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The New Sound of Indie Radio: CHIRP

By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 17, 2007 3:00PM

A lot of you came out with discussion and comments when we told you about the changes that were being made over at WLUW-FM (88.7). We were on the same page ... sadness, disgust, trepidation about the future. But one of the best things we can do in any shit situation is do something to effect change and work toward something positive. And that's what friends of WLUW have done. They've started a non-profit called the Chicago Independent Radio Project (CHIRP), aimed at preparing for a potential future low-power FM station. We sat down with Shawn Campbell to get more details and to find out what they have in store in the near future.

2007_08shawn.jpgChicagoist: The order of things has radically changed at WLUW. There has been a lot of speculation as to what might happen in the future. What was/is your take on the recent history?

Shawn Campbell: Obviously, I am disappointed. I invested eight years of my life in this project, and thought we had built something that reflected very well on Loyola University as the license-holder, and also served everyone involved very well, including audience, student volunteers, and community volunteers. We taught people how to create interesting, thoughtful radio, brought a lot of programming to the Chicago airwaves that wasn't available elsewhere, and created a huge body of support. We proved that people still want to care passionately about "their" radio station, that they *will* care passionately if you give them something worthwhile to care about.

It's hard to say what will happen in the future, because Loyola University hasn't said much about their intentions. They have not met with the current volunteer staff, which includes over 100 students, despite an initial indication that they would. Honestly, I don't know that they have any idea yet what they will do with the station once it reverts to their control next July 1. At the end of the day, the station belongs to them, and they can do with it whatever they want, as long as they are within the FCC guidelines that govern non-commercial educational

C: Does CHIRP have a mission statement?

SC: The ultimate goal of the Chicago Independent Radio Project (CHIRP) is to apply for and receive a low power FM license once they become available in Chicago. In preparation for this effort, the group will work to convince Congress to expand LPFM signals to urban areas and raise money so CHIRP will be in good position to be able to fund the application, buildout, and management of a new radio station. CHIRP hopes this effort will also help other groups who would like to apply for LPFM stations in urban areas in Chicago and elsewhere.

C: What do you hope to accomplish with CHIRP?

SC: Eventually, we want to bring new low power FM radio stations to cities, including Chicago. It isn't just about getting one new license here -- I think it would be great to have multiple LPFM signals serving Chicago's extremely diverse neighborhoods. But the first thing that needs to happen is that the Local Community Radio Act has to pass Congress. It was introduced in both Houses on June 21 with bipartisan support. It's actually an issue that many people on the right and left agree on. The coalition includes religious broadcasters and the NRA, as well as progressive groups like and Prometheus Radio Project. And all five FCC commissioners have gone on the record saying they believe it would be good to revisit the issue of LPFM in urban areas. The decision in the early aughts to limit LPFM to rural
and exurban areas was flawed, something almost everyone involved in the debate acknowledges now.

C: What is the process of getting/acquiring a new license?

SC: Again, the first thing that must happen is that Congress must pass the Local Community Radio Act. That would allow the FCC to grant new licenses in urban areas that were left out of LPFM licensing in the initial process. Once the bill becomes law, the FCC would have to write rules for application. Once those were done, they would announce an application window. That's a fairly short period of time (around a month or so) where you can submit your application for a new license. Once the window closes, the FCC would consider the applications, ask for additional materials, if necessary, and grant new licenses. If you're granted a license, you have 18 months to get your station up and running.

C: What would the broadcast scope be?

SC: That's impossible to know right now. The FCC would have to determine that while they're in their rule-making process.

C: Where would the actual station be?

SC: Again, this will come down to the way the FCC writes its rules. It's unclear right now whether urban stations would be limited to certain geographic areas inside the city or not. There's also no way of knowing how many watts new stations would be (LPFM licenses range from 10-100 watts). All that will have to be determined by the FCC.

C: Is there someone in charge of this -- a board of people, or are you heading this up by yourself?

SC: There is a board of about ten people, and a general membership group of 80+. No one has titles yet or anything. This will all get worked out as the group files its non-profit materials and such.

C: Will you contact any local businesses/venues/record stores to help out, seeing as they are the direct/indirect beneficiaries of having an independent radio station in chicago?

SC: Many of the people on the board and in the general membership have established relationships with all the types of businesses you name, either from their work at WLUW, or other music business associations. CHIRP already has had several benefits, so we're certainly seen support from local venues and bands. Pretty much everyone in the scene has been very supportive -- I think they all recognize the importance of independent outlets in helping them in their work.

C: How much money do you think you'll need for a successful start with a new station?

SC: The group's goal is to raise somewhere between $25,000-$30,000 over the next year or eighteen months. That would put us in a good position to be able to take care of business once the bill passes. In other words, to fund an engineering study for the application, buy basic transmission and studio equipment, do some buildout, pay a few months rent, etc. Radio really is an amazingly affordable medium, so we don't need millions of dollars (although if you HAVE millions of dollars you'd like to contribute, CHIRP certainly would welcome that!). And obviously, if the bill takes longer to pass, the group would be able to raise more money.

C: How has the response been to this new endeavor?

SC: Great! There have been two official CHIRP benefits thus far, and we've raised over $2000. We've also had a lot of people contacting us for more information, just wanting to know how they can help. Everyone is being incredibly supportive. WLUW built a lot of goodwill in Chicago's creative communities over the years, and people want to do everything they can to make sure there continues to be an outlet doing what WLUW has done as a community radio station.

C: Would you then continue to fundraise for the new station if you are able to obtain a license?

SC: Certainly. Even without any paid staff, there arebexpenses that have to be covered -- rent, utilities, materials (CDRs, turntable stylii), music licensing (BMI, ASCAP), webcast fees, equipment, repairs, etc. All LPFM licenses are non-commercial, so you have to support your station through other sources of fundraising.

If you would like to support CHIRP, turn out for some of their next fundraisers ...

Saturday, August 18 - Quencher's - 10PM showtime - The Strange Attractor, Spectaculo, About Nothin' - 21+, $5 suggested donation.

Monday, August 20 - Piece Pizza and Brewery - 9PM-midnight - Guitar Hero Tournament (80's style). $10 entry fee for competition, prizes for winner. $2 per person freestyle play after tournament.

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