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Ferndale Radio brings hyperlocal focus to the airwaves

Ferndale Radio. Photo by David Lewinski.


If you happen to be driving through Ferndale anytime soon, do yourself a favor and flip through the stations on your vehicle’s radio. Don’t turn the dial too fast, though, or you might miss one of the newest addition to the region’s airwaves, 100.7 Ferndale Radio—also known as WFCB.

 

Prospective listeners need to be attentive while searching for WFCB because it’s what’s known as a Low Power FM (LPFM) station, which means it takes up a very narrow sliver of radio bandwidth and reaches only a limited geographical area. In Ferndale Radio’s case, that covers a 3.5-mile radius around its home base at the Rust Belt Market at Nine Mile and Woodward.

 

The station’s small antenna allows WFCB to reach all of Ferndale and portions of neighboring cities like Hazel Park, Oak Park, Berkeley and Royal Oak. And that’s just fine with Board President Michelle Mirowski, who says this small audience is exactly who they’re trying to reach.

 

“It’s all about community and hyperlocal focus,” she tells Metromode. “It comes with unique programming that you wouldn’t typically hear on {big commercial stations], who are busy dealing with shareholders and how many listeners they have because they have quotas to reach. This is all about doing what the large stations can’t do.”

 

For the most part, the nonprofit station offers a free-form mix of different flavors of college rock, although Mirowski and her co-host, husband and fellow board member Dave Phillips also like to delve into the New Wave genre while they’re on the air. DJ Dave Shaerf likes to spice things up with some electronic music during his Saturday morning shows.

Ferndale Radio

 

There’s currently a rotating lineup of between 15 and 20 disc jockeys who sign up for shifts each week through an online signup page. These shifts vary in length, and typically break down to about three shows a day, which take place during the hours the Rust Belt Market is open for business. The rest of time WFCB broadcasts automated music drawn from a database that currently consists of about 1,000 hand-picked songs.

 

“Our inspiration is a mixture of college radio and what WDET used to play 10-15 years ago when they played a lot of music,” says Phillips. “We’re just trying to play a lot of stuff they don’t play anywhere else and provide a unique service for Ferndale.”

 

Ferndale Radio went live on Black Friday of last year. But its roots stretch back quite a bit further than that.

 

Following the President Obama’s signing of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (LCRA) in 2011, Jeremy Olstyn, operations manager at the Warren High School station WPHS (AKA Exile Radio), began talking to former students, including Phillips, about the fact that a window had opened for new LPFM stations in the region. While the previous window for LPFM applications in 2000 and 2001 had been restricted to rural parts of the country, the new legislation opened the door for this type of radio in urban areas.

 

With this knowledge in hand, a group that included Olstyn, Phillips, Mirowski, Dave Kim and Paul Schmalenderg—now WFCB’s board of directors—set about making Ferndale Radio a reality. They were helped along the way by Ferndale Friends publisher Stephanie Loveless who was part of the movement to create LPFM stations in the late 1990s, radio engineer Keith Fraley and Rust Belt Market Owner Chris Best, who allows the station to be housed in his shopping center rent-free provided that they give regular on-air plugs for the market and any events it hosts.

Ferndale Radio

 

Getting the operation up and running required an exhaustive study to make sure the new station wouldn’t interfere with any existing frequencies. So even with the initial approval of their application, it was a possibility that their hard work would lead nowhere.

 

“There were a few times where it looked like this wasn’t going to happen,” says Phillips. “It was just a whole lot of paperwork and meetings and waiting on approvals that took all the way up to last year. We barely made our deadline to get on the air before the FCC ripped up our construction permit.”

 

The venture also depended on funding from local supporters to help pay for an antenna, tower, transmitter and studio construction and other fees.

 

“Most of the money that we raised came from [local business] underwriters, nonprofit advertising, and community members,” says Mirowski. “We had fundraisers at Zeke’s and The Loving Touch. Without the community support, we wouldn’t be here. “

 

The FCC approved Ferndale Radio’s building permit in 2014. It began broadcasting last August and went fully live in November. WFCB is now one of 46 LPFM stations operating in Michigan, with its closest neighbor being 96.7 WNUC in Detroit, which features a mix of progressive news and talk, music, and other programming.


Ferndale Radio
 

So far, Phillips is encouraged by how the new station has been received.

 

“It’s crazy! We have an FM frequency! People mention that they’ve just flipped through the channel and heard us,” he says. “Just about every shift people come up to us and say ‘Hey, love what you’re doing.’ We’ve had people hand us donations, and people walk by and say: ‘Oh, I had no idea this existed.’ I feel we’re building a pretty rapid audience.”

 

The Ferndale station broadcasts from a tiny space, more of a booth really, near the back of the Rust Belt Market. Two paintings of sailing ships hang on the walls of the room, a nod to LPFM’s pirate radio ancestors. The artwork overlooks a small table on which sits a Mackie mixing board, laptop, and two microphones. During a show, the music from the laptop and the DJ's narration are sent to the board, then on to a transmitter. Finally, the programming is broadcast through an antenna stationed on the market’s roof.

 

Right now, the station's board is focused on getting a permanent countertop and installing a CD player and turntables. After that, it’ll be looking into expanding programming: talk shows, news, segments on local businesses and perhaps even broadcasting high school sports events. The station is also in the process of soliciting music from local bands and artists so they can do their part to support the area music scene.

Ferndale Radio founders Michelle Mirowski and Dave Philips

 

But fundraising is still a substantial challenge; the station must raise roughly $5,000 annually just to meet its basic needs. So despite a successful launch, Ferndale Radio’s organizers are actively looking for financial support from the community.

 

“It’s a passion project of ours,” says Morowski. “We don’t make any money. So if anyone donates anything, whether it’s the equipment or royalties, 100 percent goes back towards the station.”

 

“We are still accepting underwriters and donors,” she adds. “We want a station that’s sustainable and can stick around for the long haul.”

 

Ferndale Radio supporters can donate to the station here via its crowdfunding site.

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