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Grassroots Radio Meets in West Virginia

WTSQ’s Damon Cater talks about the upcoming in-person conference

In October, low-power FM broadcasters will gather in Charleston, W.Va., for the first in-person Grassroots Radio Conference since 2019. The conference comes at an exciting time for community broadcasters and LPFM with the FCC opening in November its first LPFM filing window since 2013.

Since the LPFM category of stations was introduced 23 years ago, 1,999 LPFMs have been licensed across the country. Thousands more community radio stations operate around the world with the same grassroots, community focus.

The Grassroots Radio Conference has been held annually since 1996 to bring together station operators, organizers, enthusiasts and industry specialists to share ideas and energize the grassroots radio community. The full agenda for the 2023 Grassroots Radio Conference is still under development, but the keynote speaker will be Amy Goodman from “Democracy Now!” She will speak at the Capitol Theater on October 20.

Damon Cater

Radio World recently spoke with Damon Cater from WTSQ-LP in Charleston, which is hosting this year’s conference.

RW: What can GRC attendees expect for the 2023 conference?

Cater: Attendees can expect the variety of educational and informative sessions that they are accustomed to, including engineering and radio station design on small budgets. Industry vendors will be on hand to demonstrate and share their wares and expertise. We’ll also have content-oriented sessions around such topics as news production, governance and management, basic tips for producing good shows and advice for DJs.

RW: This is the first in-person GRC since 2019. How are people feeling about a return to meeting in person versus the virtual conferences in 2020 through 2022?

Cater: Based on the feedback and messages we’ve received, everyone is super excited to be back in person. I think one of the biggest attractors to this event is just the social aspect and being with friends and fellow community radio enthusiasts. This really is more of a gathering of the minds than a typical “suit and tie” conference.

Many of these people have known each other and worked together for many, many years. Getting to know them and having the ability to host the conference has really put their comradery into perspective. And being in person for the first time in a few years is a huge part of the conference this year.

We are planning a showcase of bands as our main social event. Lining up a variety of regional and local bands to perform for these stations and hopefully get their talents on the air across the country will be fun!

RW: How has LPFM fared during the COVID pandemic? Has the hyper-local focus been a strength?

Cater: I can only speak knowledgably about our experience at WSTQ, but I surmise that most other LPFMs will have had the same experience. Our listening audience grew quite substantially during COVID. We had lots of feedback from listeners thanking us for not interrupting our broadcast and curated shows.

Our COVID protocols allowed DJs to work from home or use COVID protections in the studio. We continued to allow underwriters to get their messages out about how they were adjusting their services to continue to operate in the community and for the most part we did this without putting out underwriting invoices and collections.

By far our largest fundraiser occurred in 2022, and I think that was in part because of the appreciation our listeners gained for the station during COVID shutdowns.

RW: With the FCC opening its first LPFM application filing window since 2013 in November, what advice would you give people looking to launch an LPFM service?

Cater: The GRC website lists several companies that offer services to assist with the filing process, as well as information on engineering and design. Get in touch with these groups and networks to get professional guidance. Also, get the work done ASAP, so you can hit that filing window on Day 1. [The filing window is only open for about a week. — ed.]

Then, come to this conference and get your head filled with as much information as possible on what to do next! You do not want to be figuring this stuff out on your own. Our folks at this conference will save you tons of time and money and headaches. We’ve all been there and we know where the pitfalls and mistakes will land you. That’s what this conference is. A hive mind of LPFM and community radio geeks!

[Related: “Here Is What to Know About the November LPFM Window” ]

RW: Can you provide me some background information about WTSQ and your involvement with radio?

Cater: I am one of the founding directors of the station and took over as board president in 2022. The original board was Chris Long, Kenny Lavender, and me. Our meetings the first couple years were long talk sessions around a kitchen table drinking plenty of beers, taking good notes, building good plans and executing.

From the get-go, my role from the get-go was organizational advice and support and encouragement, but Chris was the visionary one and really did the heavy lifting. He is presenting at the conference this year. I think his session is called “Broke AF Radio Station Builds.”

Now we have seven board members and dozens of kick ass volunteers curating some of the best radio shows you’ll ever hear. We’ve gone in eight years from catering to a very niche group of dedicated listeners to being a staple in the community.

The 2023 Grassroots Radio Conference is being held October 19–22, 2023, in Charleston, W.Va.