A group of broadcast veterans wants to bring non-commercial community radio to the Rust Belt Market in downtown Ferndale and has launched a crowdfunding drive to help it get on the local airwaves.
The group of friends recently launched Ferndale Radio on Indiegogo. They’re aiming to raise $15,000 from backers to construct a tower, antenna, transmitter, and studio and go on the air within the next 12 months.
The group recently received a construction permit for a low-power FM station from the Federal Communications Commission after finding out it was opening up a spot on the Detroit-area FM dial. “It’s a pretty rare thing to have,” said Michelle Mirowski, the president of Ferndale Radio.
The project has coalesced around a group of friends who mostly live in the area and have experience in various aspects of running a radio station – including stations at Warren Cousino and Avondale High Schools, and Oakland University’s WXOU-FM.
“We’re all really passionate about radio … love radio, love music, it brings people together,” Mirowski said.
They’ve been working with local broadcast engineer Keith Fraley to determine an open frequency and have settled on 100.7 and the call letters WFCB, short for Ferndale Community Broadcasting. The group has also enlisted the help of the nonprofit Prometheus Radio Project to get off the ground.
It isn’t the first time the idea of community radio has bubbled up in Ferndale. About a decade ago, a group of local activists and music fans were challenging FCC rulings that they said were freezing the public out of the public airwaves and preserving them as a monopoly for commercial broadcasters.
Calling themselves the Michigan Music Campaign, the group aimed to launch a pirate radio station, but were never able to follow through, said the group’s founder, Stephanie Loveless, who was then known as Tom Trescott.
“It was never intended to last more than a month, maybe a few weeks,” said Loveless, who today publishes the Ferndale Friends newspaper and has urged the city to support the Ferndale Radio proposal. “We were just trying to make a political statement.
“We were going to broadcast for a couple of weeks and make our point that community radio doesn’t mean the end of western civilization.”
Despite helping persuade the FCC to designate the low power FM radio service in 2000, Loveless said the FCC caved to corporate broadcasters by limiting LPFM service to “a bare number of stations in a limited part of the country” that didn’t include large media markets like Detroit. Rule changes since then allowed Ferndale Radio to apply for the construction permit.
The LPFM designation would limit Ferndale Radio to 100 watts and a roughly 3.5-mile signal radius, with a tower of no more than 100 feet in height.
The group chose Rust Belt for its central location and because it’s cheaper to broadcast where your tower is, Mirowski said. A radio station also fit with the vision of the market’s owners, she said.
“The Rust Belt is all about DIY – do-it-yourself – creative and local, and all the vendors are fantastic people and just very creative individuals,” Mirowski said. “It was just the perfect melding of ideas and community-oriented.”
Crew would operate the station during regular hours for the market, which is open Fridays through Sundays, but would record multiple shows to offer 24-7 broadcast content such as local music, on-air book clubs, interviews and radio dramas.
“It’s going to be kind of what you expect from a college radio station,” Mirowski said.
The station would utilize all-volunteer staff, run no ads but would solicit underwriting from local businesses and organizations to help cover maintenance, insurance and music royalties.
The hope is to eventually stream the station online, as well.
“It’s been six-plus years in the making from the initial point of, hey, this sounds like a cool idea,” Mirowski said. “We’ve worked really hard and we’ve put everything we’ve got into this project. Also, this is something that obviously we’re not getting paid for, just kind of like a hobby, just something that we love and that we’re passionate about.”