[audio-pals] New kid on the cellblock to be community radio station

  • From: "Ray T. Mahorney" <mahorney.r.t@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <audio-pals@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 31 May 2014 21:47:23 -0000

New kid on the cellblock to be community radio station A section of the former 
Somerset County Jail
in Skowhegan is targeted for transformation.

SKOWHEGAN - A once grim, concrete cellblock in the former Somerset County Jail 
will soon be home to
the strains of blues, jazz, rock, folk and world music.

A new radio station is coming to the old jail and should be on the air this 
summer, said Maine radio
veteran and project coordinator Annie Stillwater Gray.

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission granted a construction 
permit to the
Wesserunsett Arts Council to operate a station at 98.1 on the FM radio dial.

"It's a community station. That's the main thing everyone ought to know," Gray 
said. "It's a
noncommercial frequency, low power."

Studios will be built in three jail cells and a stark day room at the former 
jail, now home to the
Somerset Grist Mill and other businesses, including The Pickup Cafe and 
Community Supported
Agriculture program and the Skowhegan Farmers' Market.

Grist Mill co-owner and founder Amber Lambke of Skowhegan is offering the space 
free to the arts
council in exchange for on-air promotional considerations.

"They're affiliated with the Wesserunsett Arts Council, so we're actually going 
to be donating this
space for them to use because the visibility that can be obtained by having 
radio in Skowhegan will
benefit us as well," Lambke said. "They'll need to outfit the space themselves, 
but rent will be

Lambke said she will install electrical outlets for the radio station studios 
and broadcast space.
There also will be extra space upstairs at the old jail for a music library, 
which Gray said will be
populated immediately with CDs donated by Colby College, where she and her 
husband, Andy Wendell,
host on-air radio programs on WMHB.

There are no call letters for the new station yet.

The FCC construction permit was free, but Gray said the arts council still 
needs to raise money in
order to be up and running by an FCC-imposed deadline. The council needs to 
raise $35,000 to outfit
the studios.

Gray, of Solon, and arts council president Serena Sanborn, of Canaan, said they 
will apply for
grants to purchase of equipment and renovate the former cellblock - numbered 
E-13. Each of the three
7- by 10-foot cells in the block had two metal beds fastened to the wall and a 
stainless steel

The Somerset County Jail moved to new space in East Madison in 2008. Lambke and 
business partner
Michael Scholz of Albion, a baker and wheat farmer, bought the property for 
$65,000 the following
year. The old hoosegow is also home to Happy Knits, a yarn shop; the Tech Spot, 
where schoolchildren
teach older people how to use the Internet and social media; a suite of cells 
used by an online
trader of Asian antiques; and a seasonal pop-up shop in the former jail 
administrator's office. That
space also will be used this summer by Somerset Public Health as a temporary 
dental clinic,
according to Lambke.

Inside the cellblock this past week, with its menacing, sliding metal door and 
prisoner dinner-plate
slot, Lambke said she hopes the radio station will help Skowhegan become a hub 
of commerce, art and
food. She said windows will be replaced for a better view of the farmers' 
market, which operates
outside in the former jail parking lot.

"I am so excited to have a radio station here," Lambke said. "A couple of trips 
I've taken down to
New York City - you see the role that radio plays in getting the word out about 
food issues and food
scenes. I think artists and writers and radio - I think it all ties to this 
cluster of goods and
services we're trying to build and promote here. I think it's great."

Gray said the signal will be broadcast from Bigelow Hill in Skowhegan, with 
support from station
technician Timothy Smith. Smith said the walls of the former cellblock will be 
covered with material
that will be more acoustically friendly that the existing concrete and cinder 
block construction.

A donation already has been received for the purchase of a computer, which will 
be used in the new
station's initial broadcasts, Gray said.

"We'll be able to go on the air this summer with just a computer," Gray said. 
"No one will be able
to do any shows, but this is just to get the signal up and running because of 
the deadline of 18
months to graduate from a construction permit to a license. Most radio stations 
are run by computer

Gray said the ultimate goal is to have a fully equipped studio at the grist 
mill for people to come
in and host their own community radio shows.

Sanborn said anyone interested in helping with the fundraising can visit the 
Wesserunsett Arts
Council website: www.wesarts.org. Donations are tax-deductible. 

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