101.9 WKRP Escapes Into The Air

I promised I’d be posting more often on dpmcintire.com, and I’m committing to it.  A few hours ago I acknowledged my mother’s 90th birthday, but today’s a birthday of a sorts for me as well.

At noon, three years ago today, I literally “flipped the switch” that launched 101.9 WKRP, a low-power radio station, to life here in Raleigh, North Carolina.  As the (albeit unpaid) Executive Director of its non-profit parent organization, I had the privilege of turning on a microphone and saying, “Greetings, and thank you for joining us as we debut a brand new radio station, 101.9 WKRP, L-P, Raleigh.”  As soon as I turned the mic off, I began sobbing.  And here’s why…

On September 9, 1978, I watched the premiere of “WKRP in Cincinnati.”  After the program I immediately told my parents I was going into broadcasting as a career, and that someday, I’d run WKRP.  They were encouraging in the same way you’d be if your 9 year old came to you and said, “Dad, I’m going to land on Neptune.”  But before the series finished its run on CBS?  I was on the air, having lied about my age by 5 years to become a part-time announcer.  At 17 and 18 I’d go straight from the studio to my high school classes, and over the next 17 years I’d learn how to do news, traffic, continuity, disc jockeying, program direction, sales, and even a little engineering – the last two weren’t a good fit for me.

By 1995 it wasn’t fun anymore.  I cracked in the Raleigh market upon moving here, but I could make as much handling produce at the local grocery store.  I needed frivolous things, like food.  As much as I loved doing it?  In early 1995 I gave it up, figuring my radio days were in my past.  Turned out if was just the start of an interregnum.

The next 18 years were spend in various professions, the most satisfying of which was creating a non-profit group that organized and conducted softball, flag football, basketball and other teams and leagues.  I still worked day jobs, but Capital Area Team Sports (“CATS”) was my thing.  In 2001 I set it up as a corporation (i.e., liability shield) after two of my players ran head first into one another chasing the same fly ball at a softball practice.  As a demonstration to the players that I wasn’t hustling them to make a dollar and divulged my salary ($1 / year) to anyone who asked.  I organized it as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt group, just in case someone wanted to donate cash toward something.  Finally I decided to step away from the day to day things (keeping the Executive Director title) and letting others run things while I pursued “What’s next:”  a floral and gift shop.  I lost everything I had and most I could borrow within a year, finally deciding to close immediately after a Memorial Day weekend.

Unfortunately, what I spend 17 years building my successors tore down in a little under one.  A membership of 257 on the day I left was now down to 5, counting me.  The only reason I didn’t shut it down upon returning full-time was that filing the paperwork to shut it down with the state cost $30… and at that moment, I didn’t have $30 to waste.  So, as it turns out to great luck, it stayed alive.  Less than a year later, the FCC opened a “window” allowing 501(c)(3) tax exempt charitable corporations to apply for a broadcast license; a maximum output of 100 watts, but still, something.

That night the five of us talked and came to a decision:  we would apply and see what happened.  If it fell through (as I expected we would), it’ll be because I screwed up somewhere in the engineering, and we’d each kick in $6 to shut CATS down for good.  If the application was granted?  We’d cross that bridge when we got to it.

I studied the applicable law and FCC regulations, did some cursory engineering, and determined we could apply for one of four frequencies – one (106.5) had the largest coverage area, and thus I figured it’d be the most sought after (so I excluded it).  One, however, just so happened to be able to be built on land within a strip about a mile lone, but only 200′ wide… one that ran right through the back yard of my home.  So we targeted that one, applied, and based on the information I had anticipated a two-year processing period.  Four months later, we were called by the FCC, congratulating us on being awarded a construction permit and being asked if we had any call letter preference.  Before I was to get to my serious inquiries, I jokingly asked, “Hey!  Is WKRP available?  Because that be cool if…”  She stopped me with the response:  It was released by a television station three days ago and is now available.  Would you like it?

“Yes, please.”

From there we built the station, piece by piece and as time (and funds) permitted.  My original, pre-FCC filing goal was that, under optimal conditions, we could be on the air by January 1, 1996.  We came in 32 days early.  As you read this now, three years ago I was on the phone to my now 90-year old mother, holding the phone so she could hear the monitors; after which I said, “37 years, 2 months and 12 days ago I told you and Dad I’d someday run WKRP.  Well Mom?  I know you didn’t expect me to, but in a way I fulfilled that promise.

Is There a Moral In This?

Yes.  Never, ever give up on a dream.  Because you may, at some point down the road, be able to fulfill it.