Regardless of which milestone you start from, community radio in Central Indiana has spent a long time gestating: 15 years since the City Radio project to create a community radio station was launched by the producers of a local children’s radio program; 53 years since one of those producers, Jim Walsh, settled upon the call letters WITT for his imaginary station at age 7; or 81 years since the government handed control of the airwaves over to commercial radio networks, effectively squelching educational, community and nonprofit stations.
Given the challenges involved in obtaining a frequency and construction permit, it’s remarkable that the people behind 91.9 WITT, a community radio station that will serve Zionsville and parts of Indianapolis, have persevered. Only in the past year has WITT become more than a dream, with the FCC issuance of a transmitter construction permit in May 2007, and an authorization in December 2007 to increase broadcast power to six kilowatts, enough juice to reach much of the Indianapolis metro area from Boone County.
All paperwork complete, volunteers hope to get 91.9 WITT on the air by the close of this year. Station volunteers have now moved into the next stage of their plan: outreach and fundraising, recruiting volunteers and collecting funds to purchase broadcasting equipment and cover operating costs.
The kickoff for outreach efforts will be Friday, Feb. 29 at Radio Radio, through a benefit concert featuring performances by The Philosophy, Kate Lamont & Blueprintmusic, Mudkids, Blackberry Jam (featuring Jumbo Shrimp) and Sarah Grain. The event will also host a silent auction and raffle to benefit WITT. Admission is $7 and doors open at 8 p.m.
What, then, is community radio? Or more specifically, what kind of community radio station will WITT be? Generally, a community radio station is a nonprofit and volunteer-run organization that attempts to serve needs in a community that are unmet by commercial or noncommercial stations supposedly broadcasting in the public interest. Of course, educational (college and high school), public (NPR affiliates) and commercial stations may also work towards the public good, so there’s a good deal of overlap in definitions and titles.
Community stations, at least of the type that WITT plans to be, might be distinguished most by accessibility: While college and high school stations welcome mostly student broadcasters, and public radio stations tend to employ a paid professional staff, community stations are programmed and directed by volunteers from the whole of the community.
In Indiana, WFHB, broadcasting on four frequencies covering South Central Indiana, has served as a model and inspiration for WITT. The Bloomington-based station, which began broadcasting in 1993, is staffed and directed entirely by volunteers (with the exception of a few paid staff members who work at the behest of a volunteer board), and carries locally-produced news, public affairs and music programs reflecting the diversity of the community.
A WITT brochure sketches the outlines of the station, saying, in part, that WITT will “include programs that are created locally; reflect the expertise of volunteers helping with programming and station operations; include music genres that may not currently exist on Indianapolis stations; feature home-grown music, masters of storytelling and Indiana historians; [and] in-depth dialogue on topics ranging from environmental concerns to entertainment events and political debates.”
WITT volunteers, meeting on a Monday night in a bank conference room in Broad Ripple, can fill in some other details on their own, speaking with NUVO after a planning session that hammered out details for the benefit show and opened up discussion about programming, finding a role for a hoped-for influx of volunteers and Web site design.
“The reason I got involved is because I feel like Indianapolis is undiscovered by its own population,” said Brooke Klejnot, who became a WITT volunteer in fall 2007, and has been a key figure in station fundraising. “I really think that people need to know what’s going on, because more people would interact in the community if they had an idea, or a one-stop shop to find what’s going on.”
Rick Wilkerson has been involved with the station for 13 years, back to when the project was still titled City Radio. “Indianapolis has got an incredibly rich musical heritage,” Wilkerson said. “We’ve got an incredible jazz heritage, an incredible funk heritage, some rock music that’s never been really heard by the population that is globally respected. In fact it’s true today: A lot of the bands that are popular elsewhere, people won’t go across the street to see them here; they’ve got to go to Europe when they tour, or they go to the West Coast when they tour, and coming back here, they just don’t have the traction. And a lot of that is because there isn’t a local radio station. And radio’s not about music anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time, and this is an opportunity for radio to be about music, among other things.”
Perry Stevens got involved with WITT at around the same time as Klejnot. “Other than the fact that everyone here would like to see more music than what’s currently offered on radio stations, more eclectic mixes, for me, it’s much broader than that, beyond the music,” Stevens said. “[It’s about] getting a different voice, different ideals out to people. Let’s face it: Most of the media is owned by several large corporations that have their own agenda, and if we could find some type of outlet that’s free from those constraints, we could help people see more ideas than what’s presented on mainstream media. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
A lot is still up the air for WITT. On the night of the planning meeting in Broad Ripple, WITT board member Stuart Lowry was downtown at the IU School of Law, crafting the station’s by-laws and other documents. But that means there’s more opportunity for volunteers to get involved with the station in a substantial way. According to Wilkerson, “In general, we’re coming from a small group of people that was working on the technical part and getting the construction permit, to reaching out to broaden the group, trying to get volunteers, to network — the key thing for us now is to get as many people involved as possible. We can’t offer you a radio show right now because we don’t have a radio station, but you can come in and help us do whatever it is we need to do to get the thing on the air, and we’re looking to get that 100 or 150 volunteers, with each one of those people attached to other people, and that helps to spread the word in and of itself. We hope to grow it organically.”
WHAT: Fundraiser for 91.9 WITT Community Radio featuring The Philosophy, Kate Lamont & Blueprintmusic, Mudkids, Blackberry Jam featuring Jumbo Shrimp, Sarah Grain
WHERE: Radio Radio, 1119 E. Prospect St.
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 29, 8 p.m., $7, 21+
Find out more about WITT at www.919witt.org or www.myspace.com/919witt.