Did you hear that? If you thought you heard new voices in the air on September 11 it may have been a Low Power FM radio station preparing to start full-time broadcasting in October.
“Technically, we’re on the air part time,” declared Randi Steele of Birds Of A Feather Media, (BFM) which has secured an FCC license to broadcast locally as a Low Power FM station at the 104.1 mhz frequency on the FM radio dial. “This (part-time activity) is to do ‘on-air’ testing, usually on Thursday nights from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.”
On Thursday, September 11, Steve Romine, known for his local Public Access television program at 7 p.m. on Mondays, “Woodstock Truth Squad,” broadcast a 3-hour radio program reviewing the infamous events of that date 13 years ago. Other excursions onto the air to test equipment have been unannounced.
The core of BFM also includes Steele’s partner Felicia Kacsik and Fre Atlast, who formed as a not-for-profit or 501-c3 in August 2002 as part of an effort to “keep the beat” on the Village Green on Sunday afternoons when the live drumming/music circle began fading from existence. Steele views its revival as an “iconic success” underlining the artistic character of the town.
Steele’s history as a broadcast producer and technician began in late 1973 as producer of the Alex Bennett overnight talk show on WPLJ in Manhattan, where Steele continued as Public Affairs Director after Bennett’s departure in 1976 or ‘77. During the 1980s, Steele worked for WNBC, producing a “top 40”-type music format show called “The Time Machine” until the station was sold to WFAN. Steele and Kacsik then moved to northern Maine to build the international shortwave station WBCQ, which is still in operation.
For want of operational funds, WBCQ became a “time-broker” station which sold hourly air time to various program producers, one of whom, “Behold A Pale Horse” author Bill Cooper became fairly notorious in the 1990s as a self-appointed voice of the militia movement — a political perspective sure to startle viewers of the progressively-toned program Steele has presented on the Woodstock Public Access channel for the past several years. Considered a “harmless crank” by some, who avidly opposed income tax and was among many who forecast the attacks of 9/11/01, Cooper bought his own air time. He died in a shoot-out with Arizona police later that year.
In any case, a dispute with the station owner and a feeling of isolation in Maine prompted Steele and Kacsik to return to New York City in 1999 and on to Woodstock in 2000, where they soon became involved with drums on the Green and, eventually, with the Public Access station.
BFM engaged in a long struggle (with several detours) to acquire a broadcasting license, which was granted in mid-February thanks to some sage advice from radio engineer Al Davis about an FCC LPFM (Low Power FM) “application window” in 2007. The group hoped to begin broadcasting in July but suffered set-backs due to dire weather conditions and contracting errors which are only now being resolved.
“This directly relates to the installation of our emergency generator,” explained Steele, “because one of the things we plan to do, during emergencies or blackouts, is be the non-commercial place where people can turn to, all the time, for information.”
The “Woodstock 104.1” station (an identity they prefer over their WIOF call letters) plans to be deeply community-involved in events of Woodstock and the surrounding area beyond music events and the like, in the spirit they perceive to be the prime intention of the Low Power FM provision.
One of the chief complaints about our ailing democracy concerns the concentration of corporate control in media and the paucity of public input into its workings. Robert W. McChesney, in his masterful analysis “Telecommunications, Mass Media & Democracy: The Battle for Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935” (Oxford, 1993) observed that “the public is passive, ignorant, and mostly nonexistent before the corporate juggernaut that dominates public policy.” This standard has held true through subsequent reforms such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which provided Low Power radio and Public Access TV to communities as compensation for a massive sale of public airwaves to corporate interests.
Analog all the way
“We have a ‘legacy’studio with turntables, reel-to-reel tape decks, and so on,” Steele beamed. “Our idea is to take it from the original format and not just get into digital MP3 sound, where the audio quality suffers. We’re endeavoring to have absolutely the highest quality sound you can get out of FM. We’ve spared no expense on that end.”
These ingredients are one cultural figment of what BFM hopes to achieve.
In terms of programming, BFM is seeking to become affiliated with the Pacifica News service, a non-commercial alternative to corporate mainstream news which constitutes the vast majority of news sources currently available in the region. This would include Amy Goodman’s popular “Democracy Now” program which is seen only occasionally in its TV form on the local Public Access station. There are also plans to broadcast the eclectic audio musings of “Radio Unnamable” from Bob Fass of listener-sponsored WBAI fame (from where Steele once briefly broadcast a “fill-in” show.) Other programming ideas are being stirred around which have not yet solidified enough to announce.
The plans, according to Randi Steele, to begin regular broadcasting are on target for next month.