Bexley Public Radio returns airwaves to community

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak
Amy Maurer, who broadcasts a twice-weekly garden show on Bexley Public Radio, chats on the air with station manager John Manning. The low-power FM station, at 102.1 and 98.3, has been operating since March and offering a mix of local news and features from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays.

Call it "A Columbus Home Companion."

Community news, gardening tips, stock market reports and school debates, all delivered over radio by volunteers in the convivial manner of a conversation across the kitchen table.

"It seemed like a natural community asset, having a local station dedicated to news and information," explained Kurt Weiland, the driving force behind the creation of the non-profit WCRX Bexley Public Radio, a low-power FM station that has broadcast since March at 102.1 and 98.3.

Radio stations with a local presence  were once the mainstay of the industry, before the government allowed conglomerates to swallow up entire markets and replace these singular voices with canned patter.

Weiland and company have seized on the opportunity that low-power FM presented to re-introduce this type of programming and bring together a network of neighbors who are passionate about the place where they live.

They have gotten plenty of static along the way, but have persisted to get their message on the air, now reaching all of Franklin County.

Weiland, a Bexley attorney, first learned about the availability of low-power FM seven years ago through Radio World, one of his many magazine subscriptions.

He began to round up a group of friends and neighbors who were interested in  establishing a station, and they applied for a license in January, 2001.

But commercial stations and National Public Radio, fearing the competition from low-power FM, successfully lobbied Congress to eliminate three-quarters of the  outlets.

The project "came to a crashing halt. The application was dead in the water," Weiland recalled.

But the radio neophytes refused to give up, even after a wait of more than 19 months.

They learned in 2003 that five groups – including Capital University – had applied for the same FM channel.

The Federal Communications Commission told the groups to work out a time-sharing agreement or it would pick one of the five.

Weiland and others were able to reach such an agreement between the Bexley Public Radio Foundation, Capital University, the Groveport Madison schools, Simply Living and the Community Refugee and Immigration Services.

Bexley Public Radio would take the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot weekdays, broadcasting from the garage of Dave Eaton, who operates a recording studio from the location. Eaton supplies the microphones and sound boards as well as the studio space.

With 10 hours of air time each week, the task now was to come up with programming.

Weiland again turned to friends and neighbors and found no shortage of people willing to sign on.

"The number of people who want on-air experience is amazing," Weiland discovered.

They conducted programming tests from August, 2006 through March, 2007. One of their early efforts was a live broadcast of the Middle School Debate League Tournament, held at Capital University.

"They were so excited to hear themselves on the radio," Laura Franks, Weiland’s assistant, offered.

Bexley Public Radio went on the air as a fully licensed station March 21.

Some of the on-air personalities had never been on the radio before.

Bexley resident Amy Maurer, who airs a gardening and nature show twice a week, has a background in plant science and research, and owns a landscape design business.

"I got into this because other people said I should," admitted Maurer. "I had no interest in being on the radio."

She didn’t even listen to the radio much while growing up in west-central New York, preferring to read instead.

But Weiland "kept throwing hints" that he’d like to have a program on local gardens, and Maurer relented.

Nervous at first, Maurer found that talking on the air was "easier than I thought it would be. When you really love something, I guess it’s easier to talk about."

Her goal is to convince listeners that "a tree is not just a tree" and to get them to pay more attention to their natural environment.

She comments on the seasonal changes of area gardens, and gives the weekly "paw-paw report" on the prickly fruit.

She converses with station manager John Manning while he reads from The Old Farmers’ Almanac.

They take the stock market report from Frank Ingwerson (who recently delivered his commentary while on vacation in Maine) and community news from Lee Edmondson, who reads items from the Eastside Messenger and other local publications.

Rather than a flat rendering, Edmondson brings a lot of personality to her portion of the broadcast, Weiland said.

Edmondson has done voice-over work before, and jumped at the chance at on-air time after reading the advertisement seeking volunteers.

"I plan to continue to continue this, and make it a career," Edmondson said.

The station also opened up a summer internship opportunity for Brown University student Victoria Chao, and an employment opportunity for Melissa Farley, who has cerebral palsy.

"As an individual with cerebral palsy, locating jobs can be difficult," explained Farley in a letter to the FCC. "The station has worked with me so that I can make an important contribution while still working from home."

Weiland fills in when one of the volunteers is unavailable, and provides an auction market report both on local sales and catalogs from Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Kate Buckley provides "Readings from Children’s Literature" and Joe Contino airs guest interviews and local sports and political reports.

When Bexley Public Radio programming is over, the station offers broadcasts from the liberal Pacifica network.

With more air time becoming available (Capital University failed to receive an FCC license), new programming ideas are being considered.

Pam and Ira Scheer, veterans of Gallery Players productions, have proposed a program to provide information on the local theatre scene.

Weiland would like to see the gardening show expanded to include ethnic groceries and farmers’ markets. Live coverage of sports is being discussed. And the station is looking at obtaining a license to allow broadcasting of recorded music (its only music license so far is with the Clear Creek Monastery for its recordings of Gregorian chants).

The effort to stay on the air is not over. Bexley Public Radio is in negotiations with WKNO of Newark, which wants to move its city of license to New Albany, where it would interfere with WCRX’s signal.

Weiland is heartened that the FCC has been sent 15 letters of support, including from Columbus Public Schools’ gifted and talented student coordinator, the Jewish Community Center and Thomas Abour of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who reported on invasive species during an April broadcast.

John Johnson of Arc Industries, where Melissa Farley is a student, summed up in his letter why such a station is more than just air.

"This radio station makes an extraordinary contribution to her life and to this community’s life," Johnson wrote to the FCC. "Please keep them broadcasting unfettered."

To reach Bexley Public Radio, call 235-2929 or email wcrxlp@yahoo.com.

Letters of support, to be forwarded to the FCC, can be sent to Bexley Public Radio Foundation, 2700 E. Main St., Suite 208, Columbus, 43209.

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