By Jim Hallberg
Early Winter 2003: “Kickapoo Conversations” held as series of town-hall gatherings by the Valley Stewardship Network (a local environmental group for conservancy of the Kickapoo Watershed). Driftless area residents created a vision for how best to maintain a sustainable way of life. There was strong support for the creation of a local non-commercial FM radio station to “enhance the cultural and artistic element of the area.”
March 2003: A small core of “radio activistas” met to discuss the possibilities of creating a station, took the name Kickapoo-Ocooch-Radio-Driftless (KORD as in “of wood”) and incorporated with the State of Wisconsin as a Non-Stock Corporation with the stated purpose of “creating a listener sponsored, non commercial, free-speech community radio station.”
June 2003: Our first public fundraiser “Radio Sampler” was held at the Heartbeat Cultural Center. Over 100 rabid music fans at- tended this performance art piece featuring local DJs creating a mock radio broadcast and live music from area musicians. Our first $500 was raised and the birth of community support for our future station was celebrated.
Summer 2003: Following our fundraiser, a nationally recognized broadcast engineer from California gifted us with an engineering study showing an open FM frequency in our area—91.9 FM. We were also informed that the FCC had not issued an NCE (non-commercial educational license) in nearly five years and was not offering an application window anytime in the near future. We were advised to organize and raise “s**tloads of money.”
Summer 2003–2006: In our ongoing organizing strategy, we became members of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB), networked with existing community stations nationwide, retained the legal services of a nationally recognized communications attorney, commissioned local graphics artist Pete Hodapp to create our wind generator tower logo, and continued to prepare for the possibility of one day becoming a live station.
Spring 2005–June 2009: Tiring of the FCC’s inactivity around opening FM license applications, we began creating an Internet streaming station. We rented a small studio space in the Landmark Center in Viroqua. Through the website design by artist mIKEAL aND and the technical wizardry of David Klann, we created a Linux-based, open-source station, radiodriftless.org. Our first Internet broadcast occurred on June 30th, 2005. The first song played was “Rebel Music” by Bob Marley. Ray Kolenko and Jim Hallberg were the first live broadcasters. Our first local production, Driftless Peace Calendar, with host Marcia Halligan, was broadcast on September 1, 2005. In radiodriftless.org’s four years we featured thirteen volunteer programmers, produced live broadcasts from a variety of venues, featured live interviews with several prominent guests, such as Green Party Candidate Rae Voegler and political activists Bikes for Peace, and never had a single meeting!
Through our continued networking efforts we met with Pete Tridish from Prometheus LPFM and Norman Stockwell from WORT-FM in Madison. They conveyed clandestine information about the FCC’s intention to open a filing window for full power NCE stations during the year 2007. Follow up investigation proved this to be true and we began working with the national group Radio For People, a collective of supporters from various national media interest groups who advise prospective new stations on making successful license applications.
In February 2007 a meeting at the Viroqua Food Coop, a small group of interested locals met to share their commitment in becoming our first interim board of directors for Driftless Community Radio.
The FCC made an official announcement in March, 2007 of an open filing window for new NCE full power license applications for the week of October 12-19, 2007. On October 16 we filed. Selection of our application by the FCC placed us in a pool of contenders for the available 91.9 FM frequency. We eventually negotiated a settlement with our major competitor, which made us the only remaining applicant for our frequency!
March 24, 2009: After six years of determined efforts to bring non-corporate-owned media in the form of a very sweet little 480-watt community radio station, we received our Construction Permit from the FCC to build the station!
April 2009: We were awarded our official call sign WDRT-FM from the FCC. “Community Radio from the Ground Up” became our first official station motto.
May 2009: We were awarded our 501(c)(3) status and could begin offering major donors tax deductions for their financial contributions.
Late Spring 2009–Present. We continued to fine-tune our organization, holding board retreats and planning for the long term of the station. We secured the lease to our new studio space at 311 S. Main Street in Viroqua (and have since painted it with a lively two-tone blue color scheme!). This 1400 square-foot space previously housed Kindred Threads weaving and textile workshop and retail store. According to local historians, the first occupant of this building was an implement dealer. It’s also been a motorcycle dealership and an office.
We held our first major musical event, Kickapalooza 2009 on September 26 at the Vernon County Fairgrounds. Local musicians entertained a sizable crowd and, amazingly, our Capital Campaign goal of raising $91,900 was met within one week of the event—a true testament to the level of support for community radio in our beautiful rural area known as The Driftless.