Lexington is no stranger to small-scale, independent radio. In fact, many of the minds behind the creation of the UK’s WRFL college radio have helped to rally behind a new project in Lexington initiated by local activist, Debra Hensley. This new station though will have an even narrower scope with hopes of handing the microphone directly to the masses.
The new station, which in the future will be found at 95.7 FM, is the product of a new type of license only recently made available again by the FCC. These Low Power FM (LPFM) stations cover only a micro-broadcast area—roughly 3-5 miles—but that narrow area allows the station to hone in on a specific community’s unique needs glossed over or ignored by larger (often corporate) radio stations.
The station, 95.7 FM. will operate under a “public safety” designation which means a portion of its programming must be dedicated to the topic. That can cover anything from emergency preparedness to issues of wellness or passing along “micro-level” information from Lexington’s first responders.
Part of the station’s stated mission is to “educate, inform, engage, entertain and delight our culturally and economically diverse listeners with relevant local programming.” That’s why to kick off the next phase of the station’s rollout Hensley and others organized a public community meeting in June at Lexington’s Sayre school in order to provide a chance for local voices to be heard as the station defines itself.
The station was granted its construction permit back in April and in order to comply with FCC regulations the station must be on-air in 18-months by October 1, 2015. It will operate from the Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Leestown Campus and even with its relatively small broadcast footprint, the station will be able to reach listeners downtown, on the NoLi corridor, Cardinal Valley, Georgetown Street, UK, Castlewood, and the east end.
Low power radio is not new to Lexington. At least a couple of attendees at the Sayre meeting, including photographer Guy Mendes and author Ed McClanahan, reminisced fondly about Cowboy Steve Taylor, an early pioneer of the format, who died in 1993.
Taylor lived and had a 3-watt radio station on Jefferson near Fourth. Mendes says, “his C&W show went out a block or two every day for an hour. It wasn’t a hi-power clear channel mega station, in fact sometimes you had to park right in front of his house to listen. But the point is that it was regular, it was honest and it came from the heart.”
McClanahan says, “Growing up poor and black in rural Madison County, Kentucky, young Steve Taylor heard the siren song of the muse every Saturday evening on the radio, magically summoning him over the airwaves, all the way from Nashville. Steve had found his art and calling. In service to his muse, he eventually became a sort of cosmic country deejay, a tiny three-watt voice broadcasting ‘the Show’ out there into the void, purely as an act of faith. His ‘career’ in country music was itself a work of the imagination, his personal testimony to the transformative power of art. He believed in the music, and it sustained him all his life. I nominate Cowboy Steve Taylor for Patron Saint of Northside Low Power Radio.”
While the Lexington Community Radio project has overcome one of the most difficult hurdles along its path towards handing the mic over to the community—obtaining FCC approval—there is still a ways to go. So far the group has invested some $25,000 into legal and organization fees. Now the station is looking for in-kind donations, sponsor support, as well as programming collaborators and volunteers.
For more info, email LexingtonCommunityRadio@gmail.com.
This article also appears on page 5 of the July 3, 2014 print issue of Ace.
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More about Patron Saint Cowboy Steve
It came as if by magic out of the cool Madison County night—a high, wide and handsome sound, staking claim to a young boy’s imagination. Every Saturday night brought live music by some of the greats: Roy Acuff, the Carter Family, Uncle Dave Mason and the Fruit Jar Drinkers. The Grand Ole Opry faded in and out of a second-hand Crosley Showbox radio, giving form to a world far different from that of a poor auto mechanic’s son. It wouldn’t be too long before young Steve Taylor would strike out for Lexington, the first stop on the road to Nashville. But thirty-something years went by and Cowboy Steve could still be found at the Adams House Restaurant on South Broadway, cleaning up after frat boys and art students. Steve did make it to Nashville on two occasions, but it was to SEE the Opry, not to fulfill his dream to singing and playing alongside the likes of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Because Cowboy Steve was black he was forced to stay on the fringes.
In the face of such overwhelming odds, his choice was clear–he would start is own radio station. His first attempt was in an old garage, with a soup can on a string for a microphone. He even persuaded other musicians like Esco and Jackie Hankins to join him. “The only way you could listen to that “station” was throughout he cracks in the wall,” Esco said later. But in 1963 Steve sent off for a build-it-yourself, three-watt transmitter, and WSEV was born. His voice was a bit muffled, laced with static, and the range was only a couple of blocks, but by God, he was on the air, every day for almost 15 years. Sometimes when I’m passing his Jefferson Street address I can still hear strains of “Six Days On the Road” or “Tramp on the Street,” and I hear his voice, over the theme song, “Shuckin’ the Corn,” saying, “This is Cowboy Steve Taylor, signing off. God bless.”
—Guy Mendes, in his book, 40/40