GERMANTOWN—WGXC, the new, non-commercial FM radio station designed to cover much of Columbia and Greene counties is getting ready to begin broadcasts this Saturday, May 9. Kind of.
The volunteers putting together the community station at 90.7 on the FM dial don’t actually expect to broadcast over the airwaves until at least June 2010, but they do want to begin developing program in the meantime on the Internet, and that’s where listeners can hear four hours of live programming this weekend along with recorded work by local musicians. The website is www.wgxc.org.
The group that holds the permit from the Federal Communications Commission to build the new station is called free103point9, although its logo calls this endeavor the Greene/Columbia Community Radio Project. The site specified for the transmitter is near Cairo in central Greene County, and its first electronic emanations will originate from the Catskill Community Center.
But Tom Roe, the station’s program director and an independent radio artist, says the group is looking for a companion studio, which he’d like to see on Warren Street in Hudson or some other highly accessible and visible place in the city.
One of the biggest problems he and his colleagues face is they don’t have the money yet to pay rent (this newspaper faces the same challenge). So along with the first scheduled audio signals “streamed” through the website, Saturday marks the group’s first official fundraising event, a potluck lunch and afternoon workshops, live music transmitted through the website, dancing, dinner, and a benefit auction and raffle at Germantown Community Farm, 4872 state Route 9G. The event is scheduled to last from noon to midnight.
In addition to helping fund the planned station here, some of the proceeds will help support Madre Tierra, a community radio station run by an indigenous farmworkers coalition in Chiapas, Mexico. The suggested donation is $5-to-$25.
This new station is the result of digital broadcast technology, which makes it possible to pack many more frequencies into the broadcast spectrum. A few years ago, the FCC opened a brief bureaucratic window and accepted applications for new, non-commercial stations. The free103point9 group won one of the permits that will lead to a broadcast license once the station has a transmitter and antenna. But fundraisers like the one scheduled for Germantown, will not be enough to cover the more than $100,000 Mr. Roe estimates that it will cost to get the station on the air.
For that kind of financial help he and his colleagues have pinned their hopes on a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which would cover up to half the cost. Although the decision on the grant will not be made public until October, Mr. Roe says his group has learned that WGXC has a “50% chance” of receiving the money. And even if the grant falls through, he expects it will only delay plans by a year, partly because the group has already received donated microphones and other equipment.
Once the station does begin broadcasting, it will enter a very crowded radio market. Bill Williams, facilities manager for the three Clear Channel Communications commercial stations in Hudson (98.5 and 93.5 FM and WHUC 1230 AM) (the company is an advertiser in this newspaper) doesn’t see the potential of WGXC as a competitive threat, noting that the people likely to tune in to the new station “already are not listening to us.”
But they may be listening to WAMC-FM (90.3), the flagship station of Northeast Public Radio, the regional network of transmitters that carries both National Public Radio and an extensive lineup of locally produced programs. WAMC operates repeater transmitters in Hudson (97.1 FM), in Great Barrington, Mass. (105.1) and in Woodstock (93.9), all of which bring the signal into the WGXC listening area.
“There’s no question there’s going to a tremendous localization of radio,” Alan Chartock, president of WAMC, said this week. But he did not see that as a bad thing. “The more choices people have the better,” said Dr. Chartock.
In the non-commercial realm WAMC may be the biggest force to reckon with, but there are other radio voices as well. They include WMHT-FM (89.1) in North Greenbush and WRPI In Troy. Bard College has applied for a station similar to the permit granted to Mr. Roe’s group.
None of this deters Mr. Roe, who already has as many as many as 60 volunteers working on various aspects of WGXC and as many more waiting for assignments. He, his colleagues and their board of community advisors hope to harness that energy into a force that can fill a gap in the coverage of local news. Even with all stations already on the air, he said, truly local news is not part of the mix. As he put it, “There’s not a lot of talk about Kinderhook … not a lot of talk about Germantown.”
Camping in the orchard at the site of the Germantown event is welcome, but accommodations in the house are limited, and participants should alert the organizers if they want them. Free childcare will be provided. Email to reserve a campsite and call (518) 537-6139 or check www.germantowncommunityfarm.blogspot.com for details.