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Community radio looking for home

Grace Ross and David Goodman are part of the Grassroots Community Radio Initiative hoping to start a radio station. Grace Ross and David Goodman are part of the Grassroots Community Radio Initiative hoping to start a radio station.

How does someone start a radio station? And why would anyone want to? These are the questions that community activist Grace Ross and radio journalists David Goodman and John Grebe have been asking themselves since last spring.

Next month along with other colleagues as members of the Grassroots Community Radio Initiative, they'll be filing papers with the Federal Communications Commission. This is the first step of a lengthy application process, but only the latest development in what has become an ongoing project.

The idea, says Goodman, started at his current radio gig. Since 1995, Goodman has hosted "Radio With a View," Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon on MIT community station WMBR-FM (88.1). Ross, who ran for governor as the Green Party/Rainbow candidate in 2006, provides commentaries for his show.

"It was last March," Goodman recalls. "I was recording her commentary, and she said, 'Why don't we start a station?' At first my reaction was, 'What, are you crazy?' And then I heard about the FCC filing window for this October and the agency's desire to broaden the reach of noncommercial radio, and we started to go from there."

The FCC "window" is a one-week period, Oct. 12-19, during which it will accept applications for new noncommercial FM stations. In order to apply, potential station owners have to fulfill certain requirements, such as finding a site for a transmitter and a frequency that won't overlap with existing stations. In addition, only nonprofit organizations (not individuals) are allowed to apply.

And so the initiative members began reaching out to some of the organizations they've worked with, or reported on, over the years. The Peace Abbey, a multifaith retreat center in Sherborn, responded and even offered the use of a barn as a possible future home for the station.

Such a station, says Peace Abbey founder and director Lewis M. Randa, fits in with its mission. "A radio station at the Peace Abbey would offer people in the Metro-West area a place on the dial that is committed to highlighting and celebrating local issues that too often are overlooked by mainstream media," Randa says in an e-mail.

The next step, says Goodman, is finding a "viable frequency." To do that, the group has hired an engineering firm, Medfield's Broadcasting Signal Lab, which may have located a blank space on the dial, possibly in Leominster. (The group doesn't know what frequency would work yet.)

If all goes well, the team hopes to have a station on air in two to five years. The programming will probably be a mix of local shows and alternative news sources, like those carried on the Pacifica network. "We really need a voice for people in Massachusetts that hasn't been there before," says Ross. Adds Goodman, "We want to break down the barriers."

One possible problem exists: According to FCC rules, the station's transmitter must be within 25 miles of its city of license. If the blank frequency is too far from Sherborn, the group may have to find another nonprofit organization to be its sponsor.

Ross isn't worried. "If the geography doesn't work out, we do have other options," she says. More pressing, says Goodman, is the need for money to pay the necessary lawyers and, ultimately, construct a station.

That's why tonight the group is hosting a screening of the documentary "War Made Easy" at the Community Church of Boston, in Copley Square at 7. (For details, go to peaceabbeyradio.org.)

The impetus, says Ross, is air time. Programs like Goodman's or like Grebe's "Sounds of Dissent," which airs Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Boston College community station WZBC-FM (90.3), broadcast only a few hours each week. A full-time station, says Ross, would help the community groups the initiative sees as its major constituency. She gives as an example the Boston-based MA'MOMs, which brings together mothers of murdered children and those whose children are incarcerated for violent crimes.

"We might do a live show from one of their meetings," says Goodman.

"And we could get in touch with other groups," says Ross. "We could have a reply show: 'This is what it looks like in New Bedford.' And it becomes a dialogue."

Spinning the dial
As of Monday, WGBH-FM (89.7) will no longer be broadcasting "Marketplace" weekdays at 6:30 p.m. WBUR-FM (90.9) will continue airing the American Public Media program, which focuses on economic trends, in that time slot, but WGBH will instead air an extra half hour of "All Things Considered," including more local news. In its annual re-ranking of radio markets, Arbitron has bumped up Boston. Formerly the No. 11 market in the US, Boston is now No. 10, with an estimated 3,875,000 listeners, trading places with Detroit.

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