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Don’t touch that dial: Radio St. Pete hits the 10-year mark

Bill DeYoung

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Members of the Radio St. Pete team during the Aug. 12, 2023 live broadcast of "The Florida Folk Show," from the front porch of Craftsman House Gallery. From left: Jeff Schorr, Anna Marie, Wolf Smith Butz, J. Kolb, Joe Bourdow, Pete Gallagher and Tim Valle. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

While St. Petersburg’s many talented artists can show their work in galleries, open-house studios and other exhibition venues, the city’s musicians – those who write, play and record original songs – don’t have a lot of easy options.

Joe Bourdow, the retired president of Valpak (1996-2009), used that sad statistic as his jumping-off point when he launched Radio St. Pete, a non-commercial online station, in 2013.

Bourdow had always been a music fan, and early in his career, was a DJ on his college radio station (he also spent 13 years as executive vice president of Cox Target Media, which is kind of in the same ballpark).

In March 2021, Radio St. Pete took to the actual airwaves, too: The Federal Communications Commission awarded Bourdow – president of the nonprofit board of directors and the station manager – the license and signal for 96.7 FM. Sixty-five watts of raw broadcasting power.

Click here: Radio St. Pete website

Radio St. Pete celebrated its 10-year anniversary July 4. The all-local vision remains, even as listenership has increased, the all-volunteer staff grew and more and more musicians heard about it and sent their work over for the much-needed exposure.

“Adding the FM station, even in today’s world, made a huge difference,” Bourdow reflects. “It was almost as if we gained a level of credibility that we didn’t have in the past just being online.”

As in, anyone with dedication can pretty much kickstart an online radio station. However, “With a licensed station, there’s a barrier for entry, because there’s a limited number of them. You have to meet certain complications, follow the rules and all those kinds of things.”

Complication Number One: A station, whether the signal is strong or not-so, must have a transmitter and a tower from which to transmit. Radio St. Pete broadcasts from a 14-foot tower high atop a downtown apartment building.

“The potential audience – the number of people who can actually hear the FM – is about the size of Des Moines, Iowa,” Bourdow points out. “Approximately 200,000 people.”

The FCC license is non-commercial and educational, which means Radio St. Pete has underwriters instead of advertisers. And a certain percentage of the programming has to be of the public affairs variety.

Online, the station maintains a library of local podcasts (including some from the St. Pete Catalyst), and programs news and public information specials often. There are currently three streams on the website: A simulcast of the FM transmission, another that alternates between syndicated and local programming, and a third, in the early stages, dedicated to local sports.

Twenty percent of programming consists of syndicated public radio shows that do not air on Tampa-based WUSF or WMNF, including the music programs Folk Alley, Wood Songs, Acoustic Café and Night Lights.

Broadcast live on Saturday mornings is The Florida Folk Show, spotlighting regional acoustic musicians, who appear in person.

Crooked and Wide perform live on “The Florida Folk Show” Saturday, Aug, 12, 2023.

The two most often-used words in Joe Bourdow’s vocabulary are “local” and “music.” For him, that’s why Radio St. Pete exists.

“I think the original idea of having a local audio platform, radio or internet or however it’s delivered, continues to make a lot of sense – really focused not on the Tampa Bay area, but on St. Pete.

“And when you add to it the presence of – now – some 3,000 individual musicians from throughout the area, that’s a big number. These are local musicians who don’t get played on commercial radio.”

It isn’t perfect – yet. Some programs are hosted (Bourdow himself is an announcer and newscaster), while others are automated, without a human presence. There are five “virtual” studios, in volunteers’ homes, but no central location.

As he looks down the road at Radio St. Pete’s next decade, establishing a fixed, permanent home for his hardworking volunteer “family” is high on Bourdow’s wish list.

“Like everything else, things evolve,” he says. “And I don’t think it was necessary the first 10 years, but to get to the next level, we need a central location. And yes, it will be in the heart of downtown St. Pete. Somewhere.”

A home studio, in the Jungle Prada neighborhood – the “Mark O Radio Happy Hour Show.” Image provided.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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