Open Air

Anton Bader/flickr

Several years ago in Viroqua, Wisconsin (pop. 5,079), a group of serious radio-heads started a community station. The station, Radio Driftless, is now on FM and broadcasts full-time, and since they hit the airwaves, Viroqua has had the radio bug. This Wisconsin town sounds like a sound guy’s fairy tale, but the story doesn’t end here. Someone left Viroqua for the city.

Last Thursday, snow fell, quieting the pothole-laden Hyde Park streets. The world took on a muffled quality–it was like hearing through a curtain of radio static. Outside of the Southside Hub of Production (SHoP), a notice read, “Please come in to talk about community radio.” Inside a large multipurpose room with art on the walls, four people had gathered, presumably there to talk about talking.

After waiting for stragglers, Gabriel Piemonte, editor of the Hyde Park Herald, greeted the group and started discussing his vision for the community. Piemonte worked on Radio Driftless in Viroqua and knows what can be done with community radio. He wants to start an Internet radio format station called Bughouse Radio, based on the Driftless model, where locals can produce their own radio programming.

“I have been thinking about community radio for a while,” he said. “It has tremendous potential.” He told the small group that the meeting marked “the launching of the idea.” That idea, he said, was to create a “station focused on local voices.” He continued, “My hope is that in a fairly short period of time we’ll be able to find people who want to be those voices.”

Piemonte is excited–he too has broadcast fever. He regaled the group with tales of Viroqua, where a passion for radio is contagious. “They have a license and a tower,” he said. “They’re broadcasting FM, and they have a substantial local donor. They also have online radio: radiodriftless.org. They have a full commercial license and they’re being supported by this tiny community,” Piemonte said, pausing for breath. Viroqua’s a place where community radio has a very loyal audience–a large percentage of the small town is involved with supporting the station in some way.

“That’s another dimension of what’s exciting about bringing community radio,” Piemonte continued. “Being part of the network of radios that’s coming up. We’ll have access to communities on the South Side that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.”

Piemonte believes a grassroots radio station could have a very positive impact on Hyde Park. “In places where community radio is really earnestly pursued, it really enhances the neighborhoods in a tangible way,” he said. Piemonte thinks SHoP would make for a good host to the radio because it already brings together a host of South Siders with varied interests in the arts and community development.

It begins with a few people and a great deal of enthusiasm. A number of community organizations have expressed interest, including the Hyde Park/Kenwood Transition Initiative, First Unitarian Church (which hopes to broadcast their “First Forum” speaker series), and the Hyde Park Players (who put on the popular performance “An Evening of Horror & Suspense.” ”We are starting from here,” Piemonte said, though he admitted, “we don’t have anything yet.”

What’s the next step for Piemonte? Recruiting voices, setting up an online station, and working on building content and a following of listeners. He hopes to start with a podcast and a partial broadcast schedule, and work on developing a full schedule before eventually becoming a low-power FM station. Although the station is still getting its sea legs in Hyde Park , Piemonte thinks the idea should take hold in the neighborhood. “Hyde Park is a perfect venue, there’s so much going on here,” he said. “If [the new station] isn’t going to get the average Hyde Parker listening and coming out, there’s no point.”

10 comments for “Open Air

  1. January 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Although Piemonte’s observations about the positive impact of community radio are true, there IS a community radio station just one block from SHoP! We at WHPK have been passionately and successfully doing community radio for decades and aren’t stopping anytime soon. Check out 88.5 FM or visit http://www.whpk.org for more information

  2. Arkansas Red
    January 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    we have a successful 24 hour community radio statio in hyde park – been here for over 55 years – WHPK-88.5 FM

  3. January 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    WHPK 88.5 FM is already here in hyde park (THE community radio station)

  4. Spencer A. Leonard
    January 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    One wonders what sort of reporting Ms. Anastazievsky imagines herself to be engaged in when the piece she publishes implies throughout that the Hyde Park community is lacking in a local or community radio station, whereas, of course, WHPK has been broadcasting for years. The very call numbers of this station announce its intention to serve as Hyde Park community radio. Now it may be the case that Ms. Anastazievsky believes that WHPK fails in its ambitions or that one community radio is not enough, but this belief should be stated. As it is, the article is simply misleading and one doesn’t know if she and Mr. Piemonte are not simply oblivious of the existence of WHPK, in which case one would have to wonder to what extent these are the best people to speaking for or report about the needs of Hyde Park. For, again, WHPK is not perfect by any means and deserves, no doubt, criticism of various kinds. But this article just seems pointless.
    Spencer

  5. K
    January 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Why is WHPK 88.5 FM not even mentioned? It’s odd since I know the author knows of WHPK. If the idea is that WHPK is not for and of the South Side “community” because it is attached to UChicago, then that is completely false assumption. Locals not only host much of the daytime programming but are also involved in the administration. WHPK has, is, and will continue to be a community radio station, as long as it is not overlooked.

  6. El Caobo
    January 27, 2012 at 12:35 am

    Tremendously disrespectful to the WHPK community! What/who is really behind such a shameless project? The rumor is that at least one radio host from WHPK is involved?! Shameless!

  7. Jamie Keiles
    January 27, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    why can’t hyde park support two radio stations? if someone is creating a second one, there is obviously a need that they believe WHPK isn’t meeting

  8. James Earl Bonez
    January 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I support any free thinking airwaves but I would like to point out that WHPK 88.5fm has been holding it down independently for years. I myself James Earl Bonez host the Lake Shore Drive Radio show on Fridays 10:30pm – 3am a hiphop show that specializes in featuring local Chicago Talent. We are the pride of the South Side. I know its annoying to see a look at me comment but it would have been nice to be mentioned.

  9. January 31, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Some of the WHPK station leadership wrote this letter to the Weekly editors and received no response.

    Dear Chicago Weekly Editors,

    We were thrilled to learn of Gabriel Piemonte and the SHoP’s plan to establish an independent community radio station in Hyde Park. There is often a dearth of original, creative, noncommercial programming on the airwaves in Chicago, especially on the South Side. However, the article failed to mention one highly notable exception: there already is an established independent community radio station in Hyde Park. WHPK 88.5 FM has been broadcasting twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year from 57th and University Ave. for many decades. The DJ’s of WHPK comprise a broad and representative swath of the Hyde Park community, and our history and programming reflect a commitment to enhancing our neighborhood’s culture in much the same way that Piemonte suggests. We at WHPK would like to extend our encouragement to SHoP’s new effort, applauding their initiative and offering our help as an established community institution that has successfully navigated the arcane and difficult process of building a radio station from the ground up. Meanwhile, we would like to remind the Hyde Park community that WHPK does exist, and welcome even more community involvement in continuing our legacy as “the pride of the South Side.” You can find out more about Hyde Park’s (currently, at least) only independent community station by tuning into 88.5 FM, or at http://www.whpk.org.

    Simon Wiener

    Rock Format Chief, WHPK

    Sophia Posnock

    Station Manager, WHPK

    Alec Mitrovich

    Program Director, WHPK

  10. Rachel Wiseman
    February 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Dear WHPK managers,

    Thank you for your comments. We value your commitment to local radio, and have always been among your biggest fans and most devoted listeners. WHPK and the Weekly have a long history together (co-sponsoring events, sharing members, etc.), and we are fully supportive of what you do. We understand very well the struggle of a small, volunteer-based community media outlet to increase its audience. But it seems to us that your criticism is misplaced. In publishing this article, we were not denying WHPK’s existence, but rather, passing along the news of a new initiative to bring another grassroots radio project to Hyde Park. We did not “fail to note” the exception of WHPK–the article wasn’t about radio in Hyde Park, it was about this radio project in particular. As always, we are happy to accept criticism and comments on our pieces, but it seems that your attempts to promote your radio station could be better directed elsewhere than posting them here. I would like to remind you that we are happy to accept suggestions and comments by e-mail. Unfortunately our cwedit@gmail.com account is no longer active, but feel free to e-mail me directly at rwiseman@uchicago.edu. We would also always be happy to meet with you to talk about your concerns with this article, and other ways we can continue to work together to promote music, culture, and local media on the South Side.

    Rachel Wiseman
    Editor of the Chicago Weekly

Comments are closed.