Gretchen DeBacker and Matt Killam sat down, turned on a timer, and started talking.
The goal was to see if they could talk, uninterrupted, for 10 minutes. When they hit their benchmark they thought, “Yeah, we could do a radio show.”
The two Toledoans will be among the first radio hosts on the city’s soon-to-launch low-power FM station, WAKT-FM 106.1. The community-driven station begins broadcasting July 1, said Sean Nestor, the station’s founder and treasurer.
The station will feature mostly original, local content as well as some syndicated programming, said Nestor, 31, of Toledo.
“We determined we wanted to create a station that would really support really underrepresented perspectives in the media,” he said. “ … We want to fill some of those gaps by leveraging community power.”
Station planning began in 2013 when Nestor learned that the Federal Communications Commission would open a window for low-power FM station applications that November. He put out a call on social media, asking area residents if they might be interested in an independent, community-focused station.
People committed to the idea and, through the process of applying and receiving the license, stayed on board, volunteering as show hosts, radio engineers, and legal help.
The station’s governing board of nine people is working to raise additional funds, setting a goal of $25,000 to $30,000 to pay for the studio equipment and the tower. The studio will be housed in the Collingwood Arts Center and the tower will be placed atop the Original Sub and Deli at 402 Broadway.
Once all of the equipment is purchased and the station established, the annual budget will be about $10,000.
With the low-power FM license comes stipulations. The station is not allowed to be a commercial enterprise, so they can’t sell advertising. The station can, however, have underwriting for programs and also have paid memberships — much like NPR or PBS.
WAKT will have its strongest signal within three-to-five miles of the South Toledo tower, and should be listenable throughout Toledo, Mr. Nestor said.
The station's board members plan to do more online, like simulcast programs or post podcasts of each show, said Susan Shelangoskie, 43, the station's board chairman.
Across the United States, there are 1,500 low-power FM stations, said FCC spokesman Janice Wise, and 1,000 more stations have construction permits. Those stations still need to apply for a license before they're able to broadcast.
Low-power FM was created in 2000 after a grassroots effort pushed for communities to have some control of local airwaves, according to the Prometheus Radio Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for community radio.
In the two years WAKT has solicited applications for original radio programming, the station has received about 50 to 60 applications. Of those, 18 have pilot episodes and six others are in line to record a pilot, Mr. Nestor said.
Show ideas seem to be split equally between music and talk programs. Lined up for the summertime launch are programs such as Just for the Health of It, a public-health program hosted by Dan Rutt, a former health planner with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, and Transparency, a show about parenting from a faith-based perspective.
DeBacker and Killam's show, Limited Perspectives is “two dopes who have a real love affair for the city. Our legitimacy will be provided by our guests,” Killam said.
The hosts will talk to scheduled guests, and callers, to talk about, well, anything, DeBacker, 46, said. The pilot episode, which was recorded with Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, was 45 minutes of banter between the hosts and their guest about the then-newly released House of Cards season.
“We want to get another side of people than you normally see,” DeBacker said. “ … The real question is, 'Will anyone else find it interesting?'”
Important to the radio group is promoting Toledo's music scene, Nestor said.
One of the station's shows, Live and Local, hosted by Debbie DeSteno, will host local musicians who might play a song or two and then sit down for an interview.
“One of our targets is to engage the local music scene and be a resource and support for it,” Nestor said. “... What we'd like to do is encourage and make stronger the scene by recording shows, studio sessions, and having them on the air.”
Anyone interested in applying for a radio show, or contributing financially, can do so on the station's website, wakt.fm.
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