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Low on power, high on enthusiasm

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Low on power, high on enthusiasm ; Scrappy radio station offers Sarasota an eclectic mix of programs -- all on a budget of $25,000
ERIK MAZA erik.maza@heraldtribune.com. Sarasota Herald Tribune. Sarasota, Fla.: Jun 26, 2006. pg. BS.1

Abstract (Document Summary)
With the money raised during the fundraiser, [Arlene Sweeting] hopes to move the antenna to the Jewish Community Center, which is ideally centered between the signals of the Bible Broadcasting Network and WINK in Fort Myers. At present, those two signals are so strong, they have severely curtailed the reach of WSLR.

A resident of Sarasota for 23 years, [Joe Jacco] is the prototypical host at WSLR, a self-admitted hippie long on spirit but short on experience.

chip.litherland@heraldtribune.com Joe Jacco starts his "The Revolution Starts Now" program, which features protest and folk music, at the WSLR studio in Sarasota on Thursday. The station started a weeklong on-air fundraiser Friday.

Full Text (823 words)
Copyright New York Times Company Jun 26, 2006
After almost a year on the air, WSLR 96.5 FM is still not much of a radio station.

It can't be heard beyond Interstate 75 to the east, or beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way to the north, where the Bible Broadcasting Network's transmitter holds sway.

It still doesn't have much of an audience, though it bills itself as the community's radio station.

It does, however, have something most struggling radio stations don't: spunk, and about 80 spunky programmers dedicated to making it work.

In the past year, the station manager, Arlene Sweeting, has assembled a programming playlist that caters to every niche in the community without a voice on the dial -- from scrappy 8-year-olds to aging hipsters.

On Friday, the station began its first weeklong on-air fundraiser, in hopes of raising enough money to move its antenna to a new location and fund its $25,000 bare-bones budget.

Already, it has received an anonymous $10,000 matching grant.

"If everyone in Sarasota listened at least once, then we've accomplished our goal," said Joe Jacco, host of the '60s music show "The Revolution Starts Now."

"We'll always be low-powered, but we won't always be unheard- of."

Although it hasn't made waves, as one of its founders announced last July (ripples is more like it), the station now produces two weekly half-hour local news programs, 57 regular shows and broadcasts more than 60 hours of uninterrupted music a week.

Three of the regular shows -- "Hip Hop Summit," "Leafy's Chinese Hour" and "Give Peace a Dance" -- were added within the past two weeks.

With the money raised during the fundraiser, Sweeting hopes to move the antenna to the Jewish Community Center, which is ideally centered between the signals of the Bible Broadcasting Network and WINK in Fort Myers. At present, those two signals are so strong, they have severely curtailed the reach of WSLR.

A new antenna 20 feet higher would finally allow WSLR to reach the New College of Florida campus, among other spots.

Sweeting says she also wants to start paying the news director, Ed Ericsson, whose biweekly program provides in-depth features about the area and uses student and community-based reporters.

The list doesn't stop there.

Sweeting's wish list includes a production studio, an ISDN phone line for a more reliable signal, an Arbitron subscription to measure audience size and an Internet broadcast. She can't afford any of that stuff now, but the list speaks to the undaunted ambitions of the station's founders.

"We're not struggling to pay the bills, but we lack the funding to take it to the next level," she said.

The idea for WSLR began about six years ago when the Federal Communications Commission started handing out licenses to low-power stations, and people like Sweeting started applying for their own frequencies.

Low-power FM was created for non-commercial community stations that broadcast at less than 100 watts. According to the FCC, there are 712 such stations across the country, including 42 in Florida. There are about 500 other stations seeking licenses now across the country, including 50 in Florida.

There is just one broadcasting in Sarasota: WSLR.

The goal behind the station was to create an outlet for people like Jacco, who had grown dissatisfied with radio stations that were too commercial and too repetitive.

A resident of Sarasota for 23 years, Jacco is the prototypical host at WSLR, a self-admitted hippie long on spirit but short on experience.

Although the focus of his show is on protest songs from the 1960s, "The Revolution Starts Now" is a mixed bag of attitudes and styles.

All of his shows end with the Steve Earle song that inspired the show's title, a tune that might as well have been written about the scrappy underdogs at WSLR.

"The revolution starts now, in your own hometown, in your backyard," the song goes

It doesn't matter if it takes a while for WSLR to find a real audience, Jacco said. For now, the important thing is that people in the community are finally getting involved.

"We're just like WMNF 25 years ago," he said, referring to the non-commercial radio station of Tampa that became the first community radio station in the state in 1979.

For Jacco, Sweeting and the rest, it doesn't matter if the studio is inside a house that's still under construction.

It also doesn't matter if the antenna hasn't been moved, or that Sarasota still hasn't tuned in, or that the station is sometimes reduced to a hissing sound on the radio dial.

They want to make waves.

"We aim to be grassroots radio," Jacco said. "I feel like an evangelist when I talk about the station. It's my cause."

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