IT's TAKEN almost four years and thousands of donated dollars, but WRUU is finally broadcasting eclectic tunes and thoughtful talk from its new home at 107.5 on the FM dial.
Calling itself “local radio with a global soul,” Savannah Soundings can now be heard on car stereos and through headphones from downtown to midtown to Georgetown to Pooler, with signals reported as far away as Tybee Island.
“It’s truly amazing to have what most people called a hare-brained idea and finally have it working!” exclaims Vicki Weeks, one of the station’s original organizers.
Back in 2013 when the FCC announced it was opening up the airwaves to qualified non-profits for their own low-power community radio stations (LPFMs), a group of intrepid folks at the Unitarian Universalist Church took up the complex application process. They quickly gathered up $3500 for the required engineering study and penned a detailed proposal that described a vision combining great music, social justice issues and community education.
Once the license and call letters were granted, however, was when the real work began.
Funds had to be raised to build out a studio underneath the UU church on Troup Square, and additional dollars went to installing the WRUU antenna on a rented tower on the outskirts of town. The project’s Executive Task Force and its myriad committees plodded through legalities and infrastructure, working with engineers to match wires and purchase equipment.
After hundreds of volunteer hours and support from local businesses, a diverse schedule of programming debuted in the fall of 2015 at the WRUU website, a “trial run” that allowed organizers to work out the kinks.
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“Operating from the online platform as we were getting the tower equipment installed enabled us to bring everyone up to speed on the FCC requirements, which are different for streaming,” explains Weeks.
The months of online broadcasting also helped establish Savannah Soundings as a strong voice in the international radio community: The hosting platform, Streamlicensing.com, has highlighted WRUU as a featured station four times in the past year.
“That’s out of 1200 other stations,” says Weeks. “I think that’s a pretty good indication of the quality of the programming.”
That programming is meant to be as dynamic and diverse as the community it serves. Weekdays at 10am bring the popular syndicated program “Democracy Now,” and Americana, jazz and classical selections fill up the unmanned early morning and overnight blocks.
In between, a roster of hosted shows spins everything from local politics to independent rock to old school hip hop.
“Musically, you’re going to hear a lot of stuff you won’t hear anywhere else,” says studio manager Dave Lake, who hosts “Evening Eclectic,” a mélange of bluegrass, jazz, and old favorites on Wednesday nights.
Lake also hosts “Music: Local and Sustainable,” a much-needed platform for Savannah’s local musicians to play and discuss their original offerings.
For “In the Pocket,” host Ian McCarthy plays deep cuts of gospel, soul and R&B during the 8pm Sunday time slot, and devotees of punk can tune into the underground with “Crisis” Fridays at 8pm. “Rigor Mortis” serves up surf rock, blues, early country and any music ending with “-billy” Thursdays at 10pm.
Thursdays at 7pm, Connect contributor and Savannah Bicycle Campaign Executive Director John Reid Bennett digs into the depths of “neglected West Coast jazz, embarrassing B-movie soundtracks, dusty library music, minor college radio hits” and other aural eccentricities for his weekly “Here It Is Tomorrow.”
A radio guy since his own college years, Bennett fantasized about creating a LPFM station during his years on staff at SCAD, Georgia State and Valdosta State, but FCC requirements and competition for licenses foiled several attempts.
“I’ve served as the adviser to stations at three universities, was involved in efforts to start an FM station for SCAD dating back to 1993, and established its student-run internet radio programs in Savannah and Atlanta,” says Bennett, who has also been with the WRUU crew since its inception.
“Now, almost 24 years later, my dream of a new noncommercial radio station on the Savannah airwaves has finally come true, thanks to volunteers who understood the potential.”
Other WRUU shows combine music with relevant chat. In addition to the civic conversations of “Savannah Lexicon,” DJ Wayne Waters recently took over Tuesday and Thursday morning drive-time duties with “Savannah Rising,” a mash-up of easy-on-the-ears listening and local news.
Sunday afternoons are all about the ladies when Josephine Johnson focuses on local and regional women in music and business with “Sister Sound.”
Engaging the local community about important issues is a central theme to WRUU’s talk segments, including a monthly roundtable with Emergent Savannah. Keeping the best interest of Chatham County’s seniors in mind, “Putting the POWER in Empowerment” host Irene Vigo provides education for elders trying to navigate the healthcare system.
The politics of city planning and preservation get a weekly once-over with “The Square”’s Nick Palumbo, and social justice topics like the school-to-prison pipeline and a public health approach to reducing violence are unpacked during “Savannah Perceptions,” hosted by activist Ylana Abbott.
“Part of our mission is to give voice to the voiceless,” reminds studio manager Lake, a retired physical therapy educator who pioneered the doctorate program at Armstrong and now helps WRUU produce programs and trains hosts on the ins and outs of FCC regulations.
“Our primary service is to showcase the many different communities of Savannah.”
Continuing the effort to bring attention to the city’s civic efforts, Lake is also producing segments on community events people may have missed. He recorded the poetic students of the most recent Deep Speaks showcase as well as the “Stories from the Women’s March on Washington” held at Trinity Methodist in January, both to be aired in the coming weeks.
He also encourages wanna-be DJs to submit their own show proposals, which are decided upon by consensus by the Program Team, one of five structured committees set up back when WRUU was just a dream and a prayer.
But just because 107.5 is now live doesn’t mean the work is done. Though WRUU is entirely manned by volunteers, there are still operating costs to cover and rent to pay. There is also more technology on the wish list, including equipment that will allow real-time call-ins for hosts to engage in true talk radio interaction.
Listeners are invited to become members at an open house this Sunday to keep the music and musings going. A $50 basic membership or a monthly sponsorship not only helps the cause, it widens WRUU’s representation of the people it serves.
“This is growing into a tremendous community,” says Weeks.
“There’s something for everyone in Savannah.”