Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpI scored an adventure in local radio last month.

Former county board candidate Andrew Schneider asked me onto his Friday morning “Arlington Voices” show on Arlington’s own FM radio station WERA-LP 96.7 on (most of) your dials.

We talked writing, history and too much on my adolescence. I learned that this listener’s bazaar of localized talk, music and volunteer reportage has surprised its founders by rapidly beating the expectations of wizened radio professionals.
Since its launch in the Clarendon studios of Arlington Independent Media last Dec. 6, WERA-LP (the LP stands for low-power) has attracted 80 on-air content producers (all volunteer), with proposals for more arriving daily via the website.

“When I first started thinking about it, I was skeptical because I knew from experience that when you feed stations and channels, they want more and more,” I was told by executive director Paul LeValley, who has led AIM since 1992. “Where would the content come from?”

Turns out, if you take a community as flush with talent and civic-mindedness as Arlington, add the Internet’s free access and branding opportunities, and you get a window of opportunity a savvy team can power through.

“WERA-LP is Arlington’s only radio station,” the promo materials declare. “Broader coverage of D.C. and Northern Virginia often overshadows the news, events, people, stories, and culture that define one of the most diverse and innovative communities in the country.”

Offerings range from Nico Electra’s “It Might Get Loud – Arlington,” to shows titled “Vinyl Assault Vehicle,” “Radio Still Sucks,” “Soccer Talk Chat” and “Awesome Women Entrepreneurs.”

LeValley credits AIM’s technical staff – pedigrees from establishments like NPR and the Voice of America – along with AIM stalwarts such as director of community programs Jackie Steven (who produced my session hosted by Schneider) and operations manager Lauree McArdle.

The station continues to seek underwriters (for $5,000, a business can have its name on the air five times a day). AIM offers on-air production training for fees that start at $45 (mandatory for WERA producers), and memberships for $25.

The idea for WERA “bubbled up” several years ago when strangers alerted LeValley to the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to offer low-power frequency licenses in urban areas, provided there’s a nonprofit sponsor. AIM staff and folks at public meetings egged him on, and soon his report was presented to his board.

Stunningly, the FCC came through with an offer of a construction permit, but the team had to hurry. Creating the audio suite “was like building an airplane in mid-air,” LeValley says. Luckily, Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management was happy to acquire an FM outlet for emergency messages that were only on AM.

Especially challenging was the siting of the rooftop tripod antenna. First WERA tried Fire Station No. 10 in upper Rosslyn, then 2100 Clarendon Blvd. But coverage testing showed that the first two sites not optimal. Now rent for the eventual antenna site atop the privately owned 2300 Clarendon Blvd is paid by the county.

WERA has “potential” of more than 700,000 listeners, but it can’t yet afford a Neilsen report on actual earcount. “There’s lots of interest on social media, with 80 producers tweeting and posting on Facebook,”LeValley notes.

The signal doesn’t reach my East Falls Church neighborhood. But I listen on the website. Glad to boost a new thread in the Arlington social tapestry.

* * *

I was astonished recently when I poked my head in my boyhood church – St. George’s Episcopal on Fairfax Drive – to see workmen dismantling the pews.

Inquiries revealed that the renovation of the sanctuary where I was baptized and where my mother worshiped for 50 years (they kindly named the library for her) is part of a larger spiritual project.

The idea is to substitute portable chairs and a movable altar to allow a variety of service events and participants to better draw in the community. “We seek to eliminate separateness in worship, reaching towards not just accessibility but inclusion,” the church elders wrote on their website. “We seek a flexible space that reflects a God who is not fixed but is ever responsive.”

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