WDBX broadcasts for the community

By Dylan Frost

On the corner of Oak and Washington Street in Carbondale sits a little building, which broadcasts community-centric radio to more than 100,000 people across southern Illinois.

Whenever area listeners turn their dials to 91.1 FM, they receive WDBX, a radio station that prides itself on being operated by members of its community. The station is staffed by almost 120 volunteers and features more than 70 radio programs each week.

While the station offers a range of programs, including music programs focused on ‘60s British rock and talk shows dedicated to LGBTQ news, WDBX’s station manager Dave Armstrong, said the human element is more important than the variety of programs.

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“The difference is not so much the diversity of it, because you could find diversity on XM Radio and Spotify,” he said.

“The difference is there’s a human being behind here. So, there is direction to it. There is the ability of the DJ to react to things that go on around them.”

WDBX allows individuals to exchange ideas concerning the southern Illinois community, Armstrong said.

“I think on the whole, the endeavor is to try to present an alternative to mass media – media that’s largely owned by interests that maybe are not even located locally,” he said.

The volunteers not only direct the content of shows but also the station’s overall direction, Armstrong said.

Every day, someone different walks into the studio to broadcast his or her voice on 91.1.

Sarah Shoot has provided WDBX content for nearly 12 years. She usually broadcasts jazz between 10:30 a.m. and noon Mondays, but sometimes her husband, Jason, comes in to play indie rock during their show, “Sum of its Parts.”

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“At this point, we’re still kind of taking turns coming in,” she said. “So, depending which day you catch us, it might be jazz one time or more indie, new rock music the other time.”

Shoot said she enjoys broadcasting on WDBX because she can choose what she plays on a whim and can do what she wants, as long as she is obeying the law, of course.

“Some DJs might have their show already pre-planned and pre-recorded when they come in,” she said. “For me, I’ll just grab a handful of CDs and on the spot put together a show every week.”

WDBX also offers talk radio programs focused on community and special group interests. “Occupy the Airwaves” began broadcasting after the Occupy Wall Street became news in 2011. Broadcasts from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and hosted by Cathy Talbott and Paula Bradshaw, “Airwaves” focuses on political and economic issues which affect the nation but with an angle for area residents and students, Talbott said.

“We’re covering other things that are pertinent to southern Illinois, like the fracking issue, the funding of education and student debt, which is especially a real burning issue for college students across the country,” she said.

“Airwaves” is not the only talk radio show with a southern Illinois angle. Melvin “Pepper” Holder provides the community an African American perspective through his self-titled show, which airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

Holder addresses the need for black groups in the community to be empowered, which cannot be achieved through Carbondale’s at-large voting system, he said. He advocates for a ward system similar to ones in Murphysboro and Chicago.

Because of the variety of WDBX programming, anybody with a good vision can get his or her own show, Armstrong said. The station accepts volunteer applications throughout the year.

Armstrong said the best applicants are those who are enthusiastic about the theme of their show, those who are willing to be present each week and someone with a high level of community involvement.

“I think a lot of people are growing to be aware that the media they consume is largely owned by a handful of interests,” he said. “We’re trying to present an opportunity for folks to participate in media, to have a voice in media and to have a media that perhaps has their interests in mind.”

WDBX is a nonprofit organization, which means it cannot sponsor paid advertisements by law under the Federal Communications Commission. Underwriters and donations from volunteers keep WDBX operating.

The station broadcasts at 3000 watts, which allows it to cover all of Jackson and Williamson counties, as well as parts of Perry, Franklin, Union, Johnson and Saline counties, and can also be found online at WDBX.org.

Dylan Frost can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @DFrost90 or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.

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