No static at all

Community radio arrives on Reno’s FM-dial

Tucker Rash, Thomas Snider, Ana McKay and Kate Biel of KWNK gather around a table in the radio station’s space on Fourth Street.

Tucker Rash, Thomas Snider, Ana McKay and Kate Biel of KWNK gather around a table in the radio station’s space on Fourth Street.

PHOTO/JERI CHADWELL

KWNK, a new community radio station, is set to hit the FM airwaves in Reno on Oct. 31—but that’s probably not news to a lot of local folks.

Some may have seen the station’s logo and the faces of its staff at summer fundraising events—a DJ night at The Bluebird, a benefit auction featuring denim jackets by local artists at Bad Apple Vntg., or a popcorn stand at free movie nights in Wingfield Park during Artown. Others, however, have been in the know much longer. In fact, some people have been awaiting the launch of KWNK for years.

Radio silence

The foundation for KWNK lies in the Local Community Radio Act of 2010. It was signed into law by President Obama in 2011 and cleared the way for the Federal Communications Commission to issue new licenses for low-power, FM radio stations—which had previously been basically outlawed by the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000. (Many media organizations, including NPR, supported the 2000 act, claiming that low-power stations created too much frequency interference on the FM dial.)

But low-power stations are just that—they operate at a maximum of 100 watts, considerably less than commercial radio stations, the largest of which operate at around 50,000 watts.

They’re also not commercial. Low-power stations are ad-free, community-based and generally licensed to educational entities—which is how the Reno Bike Project got involved in radio.

After Obama signed the act, Noah Silverman—founder of the Bike Project—was approached by a man named Todd Urick, co-founder and then program director for the non-profit Common Frequency, which worked to get low-power, community-based radio stations on air.

Urick helped Silverman with the FCC’s application project. The Reno Bike Project obtained a license. And Silverman began recruiting people to develop content for the station.

That was, of course, a few years ago. In the intervening time, many people from the community have become involved in the project.

Tim Conder—co-owner of Bootleg Courier Co., cannabis delivery service BlackbirdGo, and the former artists’ work space Cuddleworks—offered to host the station in his space next to the former Reno Bike Project location on Fourth Street. He also suggested getting University of Nevada, Reno students involved through a partnership with Wolf Pack Radio, the school’s online radio station.

Thomas Snider, KWNK co-founder and general manager, was one of those students.

“I came to Reno in 2012, and right away I found Wolf Pack Radio,” Snider said. “I discovered the Holland Project. I discovered all of these other communities within Reno through the radio station. It was this spot where people of all different kinds from the university would come to one place, all around one thing—this radio station.”

But Wolf Pack Radio had been an online-only station since its inception about a decade earlier. For Snider, the idea of getting it on air was enthralling. He joined the team—sticking it out through several years of quiet planning.

At one point, there was a plan to transfer the Bike Project’s license to the university. But this fell through. According to Snider, it was only this summer—with the help of Jeff Cotton from Open Sky Radio—that the KWNK took the final steps necessary to get off the ground.

“They helped us execute getting our license—having our construction permit turn into a license,” Snider said. “They helped us with facilitating all of the antenna work, equipment we would need and those things to actually getting the official license to begin broadcasting.”

In exchange, KWNK will share air-time with Open Sky Radio—broadcasting for 12 hours daily, from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., during its first six months of operation, while Open Sky fills the rest.

The spirit of radio

So what will KWNK programming sound like?

“Predominantly, the station will be music,” said Silverman. “But we want to include the talk radio, if you will, the forum for discussion and/or education about local events and local—hopefully not too much politics—but goings on about town.”

KWNK’s daily broadcasting hours will—at least initially—be divided between pre-recorded shows, for which the station began taking applications a few months ago. As for the content of said shows, the station’s staff explained, it’s basically no holds barred.

“Of course there are all sorts of weird little fringe cultures you see in Reno, and looking through all of the applications we’ve gotten so far, we’ve seen a lot of different, somewhat unexpected voices that want representation on live radio,” said Tucker Rash, one of KWNK’s program directors. “So, it’s really interesting looking at that stuff, because you see people who want to have radio shows about bicycling and people who just want to have basic, college-radio-style radio shows.”

Ana McKay is KWNK’s art coordinator. She’ll be working with local artists to design logos for the station’s different shows—including one for which she’s particularly excited.

“There are these two people who are trying to make a radio show celebrating house shows, so talking to people about what house shows are and what they mean to them, recording some house shows, playing music that’s heard at house shows and just really exploring that culture,” McKay said, adding that she thinks it’s a show that exemplifies the purpose of community radio.

As the launch date draws closer, there is plenty of excitement for other shows, too. New radio personalities—like Kate Biel—are considering just what they’ll do with their freeform airtime.

“My show is Peach Radio, and, basically, every week, I’ll be doing a different theme or genre,” Biel explained. “For my first one, I just did my favorite songs—just to give people a taste of what kind of music I listen to. … I’m thinking of doing a friends show where I play songs that my friends have shown me that have become my favorite songs. Basically, the point is, I’m trying to get people to listen to different genres, rather than just one—because I was guilty of that for a long time.”