By Tim McCoy
Radio Free Roanoke, a grassroots, non-profit organization, is raising funds to ‘take back the airwaves’ with the launch of a Low Power FM (LPFM) community radio station. The new station will serve the Roanoke community through programming that will empower local voices and highlight regional music.
In recent years, Low Power FM stations have proliferated around the country after the advent of the Local Community Radio Act, a new class of low-power FM licenses.
I sat down with Bob Capper, license holder for 95.7FM WROE, along with his chair of programming, Heather Rose, to discuss what they envision for the 100-watt “Radio Free Roanoke” station that plans to start broadcasting from the historic Grandin neighborhood within the next three months. While the 100-watt signal pales in comparison to the 50,000 watts that many big commercial stations possess, the station will have an online feed that anyone can stream 24/7.
“We want to be a robust hub connecting isolated groups in Roanoke,” Capper shared. “We want to create some “glue” to bring this community together.”
Capper, a self-declared HAM radio enthusiast (and license holder) since his teens, and current president of the board of directors at the Roanoke Natural Foods Cooperative, has deep ties to the community and wants to bring his love of radio, and his commitment to the community together with Radio Free Roanoke. They work closely with Tim Dayton of REACH, a community service organization that has offered them a studio space, which will serve as their public studios. Currently, a small studio and the broadcast tower are based on Capper’s property in the Grandin neighborhood.
Of course, music, and particularly local music, will be a mainstay of the stations programming. They will have signed up with ASCAP and BMI, so will have the freedom to play anything, but want to highlight the talent in our region.
“We will emphasize local music. I like to think that Roanoke is like a little Austin, with some really great emerging talent.” Capper stated. Rose chimed in that two of the local bands that deserve to be brought to a larger audience are “Eternal Summers” and “The Bastards of Fate.” They want to be a part of broadening the bands’ reach.
Music won’t be the only aspect of this community radio project. They also plan to offer a wide range of local programming and have already recorded a variety of shows, including some Sci-fi programming and a couple dozen episodes of a movie analysis show featuring “Comrade Zero”, who discusses the merits of assorted films. The station also plans to offer hyper-local news reporting covering city council meetings and other local events.
Rose was quick to declare that they “are prepared to craft the programming to the needs of our community. We need to represent the community, wherever that leads. Whatever the people want to give us.”
In addition to an ongoing fundraising campaign, the station is always looking for volunteers and content suggestions, and provides a “Tell Us Your Story” link on the Radio Free Roanoke website that enables visitors to share their own experiences.
“People have fascinating stories, and their history should be recorded,” Rose shared.
Whether you are able donate your time, money, or content to the project, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Radio Free Roanoke will be holding a concert fundraiser in the spring, modeled after last year’s successful event at Prydwen Enterprises that featured eleven bands. We’ll keep you updated at Blue Ridge Rocks on the upcoming fundraiser and the station’s development.