Transmitter woes plague a radio lifeline in Wisconsin

A small public radio station in Wisconsin’s northwoods could use a helping hand and it deserves it, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

During the “Walleye Wars” of the 1980s, after federal courts upheld the right of Ojibwe people to spearfish off reservation land at night during spawning, WOJB helped with the overt racism that threatened violence.

WOJB, started by Ojibwe on the Lac Courte Oreille Reservation, about 11 miles outside Hayward, Wis., cut through the anger, airing voices on both sides, and tried to bring cultures together the old-fashioned way: with music, the Journal Sentinel says.

Now, its transmitter is dying and the station’s leaders are trying to decide if there can be a future for a small public radio station in the woods.

It’ll cost at least $80,000, a pretty tough figure to reach when your 500-watt signal (it should be at 10,000 watts) only carries 25 to 50 miles.

It’s public radio the way it was meant to be.

The station gives a voice to the community.

There are only two full-time staff members who go on air regularly. The rest of the airtime is filled by volunteers like Country Dave Keller, who hosts Saturday night honky tonk, or Joan Jacobowski, who hosts Electomania on Friday nights.

Carissa Corbine said, “One of our most popular programs is honky tonk. He (Country Dave Keller) is a household name. People gather around the campfire to listen to him.”

The station looks for diversity in its lineup. There’s a reggae show, afropop, folk, blues, jazz, NPR’s Morning Edition and Democracy Now.

Although WOJB is partnered with a tribe, there’s not that much overtly native programming. There’s Drum Song on Tuesday evenings. It’s traditional powwow music and a favorite at the reservation. Native American Calling is from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays. Morning Fire Ojibwemowin is Saturday mornings, and Dead Dog Café is a native-produced comedy show from Canadian Public Radio.

Journalist Paul DeMain, an LCO resident and Oneida tribal member, said, “When WOJB provided an opportunity to speak with each other, we found we have more in common in northern Wisconsin. WOJB allows us to explore that musical diversity and the cultural diversity as well. All the communities have a certain value and make up the fabric of northern Wisconsin, and WOJB is the epitome of that.”

“At first the station was here to give a voice to the cause,” said Corbine. “In that way, we were able to find support. We were here to try to educate people and let them know what the treaties were about and just tribes in general.”

Technical and electrical issues put the station off the air at the end of August. It returned to the air with reduced power this week.

Related: WOJB Facebook page.

  • MrE85

    If only there were a large, successful public radio operation in the region that could help a bro out….

    • That would be illegal under FCC rules, I believe.

      • MrE85

        Hands off our public airwaves, big gubberment!

      • RBHolb

        Just for public stations, or any broadcaster?

        • Public. This is one of those restrictions imposed by the government you never hear the no-government-funding crowd demand be lifted (along with revenue generating restrictions). They don’t understand the quid pro quo nature of the public media system.

          • Jack

            How was MPR able to raise funds for WNYC after their antenna went down during 9/11? I remember working on that pledge drive while at MPR.

          • I believe you have to get a waiver from the FCC. We had to do that during the campaign to “save” the SPCO too. I THINK what often happens in these situations is other public radio stations provide in-kind services… engineers etc.

  • Where’s the GoFundMe? I feel like the internet can get to $80,000 in no time.

    • Barton

      Looks like maybe it is more than just raising the money. They need approval from the tribal council to buy as well. Or I am reading into this statement from their website:

      IF you want to help persuade LCO tribal council to approve a new transmitter please write and tell us why you love WOJB!
      13386 West Trepania Rd
      ​Hayward, WI 54843

      • They’re trying to get the money from the tribal council.

  • Guest

    Will $80K replace 500 watts or increase the power and does their license allow that?

    • 500 watts is what their present transmitting capacity allows, the old transmitter (and a new one) would return it to its licensed maximum power.

  • John

    This sounds like exactly the kind of local radio that I love.

    There are a couple places that I semi-regularly visit that have local public radio stations that I listen to exclusively when I’m in town – Grand Rapids and Grand Marais being the two that spring to mind. Both play APM and NPR shows (I’m almost sure of it) some of the time, but their locally produced shows are fantastic.

    • MikeB

      KAXE is terrific, provides a great local feel

    • Bridget L.

      WELY isn’t too shabby either. Polka Pal Don anyone?

  • KTN

    We’re long time contributors to WOJB, and while we don’t get to our cabin much anymore, one of the things we miss about not being there is that station. Friday night’s Eclectomania is awesome, Friday afternoon’s Blues session, and the rest of their programming. Sorry to hear about this – I hope they can find the financing to continue on.