In 2005 a small, obscure radio station in the basement of a building downtown played “Around the Dial” by The Kinks, birthing community radio in Richmond. WRIR-LP, 97.3 FM’s development came out of frustration with commercial radio’s homogenous and monotonous programming. Its mission is to bring underrepresented music, news and views to Richmonders.
“When you put a larger corporate vision on the arts, it begins to stifle creativity,” said Carol Olson, former Virginia Center for Public Press board member and host of “Women in Politics” on WRIR.
WRIR noticed that music on commercial radio was automated, and everyone was listening to the same thing. The station sought to bring attention to locally produced music.
“Artists with large or small followings always have a home on WRIR,” said Olson.
Dubbing itself as the “voice of the people,” the 100%-volunteer-driven radio station seeks to uplift underrepresented voices. Richmond’s Independent Radio station, WRIR, is one of the largest and oldest volunteer radio stations in the US, with about 200 volunteers and 30 locally produced shows.
The growth of WRIR took time. The underground radio station fought for the expansion of low-power (LP) broadcasting from the federal government. One of the early advocates for WRIR was then lieutenant governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, who helped secure the station bandwidth and tower. The City of Richmond made WRIR the emergency broadcast station, allowing the community-driven station to run 24/7.
“Not all community radio stations are volunteer based; we chose to be all-volunteer because it keeps the flavor of independent and community-driven media in place,” Olson said. “This encourages volunteer participation from the community, not just one person deciding all the shows and content.”
Volunteers at WRIR can work in multiple capacities: on-air personality/DJ for music and talk shows, sound engineers for production, technicians to manage the infrastructure of station online and on-air, social media and marketing strategists, board members that support the mission of the station and fundraisers to help during their seasonal fund drives.
Olson said, “if you want to create your own show come to the station, have something to say, come to the station, believe community radio is important, come to the station.”
You can donate to WRIR by going to wrir.org. Follow them on Facebook. Interested in volunteering? Every Saturday, from 2-4 p.m., production training is open to the public, learn about radio production and how to be a DJ.