Charlotte radio prepares to get authentic
Posted on 16 Dec 2008 by Justin Ritchie
The surrounding airwaves are filled with little more than top 40 pop, rock, hip-hop and country. Queen City music lovers frequently lament the lack of radio options available. Is there any hope for local genuine music on the radios of Charlotte?
Much like Uptown, Charlotte radio has been dominated by corporate entities for far too long. As our banks grew bigger, gobbling up smaller independent banks, our radio stations followed suit. Now FM options are relegated to nothing but popular music streamed straight from the programmers at Clear Channel. Aside from occasional breaths of fresh air from NPR stations 90.7 WFAE and 89.9 WDAV along with classic rock from 95.7 THE RIDE, the city needs a radio station that embraces local roots.
Enter the re-emerging WNCW based at Isothermal Community College in Rutherford County. Broadcasting from Clingman’s Peak, one of the highest points east of the Mississipi at 6,499 feet, this little station with only twelve full time staff members is prepared to shake up the radio offerings in Charlotte. Already covering much of Western NC, from west of Waynesville to SC’s upstate in Spartanburg and Greenville, WNCW is finalizing expansion plans for a Charlotte broadcast frequency.
Starting early next year, WNCW will become Charlotte’s home for local NC music. From americana to bluegrass and the independent music of NPR’s World Café, Charlotteans will finally have some non-corporate radio options.
WNCW is no stranger to Charlotte. Broadcasting through Mecklenburg County via translator at FM 100.7 starting in 1999, the station gathered legions of fans until the expansion of Susquehanna Corporation’s fully licensed radio station forced the FCC to order WNCW off the air. However, Susquehanna helped the station pay for the necessary equipment and permitting to obtain the 100.3 frequency in Charlotte. And 100.3 was WNCW’s home. Until the fateful morning of November 9th, 2007 when the station’s home on the corner of Sharon Amity and Colwick was shut down because the new tenants of the broadcast tower’s home decided to remodel (which required the big ol’ tower on top to go away).
That sent WNCW’s General Manager, Dana Whitehair, out with the tower on his shoulder, looking for a new home and with only a year to do it. FCC laws require a station to begin broadcasting within a year of going silent, otherwise that station will lose its licensed frequency and will have to begin the lengthy process of permitting all over again. As Dana approached the one-year anniversary of the station’s shutdown, he realized that negotiations and permitting for a new tower location wouldn’t conclude until after the deadline had passed and the FCC never budges or grants extensions.
So Dana sent an email to Mecklenburg County’s Amateur Radio Society (MARS) one evening and by the time he returned to his office the following morning he had two emails and calls, one of them from Earl Fortner who offered up facilities that were able to host WNCW on 100.3 in the Charlotte area, preventing the permit from running out. Now located out on Orr Road, in the northeast part of the city, the 100.3 frequency isn’t very strong but just strong enough to keep the permit.
After the contract (currently in the final stages of negotiation) for a new broadcast tower location is signed, likely in mid-January, WNCW will set out to get the necessary permits from Mecklenburg County. Once permits are received, it should be a quick turnover for the tower to go up and the station will likely start broadcasting throughout the city in mid to late spring 2009. Much to the satisfaction of the many Charlotte area WNCW listeners that frequently email Dana to express their passionate desire for the station to return. As I spoke to him on the phone, he said two more Charlotte listeners emailed him to say that they wanted the station back! However, recently WNCW received even better news. Long ago the station applied for a construction permit to broadcast on another Charlotte frequency and the FCC just granted a permit for 99.1. Whitehair says that will eventually be a great addition to the north part of Charlotte, covering the University area and beyond.
When Charlotte is finally blanketed by WNCW, the station plans to start hitting the local music scene with freelance or staffed recording artists, re-broadcasting live shows on its popular Local Color program which showcases local artists (or during other separately scheduled times).
You can already pick up a faint WNCW signal on 88.7 FM in the west part of the city and in Uptown but things should get a lot stronger in just a few more months! Until then, listen live via the WNCW streaming feed.