KBBS "Basque Hour", Buffalo, Wyoming

The Wyoming Basque Radio program, known as the “Basque Hour” was on the air from 1956-2000, on the Buffalo-based KBBS Radio Station. The program was sponsored by local Wyoming Basques.

The Wyoming Basque Radio program is another example of American Basques attempting to ease the loneliness of the Basque sheepherders who barely spoke English. When they were in the hills, the only communication they had was the radio. They were thousands of miles from home and the radio program was the only way to fight this “bakardadea” (loneliness). “For one hour every Sunday, KBBS, 1450 AM was filled with Basque music, news, jokes and stories. It was a connection to home for those so far away from the Basque country. That hour continued for 40 years”1.

The Buffalo-based radio program was, as far as we know, the longest running Basque radio program in the western United States. The “Basque Hour” began in December of 1956 under the auspices of Jeanette (Esponda) Maxwell, and continued until the year 2000 when it no longer made sense to keep broadcasting due to the lack of Basque sheepherders working in Wyoming. During all 40 years, the programs were broadcast entirely in Basque.

“Jeanette Esponda Maxwell was born in Buffalo on March 15, 1923. Her father, John Esponda, was known as “King of the Basques” around Buffalo. He was from St. Etienne de Baigorri and her mother, Dominica Etchemendy, was from Arnegi, Basse Navarre. Most of the Basques in Wyoming were from both sides of Navarre.

In 1956, Jeanette purchased Radio KBBS and, shortly thereafter, started broadcasting in Basque by Basques, for Basques. The program aired every Sunday since its inception with the only exception being an accommodation for the World Series. The famous hour of music, news, messages and views was sponsored by and for the Basque people of this area”. 2

Other historic commentators were:

·         Pierre Amestoy, born in Armendaritz, Basse Navarre in 1923. He was a commentator from 1984-1989.

·         Martin Camino, born in Arnegi, Basse Navarre in 1913. For thirty years he was a commentator on the program (1957-1987).

·         Juan Cinquambre, born in Arrazu, Navarre, in 1921.

·         Bernard Etchemendy, born in St. Michel, Basse Navarre in 1906.

·         Jeanne Marie Etchemendy, born in St. Etienne de Baigorri in 1908. She was a commentator for 25 years from 1972 to 1997

·         Rosalia Maya de Ibara, born in Sumbilla, Navarra on August 22, 1931.

·         Domingo Martirena, born in St. Etienne de Baigorri, in 1924. He kept the program going from the beginning until almost the end, nearly 40 years.

·         Grayce Esponda Miller, sister of Jeanette Esponda Maxwell, born in 1920.  After raising her three children she became a commentator on the program until its final year.

According to Cinquambre the program was taped on Thursdays but aired on Sundays. In the early days, the program cost $900 dollars per year to broadcast, a high price for that time. According to Martirena, when the radio program started, there were around 200 Basques in the area, but at the end there were approximately ten native Basques living in Wyoming.

The program was inducted into the Society of Basque Studies in America Hall of Fame (1997).

Sources:

1 and 2: 17th Annual Basque Hall of Fame March 1997 – Buffalo, WY.

Burden, Jennifer; A familiar Sound, article in the 2011 NABO Festival.

Passehl-Stoddart, Erin: Boise’s Basque Radio Program, February 2011.