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A planned low-power FM radio station is making its introduction to the public.

Missoula Community Radio will hold an open house Saturday at the Union Hall's meeting room to lay out its mission and fundraising needs before it can go on the air.

The station's board is wrapping up paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission and its application for nonprofit status, and hopes to be live by mid-July.

The mission statement, though, is ready to go.

"We're a First Amendment station focusing on community access and providing a platform for under-served communities," said Aaron Jennings, board vice president of KFGM 105.5 FM.

"We want to make sure we're giving people a chance to express themselves that don't already have access to some way to get that message out," he said.

That means news shows, music shows or whatever programming people want to produce, said Ann Szalda-Petree, the station's general manager.

"If somebody locally has a show they want to do, and they're willing to do the sweat equity, that's pretty much the qualifying factors," Jennings said.

The core topics include social justice, food economics and gender identity, with a focus on women's issues, but the range will be broader.

One person wants to create a monthly Friday afternoon show with area elementary schools, training the kids to make a program themselves. The owner of Montgomery Distillery expressed interest in making a show about distilling vodka.

The board would like to broadcast Missoula City Council meetings and girls' high school sports.

They've heard from people in extended care facilities who want to produce shows highlighting their collection of vinyl. Hospice of Missoula is interested in creating a show about death and end-of-life issues in an educational format.

"They're things I never would've thought of, and they're challenging," Jennings said. "There's a reason stuff like that isn't on the radio right now. It's because they discuss uncomfortable truths. People get old, people die, sometimes people have gender identity issues."

Szalda-Petree wants to create a feminist show similar to "In Other Words," a recently canceled Montana Public Radio program, featuring interviews and discussion of issues important to women.

For his part, Jennings would like to create a "Prairie Home Companion"-style variety show broadcast live from the Union Hall's upstairs meeting room, which he called an important but underused community space.

"Our philosophies are definitely congruent with MCAT, in the sense that we'd really like to create a platform where anything that's not hate speech has an opportunity to be heard," he said.

According to Szalda-Petree, that rules out anything that has slander, unsubstantiated news reporting, or hosts who target individuals or segments of the community.


The station will be limited to 100 watts and have roughly a five-mile broadcast radius, although that's variable.

"That's a hard question to answer in radio, because it's about how much power you put in your signal. And then that signal disperses. You can say that under nominal conditions, this would broadcast about five miles, but a lot of that has to do with the surrounding area, and what it reflects off of," Jennings said.

The station has signed a lease for studio space at the Union Hall, and is now raising money to buy equipment.

Its current goal is $10,000, with an eye to buy new gear, complete with warranties, that's designed specifically for low-power FM broadcasting.

"I think $10,000 is modest. That's what we need for equipment costs. I'd like to get $14,000 to $15,000 to launch our operation. That's a comfortable operating budget that will let us do things," Jennings said.

However, he said, they'll happily take donated equipment from other stations, or "anything if it means getting on the air."

They're applying for grants as well, and hope to get the initial launch money from the community before creating an online fundraiser.

"Once we get on the air, our ongoing operating costs are minimal. We're talking maybe $200 a month, and that's excessive. We just have to keep paying rent once we're on the air," he said.


Activist and farmer David Max applied for low-power FM radio station permits for Missoula and Hot Springs, his current home, during one of the limited windows that the Federal Communications Commission took applications. He was accepted in early 2014.

Ann Szalda-Petree had helped with the Butte America Foundation's efforts to get a low-power FM station going there, and reached out to Max, the current president, about the Missoula effort.

Meetings were held in December and January about the prospective station. From there, a 12-member board has been assembled.

They're a group that's passionate about radio and has donated countless hours so far.

To name just a few, Szalda-Petree has been on KBGA for seven years with her friend Teresa Waldorf with "The Ann and Teresa and Ann Show," in addition to several other radio shows she produces.

Scott Ranf is technical director of MCAT. Mick Harsell is a radio veteran who works for the Missoula Area Central Labor Council, Justice Ender of Summit Independent Living is an expert at making podcasts.

The station is in the process of finishing up paperwork for its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and has to file some paperwork for its change of location from a placeholder on the Northside that Max selected for his permit, over to the Union Hall rental space.

The station has to be on the air or have conducted initial tests before Aug. 16 or the permit expires. In that case, they can apply for a six-month extension, which would give them till February to get up and running.

Szalda-Petree said they're aiming for July, though.

She said the whole project has been a labor of love, one that's created a sub-community of people who are passionate about radio. And she noted, everyone is welcome to participate at Missoula Community Radio.

As a bit of advice, she said producing an hourly show each week is easier with a team, like a best friend or a group of friends.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.