When Carrboro community radio station WCOM launched in 2004, it was a tiny revolution.
WCOM, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last week, was one of the first radio stations to open under the Federal Communications Commission’s low-power FM licensing program, an initiative that began in 2000 to offer more licenses to small community radio stations and allowed Carrboro to carve out its own space in the airwaves. Listeners can find it on the FM station 103.5.
“It expanded the dial by allowing 100-watt community radio stations to be established within a narrow geographic area,” said Art Menius, development director of WCOM and host of “The Revolution Starts Now,” a WCOM program covering topical songs. “They could fit in a lot more licenses that wouldn’t be available to a full power station.”
The Carrboro Board of Aldermen declared Nov. 6 Community Radio Day in honor of the station’s anniversary, and about 80 people gathered Thursday at Carrboro’s Hickory Tavern at a fundraiser for the station, including people who have shaped the radio station throughout its history.
“It’s an all-volunteer operation, and just kind of a Carrboro institution,” said Alderman Damon Seils, who attended the fundraiser. “It’s a diverse programming schedule: news, talk, music, from all different parts of the community. That’s more and more difficult to find in today’s media environment.”
The fundraiser netted more than $700 for the radio station from a portion of the restaurant’s food revenue — a significant sum for a small station sustained by its volunteer workforce, Menius said.
“That’s a very significant amount in a station with a total budget of no more than $20,000 a year,” he said.
Audrey Layden, co-host of the Carolina Book Beat program on WCOM, said the station has grown over the years, with more than 60 show slots filled. The station also offers Internet streaming.
“Anywhere that you have a computer, you can listen to WCOM,” said Layden, who has been with WCOM for seven years.
Community radio captures the voices of those who might not otherwise have access to the public, she said.
“We don’t receive any corporate money, we don’t receive any kind of funding except for the donations of people in the community who are interested in and believe in giving voice to people who may not ordinarily have the opportunity to be heard,” Layden said. “We wanted to open the airways up to people who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to them.”
Menius said the station’s programs represent the diverse interests of Carrboro’s community.
“We have some of the most inventive programming you’ll hear anywhere on the radio dial because the income, the profit motive, is removed,” he said. “People can make radio they want to make for people who want to listen to it.”
Despite the lack of pay, many volunteers drive long distances to contribute to WCOM’s programming, Menius said.
“We have programmers who drive from Cary and Raleigh and between Sanford and Fayetteville all the way to Carrboro to do their shows,” he said. “That demonstrates the amount of investment they have in being radio programmers where they’re not going to get a penny of personal income out of doing that activity. It’s people doing radio because they love to make radio.”