Monroe drivers can turn their radio dials to find a variety of country, hip-hop and rock stations. But they’ll never find anything like 99.1, Monroe’s nonprofit, community radio station.
John Griffin, one of the station’s founders, said the station was originally created in 2013 to preserve beach music of the 1960s and 1970s and provide the community with the news and information that mattered most.
“So far, it has done that,” Griffin said. “We also wanted to get into the community because the larger, mega-stations bought so many radio stations, they got away from the community … “If ‘Mrs. Jones’ lives on Franklin Street, she can call us and say, ‘Fluffy went missing this morning. Can you put out an announcement that I’m looking for Fluffy?’ We do that. We’ve done that and we have found Fluffy. But you can’t call in to a station in Charlotte and ask to put on the air that Fluffy is missing. They would hang up on you immediately.”
Now, WDZD plays other types of music along with beach music. The station highlights the stories of the community, especially the work of other local nonprofits.
Because the station is a nonprofit, hosting, production and operations are all done on a volunteer basis. Donations to the station go toward rent, equipment, music rights and other necessary materials.
“This is a passion,” host Greg Baucom said. “Because we love radio, this allows us that vehicle to do it, but we also care about the community, so it’s a win-win.”
Former Matthews Commissioner Chris Melton began volunteering one year ago as a host at WDZD. Melton, who is a cousin of founder Griffin, became interested in radio at a young age. He came into the WDZD studio, recorded a few spots and became hooked again.
Now that he no longer serves on the commission, Melton hosts five or six shows a week.
“It’s a lot less stressful than town government, I promise you that,” Melton said jokingly. “With the path commercial radio is taking… there was a void in small towns or small cities like Monroe for your Stone Table Restaurant, Oasis Sandwich Shop, those local businesses that have been the cornerstone of the community, like that ‘small-town feel’ we always talk about in Matthews. And we at the station fill that void.”
The station is a low-power station, meaning its radio waves do not reach beyond Monroe city limits. They cover news exclusive to Monroe and Union County. However, with the increased popularity of streaming, WDZD listenership extends into all parts of the Carolinas and around the country. Listeners are located as close as Indian Trail and as far as Alaska.
Griffin said listeners everywhere enjoy the community feel, as well as the beach music. Additionally, the station broadcasts some of the Monroe High School football games, which allows relatives to listen in and follow the game. Griffin said WDZD runs 24 hours a day, so listeners can tune in at any time.
The biggest complaint from listeners has been the coverage area. Griffin said the nature of a low-power, nonprofit station comes with regulations and guidelines from the Federal Communications Commission.
“I think the FCC is beginning to see how important community radio is and getting radio back into the community,” Griffin said. “At some point, they will probably let these low-power stations increase power a little bit to give a little more coverage area. I don’t think it’s going to be a drastic increase because that would defeat the purpose of community radio, but it would at least give us enough power to cover the entire county.”
The FCC also requires the station to run on donations and sponsorships and does not allow commercials. Griffin said WDZD does not run commercials, just messages from underwriting partners, which he compared to an “audio business card.” He said hosts can only say what the business is, where to reach them, the hours and the location. No calls to action can be made.
The station’s local impact can be seen in its work with nonprofit organizations. WDZD, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, makes an effort to partner with other local nonprofits to support them.
“Nonprofits, to us, have a special place in our hearts,” Melton said. “That’s our brethren.”
Baucom said the station often has nonprofit organizers come in to tell listeners about their organization and how to get involved. In winter 2019, the station supported the Union County Crisis Assistance Ministry and watched listeners rally behind the cause.
“We were on the air on a Friday for a radiothon and listeners came in to drop off food,” Melton said. “By any metric, it was a success. We had a lobby full of food from listeners bringing it to help Union County Crisis Assistance Ministry.”
Then, Melton said, the impact got much bigger than the station imagined. A listener came into the station and said he had four palettes of dry, good food to donate. Melton said there was so much food that the nonprofit could not even pick it up, and another listener donated money for a truck to transport the food to the ministry.
“That is, in my opinion, the definition of community radio,” Melton said. “We’ve got a resource. We’ve got a way to touch people and reach people. It’s our responsibility to use it to make stuff like that happen.”
As the station grows and technology evolves, volunteers are always welcome at WDZD to host shows, work on social media or do other projects. The station also recently launched a podcasting studio as another fundraising mechanism, in which those interested can record in the studio and edit the podcast themselves, or WDZD volunteers can edit and distribute the podcast as part of the service.
Griffin said his long-term goal is to increase the coverage of WDZD. If that happens, the volunteers still want it to serve the local community.
“As big as our footprint gets, we still cater to that small town, hometown radio that belongs to Monroe,” Melton said.
On the web: www.wdzdfm.org