For nearly five years, Kelly Reid and Jacob Downey had dreamed of and planned for what happened at 4 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17.
Tucked away in a small studio off of St. Mary's Street, the pair finally took Little Raleigh Radio—their brainchild of a station dedicated to local news, music and interests—online.
"It's the same and it's different when you get on air here," explains Reid, a former longtime DJ at N.C. State's WKNC 88.1 FM. "I still have that smile, and I still get really excited. But I'm older. It's not college radio. We built it."
Little Raleigh Radio's ultimate aim is to have a low-power FM signal, with a storefront studio that allows listeners to look in as radio is made. But for now, they're operating online-only, broadcasting from a space with very little visibility. But Reid and Downey say the most important part—the programing—is moving ahead at their intended pace. They produce new content from 4–8 p.m. most days with extended timeslots on the weekend; the other hours use a growing library of automated music and allow time for bug fixes and testing.
"We decided to not align our programming or training with the FCC schedule," says Reid of the decision to begin broadcasting without a spot on the area's FM dial. "We're going to do this no matter what."
The decision stemmed, in part, from the enthusiasm of the 60 volunteers the station recruited to DJ, curate, produce, promote and organize. They didn't want that momentum to fade. Likewise, when the time came to make programming decisions, Downey and Reid focused not only on balancing music and talk, experience and inexperience but also who had the most zeal for their idea and its execution.
"At least to me," explains Downey, "success looks like that moment when our volunteers realize the things that they're passionate about are welcome and shared in Raleigh."
Indeed, tune in, and you may hear the news from "The Raleigh Report," in-depth animal analysis with local vet Dr. Heather Moeser on "All Pets Considered," or surf rock from "The Pipeline" with Kirk Adam. Kate Maddalena interviews downtown curators for her show, "In the Museum," and D.P. McIntire gives the skinny on the comedy scene on "That Show." Selected and spun by a cadre of area DJs, the music ranges from reggae to acoustic folk, jazz to post punk, garage to modern classical.
Reid and Downey, who share a music block on Little Raleigh Radio on Tuesday evenings, think that the small, scrappy nature of stations such as theirs give them both flexibility and stability. The staffs of college radio stations frequently turn over, while NPR kowtows to long-standing standards and expectations. They hope to thrive in the space between the two.
"We're carving out that niche and making it what we want it to be," says Reid, who points to "The State of Beer" as an example of potential innovations.
On that show, Trophy Brewing co-owners Chris Powers and Woody Lockwood talk shop with their lead brewer, Les Stewart. They tackle everything from homebrew questions to tasting profiles to national beer news and interviews with local brewers. This particular triumvirate has never been in a recording booth before: "You can tell that by the board work that we've been doing, but it's getting better every week," says Powers.
Learning curve aside, Stewart says he never expected for local beer to have such a prominent platform.
"[Little Raleigh Radio] is about enjoying and experiencing the place where you are," he says. "Craft-beer culture and local beer fit into 'live local, experience local, be proud of local' really nicely."
That theme seems to run through every segment on the station, even in places it may seem a stretch. Shawn Galvin's "Galvinized," for instance, is a Tuesday afternoon classical music hour. The repertoire is a direct extension from his organization New Music Raleigh, a collective of classically trained musicians performing the work of living composers. The goal of both the show and the ensemble, Galvin says, is to offer a local outlet for a specific area of art that, otherwise, might go underrepresented locally.
"Everybody who's contributing to Little Raleigh Radio is doing something for Raleigh in Raleigh," he says. "That's the more specific, connective tissue."
Instead of artistic restrictions, Reid, Downey and their staff are left with a local perspective to guide their programming. This summer, they will begin training a new batch of DJs that will allow them to extend to 12 hours each day. In the meantime, they will refine their process by soliciting feedback from current hosts and DJs, assessing equipment, and building and evaluating the music library.
"It will be up to who comes through the door," says Reid of the twists the programming will continue to take. She's comfortable with that gamble. In fact, it's why Little Raleigh Radio exists at all.
"Smaller stations like ours," offers Downey, "get to be a laboratory that other, bigger stations can't be because they're so dependent on that listener dollar."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Signal generator."