Morro Bay launching community radio station FM 97.3 The Rock

By Nick Wilson, The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 08--A new community-based effort in the beach town of Morro Bay will soon be producing waves -- sound waves.

After two years of planning and coordination, FM 97.3 The Rock is set to launch March 29. The Federal Communications Commission licensed the new radio station in February to the city of Morro Bay.

Coordinators now are working to set up a studio in a room in the Chamber of Commerce office at 695 Harbor St.

"This is truly about uniting people through radio," operations manager Hal Abrams said. "It will be a cross-section of the community coming together behind the microphone."

The broadcast will offer a host of talk shows, music programming, and bimonthly City Council meetings. The Rock broadcasts will air throughout the Estero Bay, perhaps reaching as far north as Cambria and as far east as San Luis Obispo. The specific range won't be known until the station is up and running.

"Community radio will fill a void that has been created by the corporatization of our media sources," Eckles said. "Do people in Estero Bay really care about a man-boy celebrity getting arrested for being intoxicated in Florida? No, they care about more meaningful things like the health of our local economy, the bay, and what is going on in local city government."

The station already has been streaming online at out of Abrams' home. Nine shows currently air online, including Jeff Eckles on wealth management, Youssef Alaoui with a musical variety show, and Ruth Ann Angus on art.

Those shows will now air on the radio, along with other local hosts such as physical fitness guru Greg Finch, psychologist Michael Shaffran, business owner Cyndee Edwards, and "musician's friend" Jim Davis.

Davis' program will feature local artists such as the band The Monroe and Green to White, as well as nationally-acclaimed performers, blending live and recorded music.

"I'm just grateful to be part of a really good, talented team that stuck with it," Davis said. "It's very difficult to get a station licensed."

The FCC requires at least eight hours per day, seven days per week, of locally-originated programming.

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Abrams is known for his nationally syndicated Animal Radio show, which won't air on 97.3 The Rock. But he plans to host a music show on the station, which he already hosts online, and manage operations. No salaries are being paid to those involved with the station, including Abrams.

Abrams has emphasized that community involvement and creative freedom within FCC limits will be encouraged. Although the station is licensed to the city, it's operated as a non-profit with a board of directors.

Abrams estimated the first year of operation will cost about $15,000 to $17,000 because of equipment installation and other needs. Fundraising efforts already have been held to support the launch. In coming years, he estimates an annual cost of about $5,000 to cover insurance, a $75 monthly fee to rent the chamber space, and a DSL line.

An antenna will transmit its signal from about a mile away at the City Corporation Yard at 170 Atascadero Road. Coordinators are still awaiting some studio equipment to complete its set-up before its official launch celebration and first broadcast on March 29.

Station coordinators wanted to launch before the citywide yard-sale on April 5-6, which it will highlight on air.

"We're planning a launch party outside the chamber," Abrams said. "We'll probably have somebody flip a big switch."

The board consists of 15 members from a variety of backgrounds, including City Councilman Noah Smukler and former City Councilman Bill Peirce -- who have opposing local political viewpoints. Smukler is the only sitting city official on the board.

Abrams said that open dialogue through station programming may help bridge a political divide that he says exists in Morro Bay.

"Estero Bay Radio will provide a non-partisan platform for us all to learn more about our town and each other," Smukler said. "Sharing ideas, music, health-related information, events and public service information will likely increase connections and awareness throughout the North Coast."

Peirce emphasized the importance of remaining non-partisan.

"(The station) will also need to be careful to stay separate from the political factions and remain very neutral," Peirce said. "If it's perceived as partisan it will become its own source of controversy ... At some future date, a majority of a city council could try to influence programming. That is something that all concerned should guard against."

Abrams said that he'll be cognizant of presenting opposing viewpoints for balance in the programming. He added that opportunities for those interested in producing short-term or long-term shows will be available, and encouraged those interested to get involved. College students also can get involved, and he has reached out to Cuesta College already to make students aware of opportunities in broadcasting and producing.

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