If they build it, they will broadcast

By Jenn Rourke

Rome may not have been built in a day, but the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center hopes it can build a radio station in a weekend.

On Nov. 13, Urbana should get a new community radio station. WRFU will broadcast at 104.5 FM after a weekend-long, intensive building effort by over 200 volunteers from around the country.

“We’re basically taking all the parts we have and turning it into a radio station in the course of a weekend,” said Lynsee Melchi, community outreach director for WRFU and a 2003 University alumnus.

The construction efforts will run from Nov. 11 to 13.

The community is urged to volunteer, Melchi said. Although there is a registration fee, the Independent Media Center will not turn away any volunteers who cannot afford to pay, Melchi added. Experience level does not matter to WRFU, which will enlist the help of anyone, Melchi said. She pointed to herself and her bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, as a prime example.

“I think people (might say) ‘I don’t have any money, I don’t know anything about radio,'” Melchi said. “Me neither, but I’m going to be there.”

The station has been five years in the making, Melchi said. Prometheus Radio Project spearheaded the effort by coming to the Champaign area in 2000 to educate local groups on recently released low power FM licenses by the Federal Communications Commission, a scarce commodity, Melchi said.

“There was a five-day window to apply for a license, and we got one,” she said.

A barn-raising consists of Prometheus organizing technical and financial support on a national level and assembling volunteers from around the country to “descend on Urbana or whatever community they’re working in,” Melchi said. That effort is coupled with volunteers from the local community.

“We’re doing local outreach, local organization, and finding people places to stay,” Melchi said of the Independent Media Center’s efforts.

This is the ninth such barn-raising Prometheus has done so far, and the only one in the Midwest, Melchi said.

“Each barn-raising produces a radio station,” according to the Prometheus Web site. “But also hundreds of newly-trained volunteers, ready to support the new station and ply their skills at other stations all across the country.”

Prometheus previously set up a low-power FM radio station in the Houston Astrodome on Sept. 13 for Hurricane Katrina victims, according to the Prometheus’ Web site.

“The purpose of WRFU is to give more access to the radio waves to the people,” said Melchi. “As opposed to being run by corporate interests … outside of our community.”

Andrew O’Baoill, station member, said WRFU would strive for diversity at its highest level.

“We have shows focused on Scandinavian music, on sound art, on Puerto Rican music,” O’Baoill said.

The station also will feature a simulcast of the nationally syndicated call-in show from Radio Bilingue, he said

“We’re committed to serving all groups within our community, and programming in various languages, by members of the community, is something we encourage,” O’Baoill said.

WRFU is still in the process of forming its programming schedule, proposing shows and getting trained to be on-air, Melchi said.

The station also has a very flexible scheduling policy, O’Baoill said.

“If you can imagine it, we can schedule it,” he said.

Champaign already has one community radio outlet in the form of WEFT, a 10,000W station that has been broadcasting on 90.1 FM since 1981. The addition of WRFU is not meant to necessarily compete with that station, but rather to allow people in the community an even greater opportunity to be heard and to “get our foot in the door a little more and shove it a little farther open,” Melchi said.

Mike Lehman, a founding member of the Independent Media Center, said there would be differences and similarities between the two stations, but that WRFU is trying to keep competition minimal.

“There might be things you won’t hear on WEFT,” he said. “There might be a lot of overlap. Community media tends to be synergistic, because there (are) 40 commercial stations out there, and this is what people really want to listen to, not just some pitch.”

WRFU also does not plan on holding pledge drives or asking for donations very often, in order to keep from cutting into WEFT’s contribution base, Lehman said.