GERMANTOWN — G-town Radio is both a voice for and the voice of the community it serves.
The station first went live in 2006 as an internet radio station. But a new era began on Jan. 15, 2018, when it began broadcasting over the air as WGGT-LP at 92.9 on the FM dial from noon each Wednesday to midnight on Sunday out of studio space in the Maplewood Mall. G-town Radio is one of four groups that take turns using the 92.9 frequency over the course of the week. The internet broadcasts continue 24/7 at gtownradio.com.
The launch marked the conclusion of a three-year effort by the organization to claim a spot on the FM dial as one of a plethora of low-power FM radio stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission over roughly the past two decades.
The key word in all this is local. The license stipulates local control by a pre-existing nonprofit organization, and all members of the group’s board of directors must live within 50 miles of Germantown.
Station manager Jim Bear heads up a group of volunteers who donate their time and, in fact, pay a small fee to be involved with the station and provide its programming.
Other revenue sources include grants and listener donations.
Bear himself has an ongoing career in IT, but a decade ago, he became fascinated with internet radio, and one thing led to another.
“The vast majority of our programming is done by local residents,” Bear said. “We really position the station as a platform for people in the community to turn their vocation, their profession, their side gig into a radio program that is a service to the community. So we have people who do shows about the environment, people who do shows about local civic issues, people who do programs on genres of music you don’t readily find on the FM dial on commercial radio anymore.
“We have all these people who are coming together, bringing their own unique spin on what community radio could be.”
Bear encourages listeners to build a connection and interact with the hosts. For that reason, much of the station’s programming is live, regardless of the hour.
“[If a show is done live,] you are really making sure it stays as local as possible,” he said. “If you were pre-recording the show, you’ve completely eliminated the opportunity for interaction with people, and I think that’s one of the real assets of community radio.”
Dr. Stephanie Heck is a clinical psychologist in private practice.
She first became involved with the station some four years ago as an occasional guest on its morning show, discussing topics related to mental health. But at the behest of Tom Casetta, WGGT-LP’s program director, she developed her own show. "The (Not So) Hidden Agenda" airs each Sunday evening from 5 to 6 p.m. and features in-depth interviews with members of the community on a variety of subjects.
Heck regards radio as “a way to start conversations and get ideas floating out into the world,” she said.
Heck’s interviewing style is intended to have her audience get to know her guests as people and how their life experiences have shaped them, she said.
“I bring people on the air who are involved in the community and really demonstrate that where you come from matters,” she said. “Your emotions drive you in a direction; your history drives you in a direction. Where you got to today is not random.”
Heck acknowledged that her professional training impacts her approach to broadcasting.
“It’s sort of like a mission in a way,” she said. “It’s not to analyze any of my guests at all; it's more to get them to share their story and maybe demonstrate what moved them to do what they do.”
While the station does not maintain a news operation, Bear said it is committed to increasing awareness of local issues. To that, it will host a debate involving the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the Eighth District City Council seat currently held by two-term Democratic incumbent Cindy Bass. The debate is scheduled for the evening of Thursday, April 7, at the Rittenhouse Sound Works.
Bear noted events like the debate shine a spotlight on local issues that are traditionally ignored by larger media outlets.
“When [Germantown] comes up on the news, the regional media, usually it’s a fire, some sort of violence happening, something like that,” he said, “and it completely misses any other issue that can of value to people who actually live here,’
Gentrification is a big issue right now, as well as development or lack of development in an area, he said.
"These are really hot-button items in the community which the local news, they can’t cover those because they’re not really of interest to people outside of Germantown," he said. "It’s too small for them but kind of has huge ramifications for us.”