Believing in LP Radio Means Building Support
Getting a low power radio station on the air is never easy. But every fight can be made easier when experienced hands and hearts pitch in.
WNUC is Detroit’s only community radio station. They went on the air on May 12, 2017, just in time to report on a community issue regarding local transportation. This was a victory broadcast hard won, since station founders struggled for years to meet regulatory demands. They soft-launched just nine days before the station’s extended construction permit (CP) expired. Community radio advocates and volunteers pitched in, offering technical services and experience to get the station on air. A few volunteers of note included Dave Klann of WDRT and Todd Wallin of Open Source Radio/Phantom Machine Works.
Reverend Ross, station manager, makes the point; “More effort and help have to be given to LPFM if we really believe. Yes, we need money, but we also need moral support, experience, knowledge and care from those who are in community radio.”
Trouble in Motor City
The station’s location was an big obstacle in May 2015. Because of its proximity to Canada, the station needed to make sure that the signal would not cross the border. This requires a directional antenna, and they couldn’t broadcast before the antenna was made and mounted. Rev. Ross then discovered a multitude of city building code regulations before the studio could operate.
“How stupid and naïve I was. I thought ‘I had a CP from the Feds and [can] put up a radio station,’ but then I ran into the city of Detroit. It was a nightmare.”
The city required that the station have both an engineer and an architect. WNUC struggled to find professionals who were a proper fit and meet required fees. The city mandated a zoning hearing and waiting period for public comment before granting a variance. They argued that the installation of the studio had changed the existing building’s use. By the time all city regulations were satisfied it was already February 2017, and the station’s now-extended CP was set to expire in just three months.
Financial pressure also mounted; with regulations now satisfied, equipment had to be bought. Rev. Ross says, “Most of the money I’d raised had gone to rent without benefit of new sponsors. It was an ordeal. People have a lot of trouble buying into what they can’t see, smell or touch.”
Community Radio Pitches In
What saved the station and strengthened Rev. Ross’s spirits was help from the community radio world. “Thank God for the Grassroots Radio Conference and the folks I met through Pacifica. Dave Klann and Todd Wallin stood by me like knights in shining armor.”
Klann and Wallin made multiple trips to Detroit to help WNUC. Everything from finding a pro bono engineer, sitting in on community meetings, tracking down required documents, and tackling technical challenges. Just as importantly, they answered Rev. Ross’s calls when she “wanted to cry and throw in the towel.”
Rev. Ross’s experience has motivated her to begin formulating ideas for a community station support team. She has a list of minority LPFMs who she is eager to offer emotional help to. She knows that WNUC was fortunate to find the help it needed, but also that hundreds of other community stations lost their permits for lack of money and experienced support.
“We can’t allow stations to try to make it on their own, to let them survive or not. We need Pacifica, the NFCB (National Federation of Community Broadcasters), to reach out to LPFM stations. I hope WNUC becomes a living example of that. We survived because God moved in the heart of Dave and Todd. We want to ask what we can do today to help stations stay.”
Reverend Joan Ross of WNUC can be contacted at email@example.com.
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