The Little Radio Station That Could

Jessica Spies – Staff Writer – Greece Post

picture-012.jpgGreece, N.Y. – The small radio station WGMC-FM has found supporters in its hometown, Greece. And in Athens, Greece. While that station – now Jazz 90.1 – only reaches about 50 miles from it headquarters, Greece Olympia High School, 1139 Maiden Lane, it can be heard all over the world these days thanks to the Internet. All jazz all the time.“As our reach has grown, so have our volunteers,” said music director Derric Lucas. Lucas, 38, remembers going over to other’s houses as a tot and wanting to “play DJ.” He liked all kinds of music, but he was particularly interested in jazz.

“Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be on the radio,” he said.

When he was just 12 he applied for a job at a local radio station. He wanted to work the Sunday night shift. But he’d have to wait a few years.

“They wouldn’t let me work overnights as a seventh grader,” he chuckled. “After I graduated, I called back and the position was still open.”

Lucas joined WGMC-FM (90.1) in 1988 at the age of 19. When he started at the station it was mostly playing smooth jazz with folk music and a Lithuanian-language program.

Thirty-five years ago the station played “everything under the sun,” said current station manager Rob Linton.

That was when the station was run by students at Greece Athena.

After a few years, it moved to Apollo Middle School (the former Cardinal Mooney High School) and then to its current location, Greece Olympia.

Greece Central funded the station until about 25 years ago. It is still owned by the district but relies solely on donations, 30 volunteers and five paid staffers to keep it going. The annual operating budget is $185,000.

The station tries to raise from $100,00 to $140,000 through its two pledge drives every year.

The music is all jazz. “There are a lot of jazz stations that have gone off the air,” Linton said.

The biggest change over the years is the audience. It’s bigger.

When it first started at Athena, it was only a 10-watt station, which would reach no farther than Greece. It has since increased to 15,000 watts and reaches a 50-mile radius.

Because of the Internet, the station can be heard by people all over the world.

“It has opened up a new kind of channel to be able to reach out to people who can’t hear jazz on the radio,” he said.

Linton said that they have received donations from both Greece, NY and Athens, Greece. They’ve also received letters from soldiers in Iraq who enjoy jazz music.

One thing that hasn’t changed is WGMC’s dedication to teaching students about radio.

The broadcasting curriculum at Greece Olympia has allowed students to learn what it takes to run a radio station.

The interest in this type of class has skyrocketed since its inception in fall 2007 when only 10 students were enrolled, Linton said. This year, there are about 34 students enrolled in the class, not only from Olympia, but from Odyssey and Athena high schools.

“Teaching is one of the most important things a radio station can do,” Linton said.