Whirl the radio dial in most locales around Woodstock and Saugerties, and you’re bound to come across Woodstock 104, WIOF, the low power station many seem to know more from its trademark battle over the town’s name than its 24 hour programming, that includes a number of local voices from Rachel Marco Havens and Joe Barton to Steve Romine and the Woodstock Museum’s Shelli Lipton and Nathan Koenig , as well as Pacifica Radio stalwart Amy Goodman, Gary Null of Progressive Radio Network, and independent producer Thom Hartmann’s daily take on the news.
WIOF went on the air in autumn of 2014 after a dozen years preparation, fundraising, and application to the Federal Communications Commission for one of its new low power community station frequencies. As Pacifica noted in a news item spread across the grassroots radio world at the time, it was all a labor of love from radio veteran Randi Steele, “who bears the titles of station manager, program director and business manager.”
Steele passed away last September at the age of 62, and according to her longtime partner in life, radio, and Woodstock 104, Felicia Kacsik, there’s been trouble ever since. But also an increased sense of mission for keeping the community station on air against all odds.
According to Kacsik, speaking in a window of time between setting up the station’s next shows and a full evening of live broadcasts from the WIOF studio on the side of Overlook, what’s been special about the low power station from the start has been it’s reach. And the fact that such a reach can happen from a tower right on the property where Steele and Kacsik moved to in 2000.
“We’ll be continuing to work here and broadcast for as long as we can,” Kacsik said this week of WIOF. “The advantage we’ve always had on this 0.56 acre plot is our antenna, a backup antenna, and the fact that we have a great stand-by generator and a 1000 gallon tank of propane for emergencies.”
But then new problems got addressed. Soon after Steele’s passing, Kacsik said, a dispute arose with the late radio pioneer’s family, who believe the property should revert to them and not Steele’s partner. Which is where the station’s future enters into singularly sticky territory.
Kacsik explained that what was happening was “a dispute over the actual ownership of the property, and that has created problems for the ability of the station to stay on site. The license is not affected and we’re not being sued,” Kacsik said of the situation that started with an eviction notice from Diane Marquard, Steele’s sister, via local attorney Jeffrey Siegel in October of last year. “Things are in a holding pattern.”
According to her attorney Josh Koplovitz, a scheduled eviction hearing in Woodstock town court has been put on hold, literally, as he’s pushed the matter before state supreme court justice Christopher Cahill. His case? That you can’t evict a life partner of a life tenant.
Koplowitz added that Marquard’s and Steele’s parents had set up separate trusts for the siblings. The house and property, which Steele and Kacsik found based on its ability to receive and send radio signals, was part of that, and bought for the couple by the parents.
The lawyer said that the situation necessitates that Kacsik and WIOF’s mother entity, the 501(c)3 nonprofit Birds of a Feather, buy the property or have some arrangement that allows the station to stay on the property they’ve been on for nearly 20 years, and which has the infrastructure that allows the station to operate in an efficient manner.
Koplowitz added that the rental offer that Siegel offered on behalf of Marquard was so high that “it was not in good faith,” especially given that it would not easily allow Woodstock 104 to stay where it was built to be. The lawyer added that he was expecting a decision from Cahill within 60 days.
Repeated calls to Siegel were not returned as of press time.
Kacsik, meanwhile, noted how she and the radio station barely have the finances to meet the several hundred dollars needed to keep things running month to month. Yet she also showed off piles of letters supporting what WIOF has been doing, and a petition that gathered over 125 signatures in two days about keeping the station running at its unique location.
“I’ve been reading about how Peter Buffett is interested in helping a number of community-based efforts in radio and other things. We’re hoping he can help small low power FM stations as part of that,” Kacsik added. “Randi’s sister claimed not to want to throw us out. The assessed value for this property is $230,000. Maybe we can get a mortgage or someone in the community can help us?”
Kacsik showed off the station she built to Steele’s designs. It’s analog, without computers. She calls it “a keepsake,” but adds how it would be great to eventually archive all WIOF has done, as well as Steele’s long experience in the business.
Steele had over 40 years of experience in commercial broadcasting, starting as a broadcast producer and technician for a WPLJ overnight show in 1973, years as that station’s Public Affairs Director, and time at WNBC in the 1980s. In 1998 she and Kacsik moved to northern Maine to help establish and get working a shortwave radio project, WBCQ, otherwise known as “The Planet.” Later, the couple moved back to New York City and then Woodstock, where they found the WIOF property now in question.
The two founded Birds of a Feather with Rosendale’s Fre Atlast in 2002; one of their first projects was a push to keep the Woodstock Drum Circle alive. And then set up a strong community station for the area.
“We’ve been at this a long time,” said Kacsik. “This was Randi’s love. It is our life.”
She added that, not doing email, it is best for those wishing to help out Woodstock 104 should write checks to Birds of a Feather, Woodstock 104. PO Box 104, Woodstock, NY 12498.
Also, be sure to tune in to WIOF at 104.1 on your FM dial.