Downtown Radio Ready to Flip the Switch on LPFM Project

February 10, 2015

The crew behind the LPFM station.

The crew behind the LPFM station.

By Simon Brimmer

Don’t Stop Believing. It could be Jason LeValley’s mantra in his ongoing effort to launch a low power FM radio station geared toward the needs and interests of downtown Tucson. And while it’s been a long Journey, one thing is for sure. When Downtown Radio goes live, you aren’t going to hear Don’t Stop Believing.

Or Hotel California. Or Stairway to Heaven. Or Another Brick in the Wall. Or any of a number of tired staples beaten to death by 40 years of classic rock radio.

But you will hear those artists, and a slew of deeper album cuts from an Album Oriented Rock format LeValley hopes hearkens to the golden era of the medium, highlighted by DJs who know the music, live the music and appreciate great material lost in the morass of singles redundancy.

It’s one thing to have a vision. It’s another to endure a seemingly endless string of obstacles to make it a reality. LeValley, one of the major guiding forces behind the low power FM project, has put up with uncertainty and red tape pretty much from the moment he pursued the concept.

Short history: a few years ago the FCC, the governing body for electronic media, opened up some radio frequencies for use in specific markets. Those frequencies, referred to as low power FM signals, occupied unused places on the radio dial, and as the name suggests, are targeted to limited reach areas.

1544282_783783078372245_8129716565116606112_nLeValley saw an opportunity to place a low power station in Downtown Tucson, but ran into a slew of bureaucratic frustrations that threatened to jettison the effort. As a result of legal requirements in the filing process, it looked as though the radio project might be faced with sharing time with the Tohono O’odham Reservation and a Spanish language church on Tucson’s southside.

Fortunately, that unworkable situation straightened itself out—three LPFM signals were made available by the FCC, and eventually the three bidders landed unique frequencies—and Downtown Radio even garnered its preferred location on the dial, 99.1 FM.

With that hurdle behind them, the organization then needed a construction permit from the FCC. That happened first of the year.

But Downtown Radio isn’t home free yet.

“We just need to raise money to buy the broadcasting equipment so we can start broadcasting,” said LeValley. “We have meetings with people to help with money in exchange for future underwriting. I had a lot of momentum going before the holiday break, but it’s been slow to get back in with people since. We’re going to get there. It’s just going to take some time to convince people it’s a viable undertaking.

Redlands perform at a concert at Flycatcher to support Downtown Radio.

Redlands perform at a concert at Flycatcher to support Downtown Radio.

“I’ve been going over the assumption we’ll need about $20,000 to get going, and I have a list of equipment, but (we might be able to) pare that down and get the bare essentials. Some of the equipment might be redundant or unnecessary or for pre-production, which we’d like to have at some point, but we’d like to get what’s necessary to be on the air first because it will be easier to raise money once we’re on the air. No one wants to be the first to make a big donation, so we need to break through that. Once that first organization is on board, I think it’s going to happen a lot more easily.”

While the low power frequency will be limited in terms of range, the location is desirable because it covers among the highest population density in Tucson. In addition to spanning Downtown, the signal should reach to the UA campus, north to Grant and south to around 22nd Street.

But Downtown remains a critical focus, as does utilizing the station to address the issues facing folks who could benefit from much needed assistance.

“In addition to playing great music that you won’t hear on any other station in town, Downtown Radio plans to serve the community in a number of ways. One of those things we plan to focus on is helping to connect those in need of mental health services with the organizations who can help them,” said LeValley on the station’s website, downtownradio.org. “A lot of people are suffering needlessly and we believe we can make a difference by providing those individuals with resources that can help.

“We also plan to spotlight individuals and organizations that are doing good things in the community and encourage others to follow suit.

“Additionally, Downtown Radio plans to work with disadvantaged youth to (get) them involved in something positive and help them create a better future for themselves.”

Check out Downtownradio.org for more information about the project and donation options.

“It’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen some time soon,” said LeValley. “We just don’t know exactly when that’s going to be.”

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