DJ, programmer and board president Scott Sanders has grown to love his idyllic countryside commute to Radio Free Nashville, the Pasquo, Tennessee low-power FM station 30 minutes southwest of Nashville. He uses the time to finalize the set list for his next Hold the Funk radio show. Every October, Scott trades the regularly-scheduled golden age funk for a monthlong celebration of gospel music. Last week, he used his commute to preview songs on dozens of gospel CDs strewn over the passenger seat — CDs such as the box set Goodbye, Babylon and selections from the archival record label The Numero Group. It’s all about finding connections between the songs, the same topic, a lyric, similar fuzz guitar sounds, Scott told me as we talked over a beer last Saturday at Craft Brewed Nashville.
If you want to hear Scott’s show in Nashville, you’re probably out of luck. 107.1 WRFN’s 100 watt signal isn’t powerful enough to reach the entire Nashville area. On top of that, the frequency is plagued with interference from a higher-wattage station in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
In 2005 Scott, a number of other future DJs, and volunteers from the media advocacy group Prometheus Radio Project — one all the way from Japan — erected the small studio building in rural Pasquo. In April of 2005 after eight years of planning and licensing, they turned on the transmitter and signed onto the airwaves. (Learn more about WRFN’s history in this barnraising video.)
The subsequent eight years have been enormously successful. As a Pacifica Network affiliate, WRFN broadcasts popular syndicated shows like Democracy Now, Project Censored and Counterspin. They produce quality local programming like Angie Dorin’s Cat Beast Party, which was recently dubbed the Best Radio Show Hardly Anyone Can Hear in the 2013 Nashville Scene Best of Nashville issue. There are specialty music shows, talk shows, local music spotlights, a fitness show, a dog-training show and an upcoming film review show that only covers movies streamable on Netflix.
But that success is choked by a tiny coverage area. For the last eight years, this has been a simple fact of life, nigh-impossible to change under strict FCC regulations.
A few years ago, the FCC opened up a window to apply for a few available translators in the Nashville area. Translators augment a signal’s coverage by rebroadcasting on another frequency. A friend of WRFN said what the hell and applied, thinking he had no chance to be granted a license.
By some stroke of good fortune, he was granted a license, and he generously agreed to use the translator to expand WRFN’s signal to all of Nashville. The only remaining obstacle is the significant cost of equipment involved in the expansion.
WRFN recently launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the $20,000 needed to make the expansion a reality. I’d like to encourage you to donate as much as you can afford. Nashville lost its only citywide community station when Vanderbilt University’s WRVU sold its FM license in 2011. A citywide WRFN would fill the dire need of a community-driven, non-profit, socially-conscious radio station in Nashville.
Before Theatre Intangible was a podcast, it was a show on 91.1 WRVU Nashville. I spent many late-night hours in WRVU’s on-air studio, and I know how big of a loss that’s station’s FM signal was to Nashville. Many DJs felt disenfranchised with Vanderbilt Student Communications’ duplicitous handling of the FM sale. I have heard Vanderbilt alumni say time and time again that they refuse to donate money to their alma mater because of WRVU’s gutting. While that sends a strong message to the university, reallocating your donation to WRFN’s expansion would send an even stronger message. Many disenfranchised WRVU DJs have already found success on WRFN, including Angie Dorin with Cat Beast Party and, for a time, Pete Wilson with Nashville Jumps and myself with Theatre Intangible. By donating to WRFN, you are supporting a station focused on community outreach. Anyone can be a DJ. Scott Sanders told me he believes WRFN is a tool for the people to express themselves. It’s not about siphoning money to some big corporation. It’s about education, advocacy and exploration. WRFN DJs can be as creative as their imaginations allow. There’s no red tape. No ad dollars influencing content.
Radio Free Nashville’s IndieGoGo currently has 40 days left , and they need your help to reach the $20,000 goal. If we let this opportunity pass, there’s no telling when Nashville will have another chance at a citywide community FM station. Show your support by donating today.