Takoma Park’s WOWD-LP 94.3 FM, a low-power community radio station, will mark its fifth anniversary on the air with its first live remote broadcast Saturday, July 17 from The Streetery in front of Takoma Beverage Co. on Laurel Avenue.
Marika Partridge founded the station, her second experience starting a community station. As senior adviser, she now volunteers as part of the three-person management team. She’s also part of a rotating group of hosts airing traditional ballads on Friday mornings.
“I’m a big believer in community radio, and I got into community radio when I was 20 and had just moved to Alaska,” she said. “There was community radio on the dial in Juneau.”
She later moved to Sitka, Alaska where she’s credited with starting KCAW, a community/public radio station there, in 1981.
Partridge left Alaska in 1985 to take a position with National Public Radio in Washington. She worked there for 16 years, during 14 of which Partridge directed “All Things Considered.”
She left to, among other things, home school one of three children while doing some freelance producing. In 2011, she heard about the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to give away low-power frequencies for community radio and thought Takoma Park would be a perfect place for a station.
Through a local listserv, she found a neighbor, Michael Richards, she knew from NPR. Richards, a FCC attorney, was willing to come on as an adviser to help fill out the exacting form to apply for a license in 2013.
“It’s a hideous competition at the ground level,” Partridge said. “You go after a frequency, you’re not allowed to share with anybody which one you’re going for, you’re not allowed to do any collusion or collaborating that would land it, you have to be a nonprofit. There’s so much.”
In the end, five other entities also were applying for the 94.3 frequency. All of them were eventually disqualified in the process. In 2015, WOWD was born as a project of Historic Takoma Inc., going on the air on July 16, 2016.
“We were left with the prize,” Partridge said. “It was incredible.”
“I hoped to accomplish what is happening,” Partridge said when asked about her goal for the station. “It does itself, and COVID has really underscored how it does itself.
“We don’t need to be in there,” she added. “People know what they’re doing, they’re well trained and they’re interesting on the radio.”
Six of those programmers will be featured as part of a special anniversary lineup on Friday, July 16, including:
- Partridge at 10 a.m. playing upbeat, celebratory music, followed by
- Jazz DJ Bobby Hill at 11
- Reggae with the Soul Rebel at noon
- Rock & roll with Robbie White at 1 p.m.
- A daytime musical clinic with WOWD’s Night Nurse (aka Madona Tyler LeBlanc) at 2, and
- Rock en español with Raton Rockero at 3 p.m.
Friday night is WOWD Night at Blair Stadium as station programmers and listeners watch a game as the Silver Spring Takoma Thunderbolts play in the Cal Ripken Summer Collegiate League.
During Saturday’s event, the station will be selling new summer T-shirts (designed by local artist Trap Bob) and thousands of CDs at $1 each. The live broadcast will feature two-hour shows including:
- Roots Rock Reggae with The Soul Rebel (Suzette Gardner) at 1 p.m.
- The Flex with Jose Hernandez, Mary Regalado and Awad Bilal at 3 p.m.
- Roadside Attraction (vintage Americana with Brian McGuire at 4 p.m., and
- Roots & Wings with Chris Chafe, Becky Linafelt, and Reid Cramer at 6 p.m. to close the event.
The staff also has started training new programmers after the pandemic caused them to cease that activity. Partridge said there are 10 new people ready to go on the air (though DJs are still wearing masks in the studio when broadcasting).
As low-power FM station (one operating at less than 100 watts), WOWD’s 20-watt transmission can reach a potential audience of about 250,000 listeners within about five miles of its tower and studio at 7014-B Westmoreland Ave.
Except for two shows (one in both Spanish and English) dedicated to community public affairs, the station airs a wide variety of music.
“We have a library that’s huge,” Partridge said, “that’s filled with good music from all over the world in every genre.
“[The station] has met my expectations,” she added. “I just want five more [years], and five more.”
Photo of WOWD’s Night Nurse (host of WOWD’s Musical Remedies) Madona Tyler LeBlanc courtesy WOWD.