First, let me apologize in advance for how many times we are going to say ‘Thank You’ in this FTV. There are only so many words that can fit what happened to WOAS-FM 88.5 in the past five months but the most important two are ‘Thank You’. We would be remiss to not thank everyone who had a hand in helping us turn ‘lemons into lemonade’. After everything is said and done, it is high time to catch everyone up on exactly where we are and how we got there, and to say thank you again and again. We do not want our listeners to end up doing a Where’s Waldo? search (minus the terrific artwork) to find their favorite station this fall.
First, we need to clear up where to find us on the FM dial. Surprise! For the moment, we are still broadcasting at 88.5 FM. Near the conclusion of our fundraising (more on that in a few minutes), we ordered our new transmitter. Before we could even look at when the installation work would begin, the group in Marquette who purchased 88.5 out from under us informed us they would not be acting on their construction permit (or CP) until next spring. They mentioned they were having trouble getting power to their site. We have been researching which frequency we should apply for and this new development will give us more time to do just that. Until further notice, you can still find us at 88.5 and www.woas-fm.org .
When we ID a new spot on the dial and apply for a new frequency, the FCC will either grant it or ask us to try again. Rebooting our request is always a possibility but we now have more time to cross our ‘t’s and dot our ‘i’s. If (how about ‘when’?) our new frequency is approved, we will then have our own CP to switch over to it for a period of three years. In other words, when we have to change, it can be done in a very short period of time. The CP for the group taking over 88.5 expires sometime late in 2024 and (assuming we apply this fall) ours would be valid until late 2026 or early 2027.
Our engineers (Al and Jim) suggested we go ahead with the installation of our new 100 watt transmitter and keep broadcasting on 88.5 FM until it is no longer available to us. Our Federal Communications Commission (FCC) contact informed us that the agency no longer holds lower power stations to 10 watts. The upgrade in power from 10 watts to 100 watts will give us the opportunity to also apply for an upgrade in our license from a Class D a Class A. Remaining as a Class D station would mean our new frequency could still be taken over by another Class A station. Moving to Class A would secure our spot on the dial, however, we must wait for the FCC to open an application window before we can apply for that status. As I pointed out in FTV: The Free Press Visit (8-2-23) The FCC agents I have been in contact with have been more than helpful in sorting all of this out. Time will tell, but all indications are that bandwidth is going to be more and more in demand in the future, so we will keep our finger on the pulse going forward. Again, when we move to a different spot, you will be the first to know.
Okay, it is time for the THANK YOUs I warned you about: #1 – We started the initial fund drive locally back in March of 2023. At the time, we explained we do not have the ability to do a GoFundMe site or any form of electronic payments. Our effort had to be an old fashioned ‘please write a check’ fundraiser. We had to do something similar in 2020 when our current transmitter lost the will to live and had to be sent to San Diego for repairs. At the height of the COVIC 19 pandemic, we could not justify running a fundraiser when so many groups were struggling just to survive. We simply asked, “If you have the resources to help us out, we would appreciate it.” It took two weeks to secure the $800 we needed and we were back on the air by the time the 2020 school started. Not long after we started the current fund appeal, we received donations from both the local area and from former residents in far off places (reported in the Ontonagon Herald and on (www.woas-fm.org).
THANK YOU #2 goes out to Detroit Free Press reporter John Carlisle and photographer Ryan Garza who came to town in April to do a feature on WOAS-FM. John initially hoped the article would help with the fund drive but mentioned it would be an interesting story even if we had already reached our $3,000 goal. The pair spent the bulk of a day interviewing our DJs and other volunteers, taking numerous photographs, and gathering information about the 45 year history of WOAS-FM. A lot of the discussion centered on what the future might hold. We could not advertise their visit until the Freep published the article. Not only did the story hit the Detroit Free Press website and paper, it was a front page feature replete with a large photo of DJ Will Immonen hard at work behind the broadcast board. The article posted on the website featured more photos of the DJs and volunteers they had interviewed. As soon as the article was published on July 13, 2023, we were free to write our own account.
We were pleasantly surprised as the Freep article resulted in immediate feedback. We were suddenly getting emails and phone calls from across the state. Folks who had read John’s article reached out to us. Some wanted to know if they could send a donation to help the cause and others sent us words of encouragement to hang in there. We heard from Bill Keith, the General Manager WSDP 88.1 The Park that broadcasts from Salem High School in Canton, Michigan. Pete Bowers, the station manager for WBFH-FM from 1976 to 2017 sent us greetings. Pete’s claim to fame was founding High School Radio day in 2012: “There already was a national College Radio day. I thought we should put the spotlight on high school radio and have a day of our own.” A showrunner from WRJ – AM in Detroit called and hooked us up for a ten minute on air interview with Mitch Albom. Mitch was excited to talk about the number of radio people who got their starts in high school and college radio stations over the years.
About the time we thought things would settle down, Kinjal Patel called seeking information about WOAS. Kinjal said she was gathering information to see if she could put together a ‘feel good story’ about WOAS for NBC’s Nightly News. As of this writing, she is waiting for me to let her know when the new unit is installed with an eye toward sending someone up from an NBC affiliate in Chicago to do a piece about WOAS. We kind of like the idea that the dark clouds that gathered when all this drama began have parted and people are beginning to view rays of sunshine peeking through. We are honored people have found inspiration in our story.
There were also a series of emails we received from Fred Jacobs. Fred is an old time radio guy who runs Fred Jacobs Media downstate. Fred picked up our story from the Free Press and posted it on his JacoBlog. Fred’s Blog reaches a larger audience of people with professional interest in radio. Fred took the time out to praise high school radio stations for acting as a feeder corp into the larger world of broadcasting. Fred was particularly complimentary about what we have been doing at WOAS and he topped off his generous praise by providing our address which generated even more donations..
I won’t lie to anyone – when the news first came to us about 88.5 being taken over, my first reactions were anger and disbelief. Not being a professional radio person, my only recourse was to contact the FCC and find out more about our situation. They confirmed that what was taking place was legal but did not necessarily sound the death knell for WOAS. Once we were informed that we can indeed apply for a different frequency by filing a form called A MINOR MODIFICATION OF A LICENSED FACILITY APPLICATION, we sat down and plotted our next move. At that time, we were still under the impression that 88.5 would be gone by the end of summer of 2023. The media attention and help offered from all over the map has been overwhelming. Our initial anger has been replaced by a feeling that, “yes, we can make lemonade from the lemons we were handed.” I was satisfied we were taking all the right steps and that everything would work out in the end. Just when it appeared that nothing could top the response we got up to that point, I got a call from Dan Makarski.
Ordinarily, it is not good form to single out one person when so many have come forward to help us with our transition from 10 to 100 watts. I have to make an exception in this case. Dan Makarski cold called me one day and introduced himself. He told me he had lived in Ontonagon until the age of 12 when his father worked for Knox Jamison in the early years of the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. The family moved to Detroit and Dan went on to become a lawyer but he has summered here for many years. Dan asked if it would be okay to send out word about our fundraiser to his friends and associates. He made no promises, but he felt pretty confident about the generous folks in his orbit who would be happy to help out. I would like to go on record to say, “Dan, I think you understated your case!” During the first two weeks of August, we were inundated with checks and notes of support from all over Michigan, many of which name checked Dan as the reason they made contact. For this reason, Dan Makarski gets a solo THANK YOU #3 to share with all the people he contacted. There are a lot of good people in the world who are not afraid to respond when help is needed.
THANK YOU #4 gets spread out among people who have made contact via notes and donations from Pennsylvania, New Mexico, North Carolina, Florida, California, Arizona, and (of course) all over Michigan. Our good friend and former WOAS DJ Tommy BoDean (Tom Dean) contacted us from his newest gig at the University of Florida. In true Tommy fashion, he offered to help out anyway he could. Mark Szaroletta, our original electronics, computer, and expert sound guy during my tenure as GM contacted us from his new base of operations in Lower Michigan. It has been great to hear from all of you.
Somewhere out there, our former GM, the late Mike ‘Zenith’ Bennett, is grinning from ear to ear. It was always Mike’s dream to up our power to 100 watts and become a Class A station. In the years after he moved from Ontonagon, Mike would often stop by or call and ask, “How’s it going? If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.” It is great that we are still in contact with Mike’s son, Sam, who has provided us with both kinds of support, monetary and moral.
Mike took charge of the station in the late 1980s to mid- 1990s era and expanded our reach to involve more people in the community. He shored up the foundation originally laid down by station founder Thomas Graham Lee and the second station manager, Margaret Muskatt. Most of the original equipment used to put WOAS on the air in 1978 came to us used and by the time Mike took over operations, much of this original equipment began to fall. ‘Zenith’ brought in enough money and new blood to ensure WOAS wouldn’t fade away. What we are doing now in the station’s 45th year is a natural extension of what Mike started when WOAS was being run by the Community Schools program (which he was the head of until the program folded state-wide).
In a nutshell (it is obviously too late to make a long story short), we have a path forward and have been absolutely gob-smacked by the outpouring of moral and monetary support we have received. I made the comment in an earlier article that ‘Ontonagonites are a generous lot’ and it gives me great pleasure to extend that thought to everyone of you who have answered the call. We will update you again when we finally settle into a new frequency and in our quest to move up in class. In the meantime, keep tuning in to WOAS-FM 88.5 and/or www.woas-fm.org -YOUR SOUND CHOICE. In April of 2022, the future of WOAS-FM was blanketed in dark clouds of uncertainty. What a difference a year can make. Thank you all!
Top Piece Video: Tommy James, Love Beads, and his song inspired by a billboard for the investment company MONY . . . close enough!