Mark Gerlach began his quest for a community radio station in Waupaca in 1993.
On Nov. 23, more than 17 years later, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted a permit to his organization, Wisconsin Area Public Radio (WAPR).
“A community radio station is considered a noncommercial educational broadcast facility and these types of licenses are extremely difficult to obtain,” Gerlach said. “At the time we incorporated in 1993, the window for these types of applications had closed and they only open about once every 15 years.”
Obtaining a permit for a new radio station is also highly competitive. When the FCC began taking applications in October 2007, WAPR was one of 14 stations in the area to seek a permit. Only one of them would be selected.
“We closely examined all the applications to determine were we stood and found that we were definitely sitting pretty,” Gerlach said.
The FCC determined which station would get the permit based on the number of people the noncommercial station would serve and the amount of local programming planned.
In September, WAPR was named a tentative selectee, but the decision was challenged by a group out of Stevens Point. WAPR then had to respond to the other group’s challenge.
The FCC made its final decision in November. Now, WAPR must raise funds and build its station.
“We have three years to construct and the expiration date is final. I would like to think that we can get this thing fired up before expiration, but that remains to be seen. Lots of things have to happen first,” Gerlach said.
He noted that community radio stations rely heavily on federal funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He noted that while Wisconsin Public Radio receives only 7 percent of its total revenues from CPB, WOJB gets 50 percent of its funding from CPB.
“The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is under fire right now. It’s going to be tougher for community radio stations to make it,” Gerlach said.
WAPR will raise funds through station membership, underwriting, grants, fundraising events and donations.
A former announcer at WDUX in Waupaca, Gerlach first became interested in starting a community radio station after listening to WOJB, a listener-supported FM station that broadcasts from the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation near Hayward.
“We have a cabin near there and listen to WOJB quite a bit,” Gerlach said.
Dave Lain, a Waupaca member of WAPR’s board of directors, said a series of meetings about a proposed station were held in 1993.
“The response was quite good and a lot of people were excited about starting a community radio station,” Lain said.
WAPR’s goal is to have local programming of music, news and public affairs. The station also hopes to involve the schools and create internships for local students.
Gerlach said his first step toward launching a radio station had been to form a nonprofit group in 1993 and put together a board of directors and a team of people with expertise.
Currently, Gerlach is the group’s president, Mike Stockwell is vice president, and Doug Thompson is secretary and treasurer. Members of the board of directors are Lain, Diana Berge, Diane Scheider, Marsha Gerlach and Marcel Van Camp.
Michael Couzens of Oakland, Calif., is the group’s attorney, and the consulting engineers are Kate Michler of Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Andy Disterhaft with WBJZ in Oshkosh.
Gerlach said one of the reasons the FCC gave WAPR the nod was that its bylaws commit it to having at least 75 percent of its board members from the Waupaca area. He hopes Waupaca residents will also contribute to the programming and to the development of the station.
“We are going to need lots of local people with different areas of expertise,” Gerlach said.
To find out more about WAPR, contact Gerlach at 715-252-5619.