Germantown’s Maplewood Mall and one of its anchor organizations, G-town Radio, are both looking at a major milestone this week, but this month’s federal government shutdown caused an unexpected delay for one of them.
After a successful party last June, a Re-Imagining Maplewood Mall event returns this Saturday afternoon to the nook between Greene Street and Germantown Avenue, currently the focus of a variety of revitalization efforts.
Meanwhile, G-town Radio, which will welcome the community into its studio during Saturday’s festival, has been looking forward to this week’s opportunity to file an application with the FCC for a low-power FM (LPFM) frequency.
From computer to radio dial
Due to a recent change in FCC regulations, small locally-based organizations who want to get on the air have a new shot at accessing low-power airwaves which, in Philadelphia, reach a radius of 2-to-3 miles.
The two-week window for aspiring radio stations’ online applications began Tuesday, but the government shutdown put a major question mark on those plans.
G-town Radio Founder Jim Bear said the application was ready to go on Tuesday. Now that the shutdown has ended, staffers have started the process.
“The big problem right now is that with the government shutdown, the website you go to do that is unavailable. They had to take it down,” Bear told NewsWorks about 12 hours before lawmakers voted to re-open the government. “We’ve been getting ourselves put together and we’re pretty much ready to submit as soon as everything comes back online.”
On Thursday afternoon, Bear said the site was back up and he anticipated the application being submitted by week’s end.
The LPFM opportunity
As Maplewood Mall organizers worked to bring the crowds out on Saturday, Bear explained the opportunities and challenges of reaching that crowd at home with an FM broadcast.
Currently, anyone can listen to G-town Radio programs online, and that has meant about 15,000 unique listeners a month, according to Bear. That includes fans across the country as well as listeners in Europe and Asia. Bear said last month’s numbers have been particularly strong, with close to 19,000 listeners.
But with an FM signal accessible to anyone with a radio within a few miles of the station, G-town Radio could reach up to 15,000 people in a single day, many of whom are not connected to the internet or don’t own a computer.
“Radio is something everybody gets. Everybody understands it,” Bear said, pointing out that households without computers are sure to have a radio, and that many people listen in their cars.
Facing the competition
Bear explained that the FCC application process for the LPFM signal is not a complicated one. Interested organizations just need to show they’re an established non-profit with a local focus and educational content oriented to that neighborhood.
Nabbing one of the estimated three LPFM stations that will become available in Philadelphia will be the real challenge, though.
“It’s far from guaranteed that we would get a permit to broadcast on a frequency,” Bear said. “It will most likely be very competitive, with multiple applications being submitted against each of these three frequencies.”
Ultimately, at the discretion of FCC reviewers, multiple organizations could end up sharing one radio station.
When the successful organizations receive their permits, they’ll have approximately a year to fundraise and install the necessary equipment, including the radio antenna. With studio space and programming already established, G-town Radio would have a leg up in that respect.
“I anticipate it would dramatically change things for us,” he said. “If suddenly you’re aware of a radio station in your community, chances are people are going to get a lot more excited about it than if you say we have an internet-radio station.”
Meanwhile, on the Mall
Re-Imagining Maplewood Mall organizer Garlen Capita, of the Germantown United CDC, is also looking forward to the benefit of better awareness for that corner of the neighborhood.
One clear sign that the latest Maplewood Mall event is gaining traction is that local restaurants are more enthusiastic about getting involved.
“Last time, they didn’t know it was going to be so successful,” and they pulled back until they saw the crowd, she said.
This month, many gladly signed up in advance to sell food at the event. Vendors include Little Jimmies, the Braz-BQ Brazilian rotisserie food truck, K&J Caribbean, Tom and Diane’s and Flower Café.
While this weekend’s event won’t be significantly different from June’s — besides some Halloween-themed fun like pumpkin painting — Capita said there’s been a significant increase in funding that will go to mall improvements, art installations and long-term plans to make the festival an annual or semi-annual event.
“We’re already thinking of the next step,” Capita said of Maplewood Mall business owners.
Last summer’s event was bankrolled entirely by crowd-funding, but this weekend’s party was made possible by a $5,000 grant from the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics; $1,000 from the Philadelphia Activities Fund and a GiveForward crowd-funding campaign that raised $900.
Saturday’s party will include a moon-bounce for the kids and a musical line-up featuring Osiris Wildfire’s electronic funk hop, jazz by Ed Wilcox, indie rock group Tribute and others. Attendees should also be on the lookout for a visit from the Give and Take Jugglers.
A G-Town Radio DJ will spin tunes outside the studio with lots of staffers on hand to answer locals’ questions about the radio-station’s future.
“This is a community project, and it’s programmed daily by people who are your neighbors,” Bear said, “so we’d love to have more folks come through our doors and check it out.”
Re-Imagining Maplewood Mall in the Fall will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday.