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Frogtown Radio WFNU 94.1 FM opening up airwaves in St. Paul

Posted on 08 August 2017 by Calvin

Line-up includes 40 music and talk shows representing all sorts of race, class, culture, and religious backgrounds

Radio station 94.1 FM WFNU, located in Frogtown, is allowing the St. Paul community to speak for itself. The station covers approximately a 5-mile radius and includes all of the Midway Como Monitor delivery area.

Check out the 40 original shows, ranging from funk, metal, gospel, oddball country, experimental, jazz, and local hip hop music shows. Plus there are talk shows covering many varied experiences from fatherhood, sobriety and recovering, finding self as a Korean adoptee, local businesses, conservative and liberal political talk, high school sports, and spoken word.

“We have a show for everyone!” stated WFNU-LP Frogtown Community Radio Station Director Simona Zappas (photo left, provided).

“Our programmers come from all sorts of race, class, cultural, and religious backgrounds, and bring their own experiences and taste to their shows.”

They are always looking for new people to join the team.

“I’m starting to work on recruiting more women and LGBTQIA folks to join the station because right now most of our programmers are male,” remarked Zappas. “I’m really looking forward to more folks joining our growing station, and I’m grateful to everyone who is already part of it. Everyone puts so much of themselves into their shows, and it really pays off.”

The WFNU broadcast range covers downtown Saint Paul, most of St. Paul’s west side, and a snippet of South Minneapolis. Those not in the coverage area can stream at wfnu.org or on the app which you can find by searching WFNU on either the App or Google Play store.

Four years in the making
It took about four years to get WFNU an FM license. In 2011, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act, which opened up a finite number of low-power FM licenses, allowing for new frequencies to create community stations across the country.

“The exciting opportunity caught the eye of the Sam Buffington, the head organizer of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association (The FNA),” recalled Zappas. “Sam was the driving visioning force behind the effort to get Frogtown a radio station. At the time, Frogtown was the only neighborhood in Saint Paul that did not have a free community newspaper to share local news. Radio offered a cheaper, dynamic way to organize the community.”

To drive this project, Buffington brought on WFNU’s first, pioneering director, Julie Censullo.

It was clear the FCC would not do this again, pointed out Zappas, so organizers from Frogtown and Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis formed the Twin Cities Community Radio Initiative and began working with community members to submit applications to the FCC.

Photo right: Diverse representation and actually reflecting who is part of the Frogtown Community are fundamental to why WFNU exists. The station actively works to recruit and train folks to run their own radio shows. For more information, browse wfnu.org. (Photo submitted)

In December of 2014, the FCC granted the FNA a permit to build a community radio station and broadcast on 94.1 FM. By April of 2015, WFNU had recruited and trained enough volunteers to broadcast its first show. Initially, WFNU only existed online, as money was raised to get an antenna and build a studio.

In August 2016, the antenna went up, and WFNU began broadcasting on FM.
“In most cases, large media groups or corporations administer and project an identity onto a community by either positive or negative portrayals on TV, press or radio. Usually, these portrayals are built from racist, classist and sexist assumptions,” pointed out Zappas.

“Local radio is a great way to buck off those assumptions by having actual community members speak up about what is going on in their lives, their neighborhood, and their world. It’s a great way to share authentic identities by inviting neighbors to share their thoughts and play really good music.”

Using media to share stories
Zappas was hired to work at the station in February 2017. She has loved radio for a long time.

Her high school actually had a small station where kids could DJ during lunch for the rest of the student body. “It was controlled by a group of older boys who thought they were a lot cooler than they were and despite my repeated asks, they would not let me DJ. I figured it was since I’m a girl,” said Zappas.

“So, I spoke up and reminded the group that the station was for the whole student body and not just a select few. That’s really been my mentality and approach to media since then—decentralize the exclusionary power and share it with more folks.”

She studied media and cultural studies at Macalester while climbing the ranks at the radio station to ultimately become a co-director. She also interned and produced an original show at the St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN). Next, she worked in the Youth Department at Neighborhood House as a CTEP Americorps worker and added media-literacy elements to the existing curriculum.

“In my career so far, I have been fortunate to be part of a number of organizations who have been doing fantastic work in community media and media justice,” remarked Zappas. “This work is important to me because using media to share stories, and gain technology skills is an amazing way to feel empowered.”

Since joining WFNU, she has been working to expand the station and build stronger internal policies.

Opening up airwaves to all
“What’s really cool about radio is that the transmitters used have a limit of how far they can transmit sound,” said Zappas. “I know that sounds like a negative, but for WFNU we’re really trying to be St. Paul’s radio station, so with that in mind, how cool is it that our transmitter is strongest in St. Paul!”

Radio is also valuable because it’s one of the cheapest forms of media for listeners to use, and it doesn’t require much digital literacy she pointed out.

Diverse representation and actually reflecting who is part of the Frogtown Community are fundamental to why WFNU exists and why it is so good, according to Zappas.

“Radio is historically dominated by cisgendered, white men, and the ability to move upward in the field is really limited by access to higher education,” she said. “WFNU is determined to challenge those practices by making training in broadcasting accessible to anyone regardless of their background, and to opening up the airwaves to all folks.”

Anyone interested in having their own show can apply on the website. A number of volunteer committees are open to the public to join, including show selection and fundraising, or the general steering committee. To learn more, email simona@wfnu.org.

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