, said it was a friend who’d sparked her interest in the organization. She said she hopes others will be inspired by her example. 

“My friend, Laurie, told me she'd begun volunteering at Radio Free Palmer. I was so excited for her! Both of us had done volunteer radio shows at KCAW in Sitka when living there a number of years ago,” Shepard said. “I told her I really missed doing radio. The next thing I knew, Laurie had arranged for me to meet with Mike, the station manager. I've been doing a live show called ‘Jazz Groove’ weekly for several months now. This is a great place to volunteer! Mike, Lee and the many community members who are involved have created a wonderful radio station with something for everyone. They are always welcoming of new people and ideas. If you haven't joined us yet, come on down! You will be glad you did. There are many ways to become involved, whatever your skill set or available time.”

Cary Bolling, another volunteer who has his own music program on RFP called “The Grade” at noon on the weekends, said he feels his involvement has greatly enriched his own life. 

“I got involved in Radio Free Palmer originally as a creative outlet. I do my own half hour music program for fun. Years ago, I worked at a radio station in Nome and always loved to DJ, produce and do tech work in the studio. So it's been a great opportunity to use those skills again,” Bolling said. “But what I've found as I've spent more time at the station is how we have this amazing group of folks who volunteer their own time and expertise, how we have this unique, locally informative programming, and how it all operates with the goal of building and enhancing the greater community. That is really cool, and a welcome respite from what one normally hears being broadcast or streamed."

Big Cabbage Board Member, Steffen Frommer, who runs HomeWell Senior Care with family members, got involved with RFP in 2014 when a good friend invited him to a volunteer meeting. Frommer said he had just moved to Wasilla from Anchorage that summer and had a desire to get more involved in the community. 

“My friend who invited me to come to a volunteers’ meeting was already an active volunteer and she thought that this might be a place for me to help out doing some community event work for Big Cabbage Radio and at the same time get to know folks in the Valley, and have some fun at the same time,” Frommer said. “This opportunity also gives me and my friend more time to do things together. I am currently the station’s Volunteer Underwriting Program Sponsorship Manager, and I love what I am doing. Come and join the volunteer program. Bring a friend to share the experience. You will be very welcome and appreciated.” 

K.T. McKee serves on the RFP Board and also volunteers her time streaming the Mat-Su Borough School Board meetings for Big Cabbage and managing the RFP Facebook page. 

Photo Credit: Joseph Davis, RFP Board Member. The photo includes RFP board members and volunteers at a Volunteer Appreciation Party in Palmer Dec. 10th.