Their listeners may not know it, but the first words aired on Radio Phoenix were said in a small bungalow home downtown on Fifth Street on Halloween 2008.
Since those humble beginnings, the station has relocated to the Phoenix Center for the Arts, but their delivery format remains the same. Listeners tune in via an online player on the site’s homepage or use the TuneIn radio app on a mobile device.
But after five years solely online, the station is looking to spread its wings to the airwaves – but they’ll need more funding before they can take off.
The station received Federal Communications Commission approval to build an FM station this past summer, General Manager and Program Coordinator Kaja Brown said. He estimates Radio Phoenix will need anywhere from $350,000 to $500,000 to purchase the equipment needed to get on 88.7 FM, and they’re looking to the community for the money. The station has always been both community funded and operated.
“The station is controlled by regular folks, which makes it accessible,” Brown said.
It will be tough to turn to businesses for funding without turning Radio Phoenix itself into a commercial station, said Tom Coulson, the station’s fundraising coordinator and host of the blues and jazz show Full Moon Hacksaw.
“When people invest in it, they want a part of it. So I think that’s only natural that we honor that,” Coulson said. “How do we do that without people buying influence?”
Coulson estimates that the station currently costs $18,000 to $20,000 to run annually, but on-air could take in a million. The station has made it this far primarily due to small-business underwriters, many of which cannot afford to underwrite at bigger stations.
The station’s commitment to helping small businesses, as well as the arts community and charities, sets it apart and makes it community-oriented, Brown said. Many station volunteers are members of the arts community themselves: Coulson is a musician, Soul Deluxe host Byron Fenix is a DJ and The Bungalow Show host Leah Marche is a poet.
They all come from varying radio backgrounds.
“When Byron started about four years ago, he couldn’t even read copy!” Brown said. “Now he has his own show that’s syndicated on other stations.”
Fenix originally helped a friend out with a different music show called Unity Vibe and was hesitant to speak on air at first.
“I’m a really reserved person,” Fenix said. “But my love for sharing music helped me slip out from the background.”
Fenix occasionally has guests on his show and said now he enjoys getting to speak with new people on air. But he said even after all that he’s learned, he still owes a lot to the show’s producer, Stephen Hernandez, whom he calls his right-hand man. Hernandez helps Fenix with much of the technical work, but Fenix has complete control over the music he plays, something that can’t be said for all radio stations.
“I get to play things I wanted to hear on the radio but never really heard. I was only able to do that with my DJ gig,” Fenix said. “That’s why I bought into this.”
Other types of artists make appearances in the one-room studio, too. Marche recently had a storyteller named Tanmaya Shekhar on The Bungalow Show whom she originally saw perform at Space 55, a theater off Seventh Street on Pierce Street. Shekhar started telling stories at Lawn Gnome Publishing’s weekly storytelling event, Yarnball, and was asked to tell one at Space 55.
The Bungalow Show was his first time on radio.
“I think it was actually quite liberating. When I performed at Space (55) I was a little scared of the stage,” Shekhar said.
If Radio Phoenix is going to transition to an FM station, they must have their station built and approved within 18 months of receiving the FCC construction permit, Coulson said.
In 2014, the station will be working to obtain the necessary funding.
Coulson, who has worked everywhere from KXTC when it was in the Westward Ho in the mid-70s to KJZZ, the local NPR member station, said Radio Phoenix is worth it.
“We’re not in it to make a profit. We’re not in it to pay hosts to get on and get ratings,” Coulson said. “This is one of the few kinds of setups where you’re encouraged to do your own thing.”
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