CEDAR RAPIDS — Corridor radio listeners might soon be able to tune in to a Spanish language broadcast of a Kernels baseball game, a Latin mass at St. Ludmila’s Catholic Church, or a live musical performance at a local nightclub.
A rare FCC award of FM radio spectrum to hundreds of community groups looks to bring one of the biggest prizes, a 5,000-watt FM broadcast license, to the Cedar Rapids-based New Bohemia Group next year. The group says it will use the license to expand access to community voices and bring attention to areas emerging from the devastation of the June 2008 floods.
The community arts and entertainment group was awarded a construction license in October and granted call letters KNBO to better reflect the group’s name last week.
KNBO hopes to be offering an audio stream on the Internet within 90 days and to be broadcasting at 88.7 FM sometime in 2012 — the exact date depending largely on the success of fundraising for equipment.
“This is entertainment,” said Greg Stokesberry, a self-described “20th-century pop culture anthropologist” who is working with the project. “We want to see if we can bring some sunshine into people’s lives and make them happy.”
Backers also expect the radio station to focus attention on the historic New Bohemia and Czech Village districts of Cedar Rapids, which are still rebuilding from the record Cedar River flood of 2008.
“This is an essential part of the post-flood healing process,” Stokesberry said.
The prospect of an FM radio station seemed like a low-risk shot more than four years ago, when New Bohemia Group board member Michael Richards heard about the spectrum award plan and asked the group’s board if it would sponsor an application.
Two other groups applied for the local license opportunity. The outlook seemed bright when the FCC picked New Bohemia Group, then darkened when one group, Plus Charities, filed a petition to reconsider the award to New Bohemia Group on technical grounds.
The subsequent appeals took about three years. As legal costs of defending the appeal mounted into the thousands, some board members became concerned, and one even resigned.
On Oct. 13, the FCC denied the request for reconsideration of Plus Charities, which among other things had incorrectly identified its transmitter location on its own application.
New Bohemia businessman Jon Jelinek donated 1,600 square feet of space on the second floor of his Parlor City Pub & Eatery at 1125 Third St. SE for a radio office, studio, and control room. Scott Anderson lettered the station’s name on the second floor windows.
“They’ve got a good game plan — it’ll be fun,” said Jelinek, who expects to gain on-air mentions of the pub and more attention for New Bohemia.
Working with Jelinek and Stokesberry on the station startup is Jesse Martinez, a community leader who worked in the New KOJC Internet radio venture that was dissolved a few years ago. The three formed a kind of booster group called the Radio Rangers within the New Bohemia Group, which has taken on responsibilities for organizing the station.
Stokesberry said New Bohemia Group was one of the more successful non-profit applicants nationally because it stands to receive a full-power license rather than a low-power license. Technology has improved greatly, Stokesberry said, since his own radio broadcasting work in the Casper, Wyo., Laramie, Wyo. and Davenport markets a few decades ago. Richards has not worked in radio, but hosted live public radio broadcasts from the Stone City General Store pub he operated in Jones County in the 1980s. He said the broadcasts helped him realize the power of radio to attract an audience to a community’s talent and attractions.
One key proficiency KNBO plans to develop is the ability to go on the road, broadcasting from different parts of the community, Richards said. He says the group plans to stand by its community roots, offering a voice to a broad spectrum of viewpoints and musical tastes.Once it’s operating successfully, Stokesberry says KNBO may apply to the FCC for translators that would let it broadcast into adjacent areas of Eastern Iowa.