December 13, 2017

From the Vaults – WOAS at 39 – Part 2

 

    Part 1 of this article covered the ups and downs experienced by WOAS-FM during the first two decades of its existence.  The ‘next twenty years’ began in 1997 when the Ontonagon Board of Education, UPPCO, and our listeners ponied up $9000 to rehab the station and get us back in fighting condition.  It was a two year labor of love,  but if there is one unchanging lesson I have learned from being the General Manager of WOAS-FM, it is “there is always a ‘next project’ waiting around the bend”.  

    In 1997, the first item of business was renewing our license with the FCC.  Mike Bennett had taken care of details like this in the decade before I became GM.  I learned what I could from Mike before  he left and everything else had to be picked up on the fly.  It took me a while to find them, but in the three foot pile of mail I was sorting were FCC documents reminding us that our license was up for renewal.  With only three months to spare, we got the paperwork sorted out, our renewal was processed, and we were still a licensed broadcast facility.

     The next task in the renovation process was drawing up wish lists of “need to have” vs  “wouldn’t it be nice to have” equipment.  The “need to haves” included a new transmitter and a new broadcast board, but we could not afford to get both with our $9000 funding being spread out over two years.  Fortunately, a little sympathetic help from the business office and a helpful vendor allowed us to get the new transmitter and board up and running while we limped along with what cassette and CD players we had that still worked.  The rest of the electronics would have to wait until the next year, but we did not have to worry about the transmitter failing or the broadcast board going up in smoke.

    As luck would have it, the OASD buildings were also undergoing some much needed upgrades during the 1997-98 school year and one of the items on the list was new carpeting for the library.   WOAS occupies two of the former library study rooms for our production and broadcast studios, so I asked if we could get new carpeting, too.  “Sure you can,” was the reply I got on a Friday afternoon, “As long as both rooms are empty by Monday.”  Fair enough!  It took the full two days to get everything out in the hall, but one week later, we had new carpeting and two empty rooms.  It was literally like having a blank canvas to fill as we decided how to lay out the two rooms that had not been rearranged much during the previous twenty years.

    Unfortunately, Mike Bennett and I both suffered from T-RP syndrome which we both agreed was inherited from our parents who developed it living during the Great Depression.  It stands for ‘Teacher-Rat Pack Syndrome’.  This can be defined as ‘never throw away anything that might be useful some day – even if it is broken’.  With a limited amount of space in our studio rooms, I swallowed hard and began hauling the broken down second hand cabinets and shelves down to the custodian’s area.  Some got repurposed as storage space for maintenance stuff (apparently custodians also have T-RPS), and some when into the dumpster.   Marge Etapa was serving as the Library Aide at that time and when she saw what I was trying to do, she offered to scrounge some of the old elementary library shelves for us to line the walls with.  The woodshop kids involved in radio made new cabinet doors for the broadcast area and hung new doors between the studios.  The next task was to maximize the limited amount of floor space by putting things back into the studios as efficiently as possible.  Most of the woodshop work was fueled by plates of cookies provided by Marge proving once again the barter system was still alive and well.

    The transition between using vinyl records and CDs was in full swing, so I picked up enough pine lumber and dowels to make wall mounted and table top CD racks for the broadcast studio.  Once they were assembled, Roger Ruuti attached them to the brick wall where the cart machine tape rack used to be.  A cart machine used 8-track tapes on which PSAs, promos, announcements and other vital broadcast information was recorded for playback.  WOAS had two cart machines in the early years but by the time I came on board, they were not being used at all, having been replaced by cassette tapes and players.  Out with the old and in with they new as they say.  The two table top mounted turntables were also displaced by CDs so the albums we had left were recycled through St. Vinnies and anyone else that found a need for them.  Who knew vinyl would be making a comeback, but hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?

    Jim Bradley had been instrumental during the original building phase so we leaned on him again to get the new transmitter and board installed.  He and a buddy of his came in and set up the whole shebang.   In two days and we had a new station literally from the carpet up.  We gave the first broadcast slots to those radioheads who had hung on through the year of everything slowly falling apart and then started seeking out new day and evening shift volunteers.  

    The day shift DJs were told to develop their own formats.  To accommodate the volume of syndicated programs we began receiving, the evening shifts were divided into five categories:  Monday became ‘Blue Monday’ (featuring blues), Tuesday was designated ‘folk night’ (cycling around the Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour and Acoustic Rainbow programs), Wednesday was dubbed ‘Americana music night’ (with the Midnight Special forming the core for that night). Thursday was set aside as the ‘alternative music’ night (to give us a place to use the large number of CDs were were getting from the Home Grown Music Net and our friends at Powderfinger Productions), and Fridays were simply labeled ‘Free Form Radio’ (as in, ‘whatever we wanted to program at the end of the week’).  As the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival grew, we began setting aside part of Friday evenings for PorkiesFest Radio.  PFR gave us a chance to feature bands who had performed at PorkiesFest, have applied to perform at PorkiesFest, and (in some cases) bands who we would like to see apply to play at PorkiesFest.

    It would (again) be very difficult to start listing all of the folks who came forth over the last twenty years to share music with our listeners without missing some.  It would be appropriate, however, so say ‘thank you’ to those many volunteers because they are the reason we have been able to stay on the air.  As the school district has grown smaller ( reflecting the population decrease fueled by the area’s slowed economy), it has been more difficult to find people willing to join our broadcast family.  The end result has been more younger students (some as young as sixth grade) trying their hands in the after school slots and more syndicated programming filling the later evening shifts. What hasn’t changed is our mission to be YOUR SOUND CHOICE for music of all kinds in Ontonagon County, but even this mission has been tweaked by advances in technology.

    Sometime in the late 1990s, the school district got wired for the internet (again thanks to the generous help of many willing volunteers).  We began exploring options to use the internet to extend our voice beyond the reach of our 20 mile, ten watt radius.  I am going to break form here and actually give credit to the evolving team that got us to our current web prescence at www.woas-fm.org because it illustrates how a radio station with very a limited income stream can still get things accomplished.

    Mark Szaroletta and Daniel Raisanen were the first WOAS cyber pioneers.  Mark repurposed a couple of old servers that were lying around the school by adding a generous dose of spare parts he had hanging around.  These two servers, dubbed Kang and Kodos, gave us our first taste of broadcasting beyond the confines of Ontonagon County.  We have had a rotating cast of computer techs cycle through our building from the REMC office in Hancock.  Each of them added to our knowledge base and helped us untangle the layers necessary to have our server function through their system.  Tyler Moore did the next round of upgrades with Mark and Daniel also chipping in as consultants from time to time.  The jump to our current web platform was accomplished by Steven Radachy before he graduated from MTU and left the area to pursue employment.

    The current web site has been stable and no major crashes to our system have occurred since Steven signed off on his part.  Since then, we have added a studio webcam that can be accessed on the station web site, along with our roof top weather station that has been in operation since the Kang and Kodos days.  Current REMC tech Ted Bejel was in the process of getting our new outdoor webcam patched into the network so we can add that to our Weather Underground feed.  The ‘was’ used here is intentional because literally a couple of days before we were to pull the trigger on adding our webcam to the Weather Underground site, they announced that they no longer have the resources to host webcams and would be removing all of the feeds from their system on December 15, 2017.  Undaunted, we will  build the webcam feed into the station website.   

    The only thing we have been lacking with all the technical upgrades is a streamlined way for us to interact with our listeners.  The area of our web cam feed has an area for posting comments, but nobody has really jumped on using it with all of the other options available for social networking.  Over the next few weeks, Ariel Voldarski, our assistant manager, will be setting up the necessary framework to make it easier to interact with us.   It was Ariel (and Riley Gilmore) who began integrating snapchat visits with their associate DJs Sara (in Massachusetts) and Hennig (in Germany) last year, so she is certainly qualified to take us to the next level.  We have set up a station web mail at WOAS.k12.mi.us and as soon as we are up and running with the other applications, we will pass the word along so you can have greater access to us.  Once we have all of these ducks in a row, readers an expect and up date – sort of a ‘State of the Station’ report.  

    There will be one new development in station operations taking place sometime in this broadcast year.  It is a word that we have been loath to utter since our last round of station upgrades in the late 1990s:  Fundraising!  The last appeal we made for help from our listeners was in 1997.  Since then, we have been able to function with a small input of capitol from the school district (to cover our music license fees and power consumption), a portion of the sales income from the two vending machines we maintain in the school, and a bit of income from our computer cartridge recycle program.  The first two on the list have been relatively stable, but the recycling market has produced less and less income each year.  We also now pay an annual fee to cover the internet bandwidth we use for our web site.  The cost of all our equipment replacements and upgrades have been handled internally without resorting to annual fund drives so we are pretty proud of our self sufficiency.  With that said, we are going to have to raise some funds this year because (as we all well know) things just aren’t getting any cheaper!  We are hoping that some of the funds can come from shedding a few pieces of surplus equipment which should be easier to do once we have our social media stuff in place.  Did I mention that everyone associated with the station volunteers their time?  We have no staff costs at all, minus the small fee we paid a professional to help get our web site up and running.  Even yours truly is a volunteer, so we won’t be asking for money for anything besides the equipment and fees needed to keep WOAS on the air!

    When I became the GM in 1997, the crystal ball needed to peek twenty years in the future didn’t exist.  It would be a lie to say I knew our little station on the big lake would one day be accessible around the world.  When they put a flip open communicator in Captain Kirk’s hands in the original Star Trek series in 1966, did anyone envision everyone and their uncle communicating around the globe with similar looking devices within fifty years?  I have my doubts!  What comes next for WOAS-FM?  That is a very good question and I hope I am still around twenty years from now to see what the answer to this question will be because my crystal ball still isn’t providing me any answers.    

    Happy New Year to you and yours from Your Sound Choice, WOAS-FM 88.5.

Top Iece Video – and happy Birthday to us as we enter our 40th year this December!!