The Journal News has written several articles on public radio station, WDFH 90.3 FM, in recent years that have covered its unique programming and its struggle to stay on the dial.
Once again, WDFH may be in peril of shutting down if it does not get the necessary funding, says its founder Marc Sophos. Read below for more information from Sophos on the situation, in addition to the various programs it offers.
The lower Hudson valley’s only public radio station, WDFH 90.3 FM and online at WDFH.org, is facing shutdown, and its irreplaceable FM broadcast license will be lost unless the community steps up with greatly increased financial support.
“It’s heartbreaking to have brought the station this far and still be teetering on the edge,” said Marc Sophos, the station’s executive director, who founded the station in an effort that began in 1973. Because no FM frequencies were available so close to New York City, that effort took 20 years.
WDFH went on the air in 1995, but it wasn’t until late 2010 that it simultaneously had both a studio for live program production and a signal that could reach a significant number of potential listeners. “We’ve put the pieces into place,” he said. “The stage is set for us to start building a significant following.”
But the station’s signal expansion project, which increased WDFH’s potential audience to 400,000 lower Hudson valley residents, dragged on for over seven years and had consumed most of the nonprofit station’s cash reserve by the time it was completed in 2009. Mr. Sophos said that before the expansion took place, the station could reach only 10,000 residents, and that without the expansion, WDFH would never have become viable.
And so the station has been living hand to mouth. But tax-deductible donations from listeners and other sources have lagged far behind expenses, and what’s left of the cash reserve is quickly running out. Moreover, WDFH belongs to a category of public radio called community radio, typified by volunteer staffing and modest budgets. Many community radio stations, including WDFH, don’t have access to the established funding structures available to mainstream, NPR-type public radio stations.
Taking WDFH’s existing donations into account — including a major donation from an anonymous resident who made it possible for WDFH to lease its current studio space — the cost of running the station is currently $120,000 per year, a tiny fraction of the budget of other public radio stations. The small budget figure is attributable largely to community radio’s volunteer staffing model.
The station’s programming is belied by the modesty of its budget. WDFH regularly invites lower Hudson valley musicians to its performance studio for performances and long-form interviews. Programs like In Focus and Eyes on Westchester provide in-depth coverage of local news. Recovery Talk is the station’s pioneering program that covers recovery from addiction, trauma, illness, domestic violence, combat violence, and more. If WDFH can raise the funding to survive, it plans to launch a new program, For the Greater Good, that will spotlight a different local nonprofit group in a half hour conversation every week.
And last October, WDFH launched a new program, OutCasting, which gives voice to the issues faced by LGBTQ youth, created and hosted by LGBTQ youth and their straight allies. Thought to be the first radio show of its kind in public radio in the United States, OutCasting has attracted some national attention and was covered in a major front page article in The Journal News.
In addition to these local public affairs programs — all of which are available as podcasts through both WDFH.org and iTunes — the station broadcasts a unique mix of rock, folk, blues, and jazz, along with daily news programs from Pacifica (Democracy Now in the morning and Free Speech Radio News in the evening) and carefully selected other public affairs programs from Pacifica and independent producers.
Melinda Battle, a WDFH volunteer and resident of Bedford Corners who hosts Eyes on Westchester, said, “We are all actively chasing ideas to keep the station alive. It’s such a unique gem. I really feel folks just need to realize what an incredible resource it is.”
In WDFH, our region already has what communities across the country struggle to get. Mr. Sophos noted that the FCC is flooded with applications on the rare occasions when it opens a filing window for new broadcast licenses. There is intense competition for virtually every available frequency across the country, and relatively few applications are actually granted.
“We’ve been through that already, and we have the irreplaceable broadcast license. It’s ours to lose, and we hope that the community will step forward to make sure that we don’t lose it.” He added that it is unlikely that another frequency will become available in our area in the future, so if WDFH’s license is lost, there will probably not be another chance for local public radio in the lower Hudson valley.
“I think that Westchester and Rockland have to decide what kind of community they want to be and what kinds of resources will help build that community,” he said. “A lot of people think of our area as just a bedroom for New York City, but actually there’s a lot going on here. A local public radio station can be an amazing and powerful resource that can bridge the gap between the local arts and nonprofit culture and the majority of residents who aren’t in touch with that culture.”
If WDFH is unable to reach its funding goals, the broadcast license will be turned over to another entity, probably a public or religious broadcaster from another state that would eliminate all possibility of local programming.
Vinny Cohan, a resident of Croton-on-Hudson and another longtime WDFH volunteer, said that there are many large-scale philanthropists in the lower Hudson valley and that he hopes that the station will gain their attention. At the same time, he noted, “A thousand people contributing $10 per month would enable us to reach our budget goal for this year.”
If the station can establish funding of $100,000 or more, it can apply for annual grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It could also become eligible for more corporate and foundation grants.
Right now, though, the station isn’t close to that income level, and Mr. Cohan noted that with funds running out, some cutbacks have already been made. “The situation is urgent at this point,” he said. “We have a precious resource in WDFH and it would be a terrible thing to lose it. We hope that the community will step up to the plate.”
Anyone interested in assisting should contact Mr. Sophos at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 674-0900 ext. 58 or visit WDFH.org for other ways to help.
WDFH, Westchester Public Radio, is the lower Hudson Valley’s only local public radio station — a community station run mainly by volunteers. The station is owned by Hudson Valley Community Radio, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
WDFH is an affiliate of the Pacifica Radio Network. It can be heard on the air at 90.3 FM in central and northern Westchester, eastern Rockland, and parts of southern Putnam and far western Connecticut. It can also be heard anywhere online at WDFH.org. Archives of shows are available on the station’s web site and on iTunes (search for “wdfh”). Over the years, WDFH has been covered by The New York Times, WNBC-TV, The Journal News, The Gazette, The Examiner, The Enterprise, Westchester Magazine, the Westchester County Business Journal, and many other news outlets.
Photo of Marc Sophos in the studio taken by TJN.