In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, when Phoenicia was without power for six days, Michael Koegel, proprietor of Mama’s Boy Cafe and Market, drove west on Route 28 to check on friends in Margaretville. He discovered that his car radio was receiving WIOX 91.3 FM, Roxbury’s community radio station, which was broadcasting news about the flood and the recovery process.
“I was listening to them say Governor Cuomo was in Margaretville at that moment, when we were right on the other side of the Margaretville bridge,” recalls Koegel. “It was frustrating to drive back to Phoenicia, where there was a complete blackout.”
Soon, if all goes well, Phoenicians will be able to tune in to WIOX on their own radios, thanks to a transmitter hooked up through the Internet at Mama’s Boy. Koegel has a back-up generator, so even if the power in Phoenicia goes out, as long as cable service is intact, people within a one-mile radius of the cafe will be able to get WIOX. “And if, in the next emergency, 100 more people know there’s a radio station giving out information, and they can drive up the road and get news, that will be good,” Koegel remarks.
The WIOX signal has approximately a 50-mile radius, and Roxbury is only 33 miles northwest of Phoenicia, but the signal is blocked by the intervening mountains. “We’ve been researching how to bring in other communities,” says station managing consultant Joe Piasek, who feels that community radio offers a local focus that stations in Kingston and Albany cannot provide.
“Our station is run entirely by volunteers,” says Piasek. “Community stakeholders from the mountain communities bring their expertise to the programming, which includes news, weather, music, talk shows, and emergency information.”
The station is streamed over the Internet, so it can be heard anywhere there’s cable. Smartphone apps, available free from iTunes, enable users to turn their cell phones into the 21st century equivalent of a transistor radio, as long as 3G or wifi service is available. But most people like to listen to radio on their radios.
Koegel heard of WIOX from talking to his customers. Someone told him about the show DJ’d by one of the beloved Phoenicia librarians. “Susan Shaw’s Radio Gumbo” is broadcast on Saturdays from 9 p.m.-11 p.m. When he learned more about the station, Koegel recognized Piasek’s name from the days when they both worked for MTV in Manhattan. On a trip to Roxbury to be interviewed about the opening of his cafe, Koegel met Piasek, and after reminiscing, asked how he could help the radio station.
“He said, ‘Get our signal over there,’” says Koegel. “Technology is changing so fast. Last year he said I’d need a Mac computer to pick up the station, and I could put a transmitter on the roof. It would cost me about $1000. By the time I had the money and was ready to do it, the cost was one-fifth the price of getting a new computer.”
Getting out the message
Last spring, Koegel was catering a wedding in Halcottsville and drove out Route 28 at 7 a.m., when he heard a show called Calendar Girls on WIOX. At the time, he was appearing in the play Into the Woods at STS Playhouse in Phoenicia, and he was surprised to hear three women discussing, among the local goings-on they had observed, a recent performance of the Stephen Sondheim musical.
“They were raving about the show. No one from the theater had contacted them,” he says. “The next show was a woman who plays music from musicals, and she did an hour of Sondheim, plugging the show as well. On the way home, I got as far as Grandma Yvonne’s, and the signal faded out.”
Since the demise of the Phoenicia Times, local business owners and arts groups have missed the opportunity to get their message out to a local audience, and Koegel feels the radio station can fill the gap. The news website WatershedPost.com is helpful, but he points out that “radio is more passive. It’s easier to turn on the radio and have it going all day.” He plans to play the station at the cafe.
“Last summer when I spent some money underwriting shows at WIOX,” he says, “people came into the store and bought something and said, ‘Thank you for supporting local radio.’ I got more feedback from that than from print ads or any other advertising I’ve done.”
The device Koegel will use is a microtransmitter, which runs on 1/10 of a watt of energy, just enough to cover a neighborhood. “It doesn’t need a license,” says Piasek. “Anyone can buy one, stream something on their computer, and transmit to the neighbors, who can pick it up on their radios.”
He tells of a listener in South Kortright who receives the WIOX signal, while his next-door neighbor does not, due to topography. A microtransmitter enables them to “share the love,” says Piasek, “that is, share the programming.”
Koegel will own and operate his own transmitter, Piasek emphasized, not the radio station.
The only obstacle delaying the installation of the transmitter is that Koegel accidentally ordered a kit to build one, and the seller is refusing to exchange it for an assembled device. He is trying to pressure the company into complying, but in the meantime, if anyone knows how to solder tiny wires onto a circuit board, give a call to Mama’s Boy Cafe at 845-688-3050.++