After more than a year of streaming online, Frogtown Community Radio is making the leap to the airwaves.
With the raising of its radio tower Wednesday and the launch of its low-power signal, community leaders and others who call Frogtown home hope to give area residents a stronger voice in everything from music and culture to community affairs programming.
WFNU, 94.1 FM, now becomes the second St. Paul low-power station to go on air. WEQY in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood was the first, launching a year ago.
Low-power radio was enabled by the Local Community Radio Act, a change in federal law that opened up the airwaves to nonprofit and educational organizations to apply for a limited number of FM radio licenses.
Three other low-power radio stations have been granted licenses in Minnesota — Park Public Radio in St. Louis Park, the People’s Press Project in Fargo-Moorhead, and Two Harbors Community Radio on the North Shore.
In Frogtown, the process took a bit longer than planned. WFNU had to wait for licenses, as well as meet zoning and building codes and raise money for equipment, said Julie Censullo, WFNU station manager.
But starting online also had a benefit: It allowed the station to slowly build its programming and “gave us time to build an audience,” she said.
The station provides about 20 hours of original programming each week. Moving that programming to radio will make it more accessible to more people, an important tenet of the station’s sponsor, the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. On Wednesday, as program host Karen J. Larson streamed live, workers installed the tower on a building across Dale Street from the association.
For a community that is 79 percent people of color, reflecting and airing diverse voices is vital, Censullo said. It certainly echoes the priorities of Larson, whose twice-weekly show “Living Loud with Karen J” is “dedicated to those who have ever felt invisible or marginalized by society,” she said.
“Having a broader audience means giving people who don’t have a voice something greater,” Larson said. “I think community voices are really important.”
Larson, who is an actress and comedian, hasn’t shied away from serious topics. She recently hosted a debate between state Rep. Rena Moran and Rashad Turner of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, who will face each other in next week’s DFL primary for the District 65A House seat.
“They were pretty good. They behaved themselves,” Larson said.
And after meeting new St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell at the annual Frogtown party, she invited him to be on her show as well. He accepted — and requested music by the O’Jays (“Love Train”) and War (“Why Can’t We Be Friends?”).
Having prominent guests on her show discussing important issues “means a lot. It means we kind of matter,” Larson said.
Building the station has truly been a grass-roots effort. Philip Gracia, whose Friday program “The Midday Escape” has been streaming online for more than a year, spent Wednesday morning helping put the new antenna together.
“This means that people will have the capability to come in and make a difference in the content of what goes on the air,” he said.
And it gives the community more of a say in how it is presented to the world.
“A lot of times, people think that only bad things happen in Frogtown. It’s not all like that,” Gracia said. “We are going to talk about the positives and give everybody an opportunity to be part of the solution, as well as hear about the problems.”