Monday, February 4, 2008

Full Power Series #2: Angling for a Spot on the Airwaves

Full-Power applicant Bill Hensel, of the North Fork Angling Society

Who wants to run a noncommercial FM radio station? It's easy to find out—all of the applications filed with the Federal Communications Commission last fall can be viewed online. But you don't have to delve deep into the database to get a general idea. Just browsing a list of the organizations by name suggests some dominant interests.

Many applicants bear titles reflecting, in the words of Dan Aykroyd, "a mission from God." According to analysis by Public Radio Capital, religious organizations filed 60 percent of the applications. (Check out my first post for more details.) Colleges, universities, municipalities and school boards are well-represented among the secular hopefuls. And monikers such as the Jazz Birds or the Delta Blues Foundation suggest a focus on arts and culture.

Future posts in this series will examine some of these other applicants. But I wanted to start by catching a few rare butterflies—groups with singular visions. Digging turned up two who differ from the masses yet share much in common. Both the North Fork Angling Society of Pine, Colorado, and the Hare Krishnas of New Vrindaban, West Virginia, hail from small communities whose residents seek refuge from a society at odds with their values. These applicants hope to create forums where neighbors can speak to each other and to the world beyond.

Local flavor on the radio is rare these days, when our airwaves seem as homogenized as fast food. Music mixes on commercial FM stations vary little from city to city. Public stations aim to provide local service, yet homegrown voices must compete to be heard above the roar of news about global events. The tacit message is that your local music scene matters less than the latest hit single, and that your experiences of your home, your street, and your community deserve less valuable airtime than what happened on Wall Street today.

FMC and our partners at Radio for People saw the October filing window as a chance to counter this trend. So did many applicants across the country, including Bill Hensel, whose proposed station would offer an audio haven for local fly-fishing enthusiasts, among others.

If Hensel prevails in his quest to get a station, rest assured that it would bring a blast of uniquely local character to his mountain hamlet of Pine, Colorado. On K-Pine Radio, Hensel's neighbors might hear, for example, musical elegies for the community's dearly departed dogs.

"Where else are you going to have a radio program on an FM station that's going to say, "Okay, we're going to honor Skip and Alexia. These dogs died last month, and we're playing some music for them?" Hensel asks. "That sounds odd, but for the area here, people get into it." And if Hensel's cat wanders off one night, that might make the news, too. "I'm on the station: 'Yellow alert out for Lily!'" he says, and laughs.

Pine's 50 or so residents live southwest of Denver, nestled in a valley among 9,000-foot mountain peaks. A fork of the South Platte River "runs cold and clear" through the community, Hensel says, and lends its name to Hensel's environmentally minded group, the North Fork Angling Society. When asked about his affiliation with the Society, he replies, "Founder of the feast." The small group of anglers teaches local kids to fly-fish and helps keep the river free of beer cans, fishing line and other junk.

More than a hobby, fishing provides a livelihood for Hensel. Known as "Bamboo Bill" among the locals, the avid angler handcrafts and sells bamboo fly-fishing rods, shunning newer materials such as graphite and fiberglass. When a rod's not in his hand, Hensel writes essays that extol a Thoreau-like message of simplicity (you can read some here). Now, at age 55, he seeks to add another profession to his vita: station manager. A lifelong radio hobbyist, Hensel built crystal radios as a kid. He grew up to be a ham-radio enthusiast and self-described radio "fanatic," and he longs for the days when radio had more personality.

Radio is now "just a medium for people to make money," Hensel says. "There's no romance there in the art and science of radio—it just doesn't exist."

By serving Pine and other nearby residents, Hensel's station would aim to restore some of that bygone romance. The angler envisions a 100-watt station that would showcase local music, make local kids into town reporters, and broadcast an eclectic mix of music, including oldies and rock-and-roll. Furthermore, it could provide important information about emergencies, such as the forest fires that have been known to afflict the area.

The future of the North Fork Angling Society's station is hazy. Like many applicants, Hensel faces competition—a Catholic organization has applied for a Spanish-language station that could potentially interfere with his operation. But Hensel remains hopeful that his small community, where radios pick up almost nothing, could get its own voice. "I just see no end to what we could do with it," he says.

In my next post, I'll tell you about the Hare Krishna community in West Virginia looking for audio empowerment. Until then, you can read more about Bill Hensel at the North Fork Angling Society's online home. What would you like to hear on your local airwaves, or about your community? Can you make it happen? Share your thoughts as a comment.

Mike Janssen served as Project Manager on FMC's Full Power Initiative, recruiting arts and cultural groups to apply for stations and assisting eventual applicants throughout the process. He is a freelancer writer, editor and leader of media workshops in the Washington, D.C., area. Visit his website at


DJ said...

That is great news,,,,,,I hope that "BAmboo Bill"....will get his station on a regular basis!! Good Luck!!!........DJ

pawduciary said...

I've known Bamboo Bill for many years now. He is a man of cavod (honor in Hebrew). Pine ought to consider him for the state legislature Riding the Pine into the state capitol.

Eish Kelev