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Richard Gallison
Sat May 19 19:54:50 EDT 2007

Interesting article about Maines only LPFM station.

Maine's only low-power radio station serves
communities with local news, discussion and culture
By Emily Burnham
Saturday, May 19, 2007 - Bangor Daily News

WRFR-LP, 93.3 FM, broadcasts out of Rockland, from a
converted garage crammed full of cobbled-together
broadcasting equipment and computers. The 100-watt
transmitter sits perched on the roof, sending out a
signal that usually fuzzes out somewhere in Camden. On
a clear day, if you’re on a hill with a powerful
antenna, you can pick it up in Northport. 

"It’s definitely local. Some people right in Rockland
can’t even get it," said Joe Steinberger, who founded
the station in 2002. "But my brother lives 20 miles
away and has a special antenna, and he can get it. It
depends on how good your radio is, and geography."

But broadcasting power isn’t really the point, nor
does WRFR have any interest in becoming some midcoast
Maine media juggernaut: It’s Maine’s only low-power
radio station, and its whole raison d’etre is to serve
the communities of Rockland, Camden, Rockport and
Thomaston with local news, discussion and culture. 

"Five years ago it was impossible to have a radio
station like this one," said Steinberger, president of
the Penobscot School for Language Learning, the
nonprofit organization to which WRFR is licensed. "Big
stations don’t want anyone near their frequency on the
dial, interfering with their signal 
 the lower end is
for public and community radio, and the 100s are for
big commercial stations."

In 2001, the Federal Communications Commission created
a new category for stations not limited to any part of
the dial, that is restricted to 100 watts or smaller.
At that time Steinberger was helping to broadcast city
council meetings on public access television in
Rockland, when he read about the FCC debating the
issue of creating the low power category.

"I heard from a lot of people who were watching the
meetings, so I knew there was an interest in something
local, with more programming with debates and
discussions on local issues," he said. "I saw that the
FCC was going to go through with [creating the low
power category], and that they were dividing up the 50
states into five groups that they’d give licenses to.
Maine was in the first group. Of course, by the time I
found out about it I only had two weeks to get the
application in. But we got it."

WRFR went live on Valentine’s Day in 2002, after
Steinberger and some of the other early volunteers
raised $10,000 in startup money and put together a
studio at its current location on Gay Street. One of
those volunteers was Barry Pretzel, a Rockland
attorney who before practicing law had a successful
career in broadcast journalism. He worked at AM
stations in Maine and Massachusetts before coming to
Rockland in 1999.

"After doing what I consider a complete career in
commercial radio, I decided that I didn’t really want
to continue doing what I had been doing all those
years, which was covering serious news and playing the
songs my boss told me I had to play," said Pretzel.
"[Community radio] gives me an opportunity to share
what I personally like with my audience. I can also be
more creative."

Since 2002, the station has expanded in several ways,
including the addition of a repeater transmitter in
Camden and the hiring of a full-time general manager,
Emily Sapienza, who came on in 2006 after time spent
working at the National Public Radio office in Rome.

"The point is giving access to the community. It’s not
mass media," said Sapienza. "One of the nice things
about the station is that some people that have been
marginalized get involved 
 some people that are sort
of outside society for whatever reason have had shows.
It’s an outlet. It’s a real mix of backgrounds and

"I wanted it to be something that could be embraced by
the whole community, and not have it be a very left-
or right-oriented thing," said Steinberger. "Not an
elite thing. It is to be a medium for local discussion
and talent. It’s not about being an alternative. It’s
about being local."

Since deregulation of radio occurred in the mid-1980s
and entities such as Clear Channel subsequently bought
up hundreds of stations across the country, local
content on the radio has become a rare commodity.
Despite it being difficult to obtain a low power
license — the FCC has not granted new licenses since
2005 — the low power movements offers a unique
opportunity for people to disperse information within
their own communities.

"When we have this tiny little radio station we can
kind of ‘microcast’ rather than broadcast," said
Pretzel. "We can focus on the Rockland area, and not
really worry about the economics of these satellite
delivered programs and talk show hosts. If someone
wants to do a talk show and talk about what the school
board is doing or what the city council is doing, it
provides an opportunity to do that."

Pretzel’s radio show is a testament to the eclecticism
of the programming schedule at WRFR. "Pretzels and
Beer" is on from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, and is
dedicated to two things: beer and disco.

"I thought that having a show about beer would be a
lot of fun. I have news items about beer and the
brewing industry, and I review new beers that come on
the market," said Pretzel. "And I like disco, and
that’s something that’s pretty much disappeared from
the airwaves."

Shows span the gamut from straight local talk like
Chris Fyfe’s "The Pipeline" to Paul Cole’s "Beam Me
Up," a show devoted to current science news and
science fiction. Just this month WRFR started
broadcasting taped recordings of classical music
concerts in the Bay Chamber Concert Series, hosted by
Chuck Marecic.

Jesse McFadden hosts "Live From the Pit" from 8 to 11
p.m. Thursday, where he plays metal and hip-hop. Until
recently, he was the volunteer music director for the

"I basically tried to get balls rolling in the right
court, as far as getting newer music instead of the
older stuff," said McFadden. "A lot of younger folks
don’t really tune in and listen. I’m 27, and I’ve been
down the road of being younger and liking different
stuff, so I’m trying to draw them in. We get a lot of
new, interesting music that other stations don’t play.
We’re also trying to get more local music in the

Zoe Armstrong plays hip-hop, electronic music and folk
on "Patterns of Chaos" from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday. She
also helps promote the station to the community, and
works on fundraising events such as selling WRFR’s
Local Stars CD, a compilation featuring a wide variety
of midcoast area bands and musicians.

"I love community and low-power radio because it
maintains exposure to rare music and commentary,
raises cultural awareness, facilitates community
dialogue, and hey — it’s pretty cool that high school
students sometimes come to learn about radio
production," she said. "[It’s] one of the last
frontiers of free speech in this nation." 


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