It happened one weekend in November five years ago. Some 200 people swarmed the Independent Media Center. By the end, when the clouds gathered over Urbana, a radio station was born. The volunteers had traveled from across the country to Champaign-Urbana. They hoisted a radio tower 65 feet into the air, placing it on the roof of the building, set up the station equipment and wired together what became WRFU 104.5 FM. Through direct action, our community and the wider community-radio network said, We are the media!
Now our not-for-profit community radio station is broadcasting in English and Spanish, promoting other non-profits through public service announcements, and talking about everything from sports and local politics, to Native American issues, experimental music and the blues, with shows about God, children’s bedtime stories, democracy and revolution. Of course if classical music or food’s more your thing, you could walk into the IMC today and pitch a show about pastry cooking, or an all-Bach hour. And if you really like comic books or travel you could do a show about that too. The original radio tower was always considered a temporary structure, designed to get us on the air, but we aimed higher, looking to our FCC license which permits us to operate from up to 100 feet. Now, we are working to build the permanent tower and it’s time for the community to organize again and act.
On March 7th, the Urbana City Council will meet to decide on our proposal to put up a 100-foot-tall, permanent, free-standing radio tower next to the IMC building. Our low-power station operates at just 100 watts, like one or two light bulbs, and must remain in the center of our community to be heard. But from 65 feet in the air, the signal often gets blocked by buildings and interrupted by the rise in the land as the signal travels from Urbana to Champaign. So, the view is surely better from one hundred feet up.
A taller antenna would allow us to broadcast further in every direction, reaching deeper west into Champaign and even beyond Savoy to the south. It would also allow us to reach more Spanish-speaking residents for whom we already have 12 hours of Spanish-language broadcasting. Mainly, however, the increased listener base would allow us to make a greater impact in the community as a hub for citizen journalism. The IMC is known as a place for education, activism and arts where volunteers can learn about media technology and produce media that’s important to them.
To help us with this project, participate and speak out. Come to a WRFU station meeting with a friend and suggest your own radio show, or ask for a tour. Meetings are held regularly on the first and third Tuesdays at 8 p.m. On March 7th at 7 p.m., come to the Urbana City Council meeting to show your support for the new tower, for citizen journalists and for your local community.
And finally, show your support by donating to WRFU. We have raised almost $12,000 for this project, which has taken priority in our long-term vision, but we also pay operating costs and rely on gifts and support from community members like you. For information about both the tower and how to donate, check out our website at www.wrfu.net.
To restructure one famous activist’s quotation, let’s be the media we want to see in the world.