Goodbye WOAS FM?
UPDATE NO. 1 – AS OF MARCH 20, 2023, OUR FUND RAISING EFFORT FOR A NEW TRANSMITTER IS IN FULL SWING – WHILE I AM HAPPY TO REPORT WE ARE 1/3 OF THE WAY TO OUR GOAL OF $2,850, WE HAVE A WAYS TO GO. ANY AMOUNT YOU CAN COMMIT TO HELPING US UPGRADE IN LIEU OF THE STORY PRINTED BELOW, WE WOULD APPRECIATE IT GREATLY. DONATIONS CAN BE SENT TO WOAS-FM, 701 PARKER AVE, ONTONAGON, MI 49953. OUR FIRST DONOR, WHO WISHES TO REMAN ANONYMOUS, GAVE US HOPE THAT WE CAN GET THIS DONE. THE DONOR PRAISED WOAS-FM FOR BEING A COMMUNITY ASSET AND WORTHY OF SUPPORT (I am paraphrasing here as I do not have the note in front of me, but you get the picture). THANK YOU INADVANCE FOR YOUR SUPPORT! KER, MANAGER
On April 25, 2022, WOAS-FM received an email from a religious radio group from Marquette, Michigan. In this email, they explained that they had been granted a CP (construction permit) from the FCC for a translator station in Rockland, Michigan. This new translator would be taking over our 88.5 frequency. “WOAS will be required to change frequencies to accommodate our new station,” was the part that made my stomach do a series of flip flops. When I inquired why they needed 88.5, I was told their consultant had deemed it the best frequency for them to use. Further questions about their choice were not answered. They helpfully sent us a list of ‘available frequencies’ that could suit our needs but one does not change a radio station’s frequency with the same ease as one changes their socks. They also offered to help us, “any way they can,” in making the transition to a new frequency. At this point, I did not know enough about the whole process to even begin to venture what kind of help we would need or they could provide.
The shortest way to explain all of this goes like this: As a non-commercial 10 watt station, we are in what is referred to as an ‘unprotected’ area of the radio frequencies licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The group that bought our frequency is also non-commercial but their more powerful signal gives them the right to purchase unprotected frequencies occupied by lower power, non-protected non-comms like ours. This is not meant to be a legal description of what happened to 88.5; the FCC representative I contacted confirmed it is something that happens to stations like ours.
Many years ago, we were offered the option of upgrading WOAS to 100 watts but we did not have the capital to do so at the time. A boost to 100 watts would have only had a minimal effect on how far we can broadcast in the local area due to the hills surrounding Ontonagon on three sides. We were in the early stages of establishing ourselves on the internet at www.woas-fm.org, so we felt standing pat at 10 watts was our best option at that time. The current situation was not something on our radar or perhaps we would have made the change then and secured our spot on the radio dial.
In answer to the question in the title, let me be clear: “No, WOAS-FM isn’t going away.”
The license for our frequency was sold in November of 2021 and the CP is in effect for three years. The only guarantee we were given was there wouldn’t be anything done on the CP until ‘the summer of 2023 at the earliest’. I sat down in January of 2023 with our engineer Jim Bradley (and his partner in crime, fellow engineer Al Harrison by phone) and we weighed our options. Jim and Al did all of the primary installation work with our current transmitter and studio equipment when we did the last round of studio remodeling in 1998-99 (yes, it is hard to believe it has already been 25 years!). The last major upgrades were funded by a two year $8000 grant ($4k per year) from the Ontonagon Area Schools, $1000 provided by UPPCO, and the rest from public donations. At that time, our broadcast board, transmitter, and studio equipment were all replaced. Labor on shelving, storage units, new studio doors, and cabinets was donated by a couple of woodshop students. This remodeling happened to coincide with the school library being recarpeted, so with one day’s notice, we completely emptied both studios so our area could also be redone.
In August of 2020, our current transmitter failed and we were forced to send it to BEXT Corp in San Diego, CA for repairs. The school district was not able to help us with the cost of this repair putting all of our operational plans up in the air. The COVID-19 pandemic was blowing up and everyone wrestled with how to conduct business while remaining safe – things looked pretty bleak. At that time, I said in an article in the Ontonagon Herald and on our website, ”Running any form of fundraising campaign at this juncture would not be a great idea. There are more important agencies that are in dire need of public support as we cope with the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting all of us. With that said we are going to leave the door cracked open a little bit and just say, ‘If our listeners have the resources available to give us a hand, we would ot turn down any ‘freewill’ donations to help us get out of this hole.’” With in two weeks of this message being published, we had received sufficient donations to cover our repairs.
We have tried to not be one of those stations that is always doing fundraisers. The school does cover our yearly music license fee and utilities, but the district’s budget is already in the red with cuts being planned for the next year. In order to secure the future of WOAS FM, we are going to have to make an appeal to our supporters once again. Things are slowly getting back to normal (or at least our post-pandemic version of a ‘new normal’), but we now find ourselves in a similar position as we did in August of 2020. A new transmitter allowing us to upgrade to 100 watts and secure our new frequency has a price tag of $2850. We are in the process of identifying a new frequency and preparing the FCC application so we will be ready when 88.5 is no longer available to us. The last we heard, it could happen as soon as July or September.
Why upgrade now? Our engineers pointed out our current transmitter is 25 years old and has already had one major breakdown (in 2020). We could change the frequency of this unit and continue as a 10 watt non-comm, but as we recently found out, we would still be in the unprotected band and subject to having our new frequency bought out from under us. The best investment we can make is to upgrade to 100 watts along with the frequency change to prevent us from getting bumped again. Unlike the major upgrades done in 1998, our broadcast board is still in fine shape. The studio equipment has been replaced as needed over the last five to ten years with our available funds. This is something we have been able to do by stretching our meager resources rather than constantly running fundraisers.
If you are able to help us, we remind you that donations to WOAS-FM are tax deductible. Donations to this effort can be sent to: ONTONAGON AREA SCHOOLS – WOAS-FM
701 PARKER AVENUE, ONTONAGON, MI 49953. All gifts will be acknowledged at a later date unless you wish yours to remain anonymous. Let me thank you all in advance for your past and present support of WOAS-FM, Your Sound Choice. This year marks our 45th year on the air and we are looking forward to being here for you in the future even if we will no longer be broadcasting on 88.5 FM. Ken Raisanen, Manager, WOAS-FM 88.5
Top Piece Video – If it deals with money – then it fits! How about ‘We need a new transmitter?’