WRFG Aims for Bigger Antenna

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(APN) ATLANTA – Radio Free Georgia (WRFG, 89.3 FM) is nearing its fundraising goal in its two year Tower of Power capital campaign to move to a new tower.

WRFG has already raised $175,000 and needs to raise another $50,000, Heather Gray, President of WRFG’s Board of Directors, told Atlanta Progressive News.

WRFG has had plenty of help along the way. “We were the only radio station in Georgia last year to receive a grant from the federal government,” Gray said.

In addition to the grant from National Telecommunications and Information Administration, subscribers and general listeners have generously donated.

WRFG is a 100,000-watt station that can be heard in Birmingham and even farther away when operating at full capacity, Gray said.

The current tower, located on Fair Street in South Atlanta, is at an elevation of 100 feet, the same as Clark Atlanta University’s tower, according to WRFG.org.

“There are a lot of shadows around Atlanta that prevent some listeners from hearing us,” Gray said. “Even though we are a 100,000 watt station, our elevation is too low.”

A study was commissioned in 1998 to investigate the signal problems. “FM broadcasting requires a clear path from antenna to an individual receiver, and the existing facility did not even provide a good signal to the studio only 5 miles east of the WRFG tower,” according to WRFG.org.

The study concluded the tower must be moved to a new location with a higher elevation.

“We are moving to Richland Tower on Briarcliff Road” which is at an elevation of 500 feet, Gray said. “It should make a radical difference because, according to the engineers, we will no longer have shadow problems.”

“We will lease a space on the Richland Tower for our [directional] antenna,” Gray added. WRFG needs to use a directional antenna because it will prevent them from interfering with the signal of other stations.

“Our transmitter is also producing too much radiation,” Gray said. “We had to go down in power because of FCC regulations.” WRFG is currently operating at only 70 percent capacity because the FCC has strict regulations on exactly how much radiation a radio transmitter can emit.

When WRFG makes their move, they will once again be able to operate at full capacity.

100,000 watts is the highest the station can go because of licensing restrictions, Gray said.

So when does WRFG expect to make the move? “I’m thinking October or November to make the move,” Gray said. ‘We’ve already ordered the antenna and put out a bid for the transmitter in order to get the best deal.”

“We do need help,” Gray told Atlanta Progressive News. “We really have to dig our heels in and do whatever we can to raise more money.”

In addition to paying for a new antenna and transmitter, WRFG has to come up with the money to pay for things like a microwave, remote control and audio processing, and implementation expenses.

Radio Free Georgia originated as a 10-watt station operating from Little Five Points starting in 1973.

“WRFG grew out of the movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Gray said. “The early founders could have started a newspaper but they chose instead to create a radio station,” in part because of the emergence of The Great Speckled Bird. “The station is a tool to implement ideas.”

The Great Speckled Bird ran the first news article about WRFG years ago and was instrumental in helping with its founding, one of WRFG’s original founders, Harlon Joye told Heather Gray, according to an interview transcript obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

Similar to the Great Speckled Bird, WRFG’s founders say they were subject to police harassment and spying, the transcript says. WRFG was seen as a center of radicalism in Atlanta.

WRFG was one of the only progressive radio stations in the United States at the time, Joye told Heather Gray, in addition to a few Pacifica stations and a few independent ones.

Grassroots efforts, improvisation of an antenna involving trips to Radio Shack, and shoestring budgets were reportedly involved.

The National Endowment for the Humanities gave WRFG a grant in the 1970s and the station has not looked back. “In the Deep South…we’re it,” Gray told Atlanta Progressive News. “We’re the only station that has public affairs and music [and] we take our position seriously.”

WRFG produced a 50 part series between 1977 and 1980 called “Living Atlanta!” that won national awards. The University of Georgia Press published a book in 1989 based on the series.

The station’s contribution in the musical field is significant as well. It became the first radio station in Atlanta since the 1950s to feature blues, bluegrass, and jazz; musical forms native to the region.

WRFG has a smorgasbord of music, something for everyone, and many programs are geared toward Atlanta’s ever growing Latin, Asian, Caribbean, and African communities. “We play the leading role in providing opportunities for hip-hop,” Gray said.

In 1995, WRFG reached its goal of operating at 100,000 watts. The next year, the station took its show on the road, going to Dublin to broadcast the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Jamaica, where the first World Party Tour occurred.

Today, WRFG continues to give a voice to people who traditionally are denied access to broadcast media. “We have to [continue] to make sure we have access to progressive opportunities,” Gray said.

Atlanta Progressive News Staff Writers have been on WRFG’s progressive news hour each week for the last couple months. News Editor Matthew Cardinale, and Staff Writers Jonathan Springston, Betty Clermont, and Kristina Cates have each discussed their latest news items recently on Adam Shapiro’s “Current Events” program, Thursdays at noon.

Everyone can help WRFG continue their progressive legacy by visiting WRFG.org, donating money, and learning more about the Tower of Power Campaign.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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