New community radio station sounds in Philadelphia

Hosts Derwood Shelby and Tia Whitfield get ready to go live with WPPM 106.5

Hosts Derwood Shelby and Tia Whitfield get ready to go live with WPPM 106.5

A new community radio station has gone live in Philadelphia.

WPPM, a low-powered station at 106.5 FM, will transmit from Center City to about a 2-mile radius. It is the fruit of years of grass-roots media activism.

Philadelphia Community Access Media, or PhillyCAM, flipped the switch Thursday afternoon, with the help of a few dozen supporters. WPPM had been on the air since the summer, when the Democratic National Convention was in town, but only with prerecorded programming.

“The whole point to take back the airwaves is to ‘rehumanize’ radio and put people back in those positions,” said general manager Vanessa Maria Graber. “A lot of mainstream media and commercial radio station have eliminated on-air staff, gone to automated playlists and syndicated programming.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“So when we turned the station on just to have playlists and syndicated programming, it was not what we wanted to do.”

Graber has been a media activist for years, as part of the grass-roots effort to push the FCC and Congress into allowing low-power FM stations to exist, then going through the arduous process of applying for a permit to use a frequency, and then raising tens of thousands of dollars to set up a transmitter atop a building at Third and Callowhill.

The new, live broadcast will feature a mix of music and talk programming, all locally focused by a pool of volunteer producers. Initially, only a few hours of live programming are planned each day. That will expand as more people are trained and shows are developed.

“We have about 16 shows that will be going on air in the next week and half,” said PhillyCAM executive director Gretjen Clausing. “Hopefully, by November, we will have another 20 shows coming on live.”

PhillyCAM is the Philadelphia’s public access media outlet, funded in part by the city’s franchise agreements with Comcast and Verizon. A handful of other low-powered permits have been approved in Philadelphia, but none have gone live, yet.

“The Uptown Theater has a construction permit, [Germantown’s] G-Town Radio has a construction permit, and there are a couple organizations in South Philadelphia with a construction permit,” said Clausing. “We’re just the first one to get on the air.”

PhillyCAM is uniquely positioned to leverage radio programming because it is a long established public access cable television organization. Clausing said she can modify PhillyCAM’s volunteer base and existing television productions into radio programming.

One of the first radio programmers at WPPM is Derwood Selby, a chef who produces a health and wellness show, The Selby Signature. Until now, his show had been pre-recorded for television on PhillyCAM.

“This will be the first time doing radio. I’m in transition,” said Selby. “This is live. I’m excited about it.”

He was the first person to operate the board when the station went live on Thursday.

“See, I just pushed the button,” he said. “Man, I’m in!”

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal