What Local Radio Has Meant For Fairfield

Article Details
James Moore
What Local Radio Has Meant For Fairfield
James Moore

On September 30, 2006, non-profit grassroots radio station, KRUU-LP 100.1 FM, began broadcasting to the 17,000 people of Jefferson County and online to the world. The mission was simple: to give voice to the community with an emphasis on making radio, not to be a vehicle for syndicated programming. Agenda-free as a station, the content would be produced by those who lived, or had lived, in the area.

KRUU was the vision of 20-year-old Roland Wells, who lead the charge to develop the station by getting the initial construction permit from the Federal Communications Commission. KRUU 100.1 FM is a low power (100 watts), volunteer-centered community radio station. The transmitter reaches five to seven miles from the tower in the local area, yet the station Web site has as many as 100,000 visits each month. Over 200,000 volunteer hours have been inspired the past eight years, with more than 250 hosts.

More shoeless than shoestring on operation, KRUU runs largely on sweat equity and a shared vision. While there are limits to what is allowed on air, station organizers found that giving people the tools and safe space to express oneself has drawn scores of committed volunteer hosts with a wide range of programming ideas. Even better, the station has yielded unexpected and powerful cultural dividends for this community of 9,464.

The Midwest's Only Solar-powered Radio Station 

When an area resident donated a solar power system, the several community members stepped up to design and construct it. With the flip of a switch on September 9, 2009 at 9 a.m., KRUU became the only solar-powered radio station in the Midwest. Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy called it the first completed project of the city's go green initiative. "A symbol for Iowa's vision of renewable energy," wrote then Governor Chet Culver in a congratulatory letter, "contributing to a greener, safer Iowa." Culver went on to point out that solar power allows the station to remain on air in the event of power outages - a critical link for keeping the community informed during emergencies.

FAIRfest: Three Days of Music, Food and Sustainable Fun 

In 2012, KRUU was approached by some inspired locals to spearhead an annual free three-day festival. This idea became FAIRfest, which is held the third weekend of June. Fairfest has drawn over 20,000 attendees in its first two years, presenting artists like Los Lobos, Rebirth Brass Band plus dozens of national, regional and local artists at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. This year, more $200,000 were generated, with 30 percent of attendees from outside the city and 10 percent from outside the state, according to an economic impact study. Planning for FAIRfest '15 is underway.

Dream Green Series 

After the station manager interviewed an energy spokesperson about the state's desire to promote sustainable practices, KRUU raised over $50,000 locally and received a matching grant of $50,000 from the Iowa Power Fund to produce a 20-part radio series on energy efficiency and inspiring practices across the state. The highly informative and lively 2011 series was produced by KRUU in conjunction with Maharishi University of Management and was made available statewide.

People-powered Radio: The Voices of Fairfield, Iowa... and beyond 

Community radio is really all about the people who show up. Like the 13-year old who produced his own after-school show with friends, continued it when he moved away for college and then kept going after graduating and moving back. Like the mother/daughter team who interview best-selling authors. Like the local psychologist that hosts a mental health show dealing with suicide awareness and prevention. Like middle school kids that run a daily live events program, inspiring educators in Chicago with their efforts.

Programming is driven from within the community, which explains two Spanish-speaking programs and a twice-weekly early morning show to wake you up and another to put children to sleep. One show was mailed in from a bicycle trek across Europe and the US. Other programming has a more local focus such as city, county and state business updates, as are other forums to discuss sensitive topics. Fairfield community radio even has a late-night program hosted by a Native-American.

And Then There's The Music... 

KRUU also features music that spans many musical frontiers- - folk, jazz, hip hop, blues, country, classical and alternative including fresh music, vintage music, and almost everything in between. A number of hosts are talented musicians. Others have worked for MTV, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, BBC and Channel 4. Some have gone on to work for the Daily Show in New York, or found their experience helped with college applications. Only on KRUU would you hear Dave Matthews say, 'I don't think I've ever spoken with a solar-powered radio station before,' or 'This is Neil Young and you're listening to KRUU on the sun.' 

Other Inspired Amenities 

KRUU is about more than just sound waves. It has become a cultural hub that fosters volunteerism. There are beautiful permaculture gardens started by local sustainability students. The station's reshingled roof served as an Eagle Scout community project. The KRUU mixing board was donated by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. Shelves, furniture and natural flooring donated by local businesses and citizens, as were the refurbished mobile broadcast van and work truck. The station played a role in helping secure the Fairfield's 'Great Places' designation. KRUU serves as a resource to interface with people who come through town—everyone from Barack Obama to Paralympics Silver Medalist Matt Stutzman to Eldon Pie Lady Beth Howard to filmmaker David Lynch.

As a solar station, KRUU helps brand the community's creative, cultural, entrepreneurial, and sustainable elements. But some think it's simpler than all that. When CNN Anchor Candy Crowley was leaving the station after an interview several years ago, she stopped, turned around and said, "It feels great in here."

"It's been more work than any of us imagined," said Wells, flashing one of his trademark grins, "and more fun, too. It's amazing what people can do, given the chance. Especially in these days of conglomeration, consolidation and syndication. A local radio station is a rare opportunity for a community's unique flavors to be celebrated and shared."

KRUU co-founder and station manager, James Moore has been called a 'cultural entrepreneur' and 'a firm member of a why-not generation of dreamers' Moore is an accomplished musician and serves as adjunct faculty at Maharishi University of Management in the Media & Communications department teaching Radio & Internet Broadcasting. Learn more online at http://www.kruufm.com/about