By Tammi J Truax
Did you know that you have your own radio station? Yes, it is yours. Portsmouth Community Radio, called WSCA 106.1, on the FM dial.
Chances are you didn’t know it and haven’t been listening. Most radio listeners still choose commercial radio most of the time, and WSCA is a low power (LP) station that can’t be heard in some places, though anyone can stream it live on the computer by visiting the station’s web site.
Portsmouth Community Radio got its start in 2000 when signs were posted around town announcing a meeting to discuss applying for a low power FM license due largely to the vision and efforts of Tim Stone who is still involved, and Jay Gardner, who sadly passed away before the station went on air, but to whom the station has been dedicated. WSCA 106.1 FM Portsmouth went on the air on September 12, 2004, after much work and a major “barn-raising”, and has since been broadcasting an eclectic mix of music, public affairs, arts, and cultural programming around the clock. It continues to grow and change, sometimes struggling, sometimes flourishing. Everyone is welcome to participate in whatever way best suits them.
So what is a community radio station? Yours is a completely volunteer operated, non-profit and listener supported radio station offering diverse programming that is largely locally produced. (In the interest of full disclosure: I am co-producer of a show called Seacoast Journal.) Because the shows are created and carried out by locals who step up to offer them they reflect a wide variety of interests and orientations as does our general population thus it is a mixed format radio station. One listen will not be indicative of what you will always hear. The only thing you can be sure of is that you will not hear what you will always hear on mainstream commercial radio. Sometimes the surprises are amazing. I have heard some fantastic programming coming out of the little studio in an old factory building on Islington Street. Some of the volunteer DJ’s offer music programming of course. There has been everything offered from opera to heavy metal, as well as a nice emphasis on promoting local music. But in an unexpected evolution, many of the shows that have been offered is public affairs programming. That would include all sorts of talk radio from food to politics as well as local news. Station founder Tim Stone says that the locally produced public affairs programming found on WSCA is “the real richness” of the station, and he is proud that the station offers more of it than even NHPR.
That type of home-grown journalism is not the only benefit to community radio stations. Said Policy Director of the Prometheus Radio Project of Philadelphia, PA, “Low-power stations save lives during emergencies, like WQRZ(LP) in Bay St. Louis, Miss., did in Hurricane Katrina, or KYGT(LP) did during a 2003 snowstorm in Idaho Springs, Colo. They give voice to underserved groups, like the Hmong community programs on KRBS(LP) in Oroville, Calif., or the disability community show on WSCA(LP) in Portsmouth, N.H. And they bring young people to the art of radio, like the “at-risk” youth on KKDS(LP) in Eureka, Calif., or the Radio Palante teen programmers on WCOM(LP) in Carrboro, N.C.”
A specific example of that would be the recent broadcast on the aforementioned WSCA show called “Don’t Dis my Abilities” created and co-produced by Ronnie Tomanio who reported;
“I had sent out a request through my network of friends that our show was looking for a poet who could express what it was like living with a disability. On a Tuesday in March 13-year-old Cheyenne Gemma, of Raymond, came to the radio station with her entourage of grandparents and a speech pathologist. We were told ahead of time that she did not like people talking for her, over her and about her. She made it known that she had a voice, even though it came through an electronic communicator, and she knew how to use it — thank you very much!
Here is Cheyenne in her own words:
Question: How do you feel not being able to speak?
Cheyenne: Who knows what it feels like not to talk? Shut out of the world, and all alone. Not being able to share your thoughts, only listening to others talk about you. I want to cry and tell them how they hurt me. Words are wonderful; they should make me feel alive. I want to tell everyone how they make me feel.”
That is the heart of a community radio station and yours is one of only about eight hundred in the country. It is participatory, and it gives a voice to the community. As in the above case, literally hours of work goes into producing the few minutes of words (or music) that make it on the air, but are carried out because every voice deserves to be heard. It really is your station. Give it a listen, or better yet get involved.