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2017-09-13 / Featured / Front Page

Out of dead air: Radio station launches in Midlothian

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER


Caitlin Reading (left) and Christopher Maxwell helped launch WRWK 93.9 FM in late August to give Midlothian residents an outlet for community news and discussion. 
ASH DANIEL Caitlin Reading (left) and Christopher Maxwell helped launch WRWK 93.9 FM in late August to give Midlothian residents an outlet for community news and discussion. ASH DANIEL 'We do not need magic to change the world,” said the woman’s voice. “We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”

If you were listening to the radio in Midlothian last Thursday, it’s possible you heard this quote from author J.K. Rowling, followed by the Henry Mancini instrumental “Baby Elephant Walk.” Previous to Aug. 27, 93.9 FM was a dead space on the radio dial for local listeners, but that channel is now occupied by WRWK-LP “The Work,” a new community radio station that began broadcasting in Chesterfield two weeks ago.

The Work is a low-power FM station, meaning it uses less power and covers a smaller area than conventional “full power” stations in the area. Unlike commercial radio stations that rely on advertising to function, The Work will run on donations and be operated by members of the community, much like Richmond’s WRIR 97.3 FM (Full disclosure: This reporter co-hosts a bi-weekly theater segment on WRIR).


A low-budget affair, WRWK’s transmitter and amplifier are stacked in a former motel bathroom in a small retail strip just off Midlothian Turnpike. 
ASH DANIEL A low-budget affair, WRWK’s transmitter and amplifier are stacked in a former motel bathroom in a small retail strip just off Midlothian Turnpike. ASH DANIEL “[WRWK brings] a community radio station to Chesterfield,” says Caitlin Reading, who travels the country helping low-power FM stations get off the ground, and who helped with this one. “That may not sound like a lot; however, it is huge. Communities that have community radio stations tend to be better informed, better connected, more efficient at achieving their goals as a population.”

By day, the station will play instrumental music intended as background sound for listeners while they work. By night, the station will host news programming and talk shows geared toward community interests, as well as broadcasts of Board of Supervisor meetings.

Adele MacLean, president of the Synergy Project, the private foundation that serves as a parent group for WRWK, says the station aims to help “people hear unheard voices, [and give] a broader array of voices on the air.” MacLean says one program currently in the works will feature a storyteller; another may feature a minister interested in earth stewardship.

While other radio stations might broadcast programming that includes state and national news, MacLean says one of WRWK’s strengths is that they can focus specifically on Midlothian and surrounding locales.

“Being a [local] news outlet is part of our vision,” MacLean says. “That may be an area where we can fill the void.”

Another goal of the station is to help give women a platform to voice their opinions.

“Women are vastly underrepresented in radio,” Reading says. “One of the unique features of our radio station is that women will be recording inspirational quotes or thoughts [for broadcast].”

So far, the station is a decidedly lo-fi affair. Located in a former motel building flanked by car dealers and shopping strips near the intersection of Midlothian Turnpike and Courthouse Road, The Work’s transmitter, amplifier and other broadcast equipment are stacked on top of each other in a bathroom. Though the station’s volunteers hope to broadcast live one day, so far everything must be prerecorded in a makeshift sound dampening tunnel that cost next to nothing to construct. Made from found pieces of wood, a laptop pulled from the trash and sound-absorbing material salvaged from a defunct recording studio, Christopher “Max” Maxwell says that the tunnel is an illustration of the station’s do-it-yourself ethos.

“It creates a professional sounding effect, even though it looks like a big cat box,” says Maxwell of the sound tunnel. “It’s an example of how it’s possible to build your media on very low funding and still have a positive effect on the community.”

Maxwell, a longtime community activist who helped start WRIR in 2005, says he wants WRWK to serve as a way to bridge the political divide through dialogue.

“We’re all off on our little silos,” he says of our current political milieu. “It’s almost like we’re all living in these parallel universes. … I want to create more conversations from neighbor to neighbor.”

WRWK is one of four radio networks in Virginia that Maxwell and others applied for in 2013. The other stations are located in Kilmarnock, Portsmouth and Floyd. Maxwell says the Kilmarnock station is focused on issues of the Rappahannock River, while the Portsmouth station will focus on Juneteenth – the June 19 holiday commemorating the end of slavery – and other important events and issues relevant to that city’s African-American community.

Maxwell compares the Floyd station to the radio channel from the TV show “Northern Exposure,” which played a wide variety of music.

“[The stations are] all pretty different, because all these communities are different,” Maxwell explains. “Community media means that we invite the community to come in and share what’s important to them.” ¦

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