Colonial Beach’s new community radio station took what might be described as the scenic route before it even got started.
The idea was born in Caroline County, when leaders at Fredericksburg Christian School decided that maybe it was time for the school to give up the nonprofit radio outlet it operated as a religious station at 88.1 on the FM dial.
That led to an announcement by the FCC in Washington about the availability of the license for what’s intended to be a community service station—one of the reasons it has limited wattage.
That’s where Ted Tait, chief engineer at BBC in Washington, got involved.
Tait, who for nine years has had a place in Colonial Beach where he spends weekends, spotted the FCC notice about the availability of the license. His first move was to get in touch with leaders at Fredericksburg Christian to get an idea of what was happening.
“Because student interest had waned, they were thinking of getting out of the license, but they didn’t want it to go to waste,” he said. “I immediately thought it could be a great fit for Colonial Beach.”
Tait knew the nature of the license meant it had to be held by a nonprofit.
“I asked the folks at Fredericksburg Christian to let me see what I could do, and then went to the Colonial Beach Community Foundation to see if there was interest in acquiring the license and operating it as a community station to serve the town and its residents,” he said.
What followed next was a whirlwind of FCC and legal paperwork and a rapid search for volunteers to run a radio station. There was a soon a core of interested people who believed WWER 88.1 was a great fit for the town.
Less than a dozen weeks after the notice that the license was available, the notion of a community station in Colonial Beach went from a hope to a fait accompli. WWER went on the air June 1.
Not only did Tait and a team of volunteers get the station up and running quickly, it’s been operating 24 hours a day since that time with a mix of music, news, weather and community affairs. Programs range from talk shows with community members to “Early Jazz Music Review,” a show hosted by a local musician well versed in the genre’s history.
There have been a few stumbles along the way, but the volunteer team is surprisingly heavy on folks with radio engineering experience, and they had no problem solving equipment problems and other challenges.
Station workers say they are surprised themselves by the range of music and community news beamed out over the Potomac River. They also take pride in the professionalism exhibited at a station that covers a radius of only about 10 miles around the town.
Colonial Beach resident Tom Larson was tabbed as program manager at an initial recruitment meeting because he suggested that the station would need to be able to share a program schedule to have any success in getting underwriting money from local merchants.
“I had no experience at it, but got picked right then as the program manager,” he said.
He joined a core group that included station manager Tait, Fredericksburg resident Charlie Wilson (a radio and TV vet known professionally by Tait), King George County resident Dave Loudin and others in town who wanted to make the station a success.
Music fills much of the day’s schedule on WWER—a lot of it the property of operations manager Wilson—but organizers have been pleasantly surprised by how much news and public affairs programming has been created.
Larson is responsible for some of it, such as a show he recorded and produced that covered the installation of basketball courts created with the money and assistance of NFL player and former Colonial Beach resident Torrey Smith.
“I knew Coach [Steve] Swope, the [former Colonial Beach High] coach involved in that, and figured I could figure out how to record the speeches and comments from the dedication,” said Larson, who works in the IT field. “I learned pretty quick how to put a show together.”
Tait notes that much of the work being done by the station’s volunteer force happens in their own homes, on their own computers. Wilson, for instance, loads all the shows, music and more that’s beamed to the transmitter.
But WWER does have a studio in donated space in the town’s Chamber of Commerce building, and the community foundation made a substantial and much-appreciated donation to help the station with outlays that range from royalty fees to the costs of transmitting.
Larson said one of the station’s biggest needs is someone to fill the position of volunteer director.
Tait and other station leaders are quick to point out the mission that’s clearly listed on the station’s wwer.org home page. It reads: “To deliver programming that serves and supports Colonial Beach in ways that commercial stations do not, by broadcasting unique, local programs that inform and engage both residents and visitors.”
The statement continues: “Unlike commercial radio, WWER has a different, and we believe more valuable, contribution to make to the town and its nearby residents. Music will be a part of that, but some of it will be music you haven’t heard in a while. Colonial Beach is lucky to have some amazing artistic and musical talent, and we will tap into that.”
Tait, who’s been both a Top 40 deejay and a radio engineer in his professional life, said he’s enjoyed getting to do both again after spending more of his time in the engineering field during his day job at BBC.
“But our biggest challenge right now is getting more people involved, as we can’t have the same half a dozen people in the core group continuing to do everything,” said Tait. “We need folks who can help with promotions, deal with finance, run our web page and more.”
He and others in the core group are extremely grateful to groups and individuals who’ve made financial donations to get the radio station operating, and said the need for those will continue as the station looks to grow and possibly explore the challenge of streaming the signal via the internet.
“That would be especially important for those folks who want to make this their main radio station, but are part-timers who spend their weekdays in other places,” said Tait. “It’s a challenge as costs grow for royalty fees and other things needed to make it possible.”