Radio station begins broadcast

Mike Lehman, graduate student in history, spins the crank of a small music box playing the first song to be broadcasted on WRFU at the radio station in the Independent Media Center on Sunday night. Austin Happel

Mike Lehman, graduate student in history, spins the crank of a small music box playing the first song to be broadcasted on WRFU at the radio station in the Independent Media Center on Sunday night. Austin Happel

By Jonathan Jacobson

The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center and the Prometheus Radio Project came together last weekend to build Urbana’s new community radio station from the ground up.

The groups worked together, along with about 100 volunteers, building the radio station inside the Urbana Post Office. From Nov. 11 to Nov. 13, the crews worked all day, soldering, sawing and assembling necessary parts of Radio Free Urbana, or WRFU, which will broadcast at 104.5 FM.

The Urbana Post Office will serve as the headquarters for the Independent Media Center, not just WRFU.

“It’s a community and media art center,” said Danielle Chynoweth, Urbana City Council member and project manager for the new site. “(It will) turn consumers into producers.”

Beginning in 2000, the Federal Communications Commission started issuing licenses for community radio stations under the banner of the LPFM, or Low Power FM radio service. As of 2001, 700 stations were operating throughout the United States. Prometheus has been involved throughout the recent changes.

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Prometheus, a Philadelphia-based activist group that builds community radio stations, brought people from all throughout the world to help set up WRFU. The group has helped build community radio stations in Columbia, Guatemala and Tanzania. The Urbana radio station is their ninth “barnraising,” a term they give to the building of a new station.

Although almost half of the new 700 stations are fundamentalist Christian, Prometheus is not religiously affiliated, though their offices are located in the basement of a church.

“Our goal is community access to the media,” said Anthony Mazza, the administration director at Prometheus. “We want to see victory.”

The peak of the weekend came on Saturday night, when five bands came to entertain the volunteers and bring in community members. The music certainly did not halt the activity – volunteers continued by selling T-shirts, handing out flyers and building the actual broadcast studio.

Throughout the evening, volunteers and participants worked together to accomplish the same goals. Those who knew how to set things up instructed those who didn’t know. Attendees ranged from babies to the elderly, and all were put to work.

Allan Gomez, who works on a Hispanic radio show in Chicago, visited Urbana to learn more about building radio stations.

“The organizing capabilities of RFU and the IMC…is pretty impressive on a nationwide scale,” said Gomez. “This radio station is going to have an impact.”

Inside of the new studio, people crawl around like ants running wires through holes and double-checking their progress with an intricate diagram.

On Sunday morning, the radio tower, perhaps the most important part of the radio station, was lifted onto the roof and secured in place.

While the broadcast began at 5 p.m. Sunday as scheduled, WRFU faced its only obstacle in filling its programming schedule. It plans on staying on air for 24 hours a day, every day.

“Basically, anyone who wants a show can apply for one,” said Molly Stenz, who helps with programming at WRFU. “The station still has slots to fill.”

“All we’re waiting for is peoples’ imaginations,” Chynoweth said.