When Dennis Winslow proudly opened the door to the home of Beaver Island’s first radio station he grinned from ear to ear.
“Noone knows this is back here,” he said.
From the outside, the building appeared right out of a history book, sporting a facade from decades past.
The inside, however, was a refined modern community center, complete with a full theater, stage, and a full scale computer lab for use by the community
When I spoke with him in July, Winslow told me the newest edition to the center is what he’s most proud of.
“We got the license last October I think was when it was granted. Last summer we built the station with the control board and the computer system and started streaming. And a week ago last Sunday we put the FM transmitter on the air.”
Winslow is one of a small group of people who are keeping Beaver Island’s first radio station running behind the scenes.
“Ya know it’s an interesting kind of group because we all do everything. My background is commercial programming. Kevin the lawyer is also a great I.T guy so he built all the computer systems and actually wired the transmitter.”A marketing consultant who’s learning how to program and a voiceover personality from a Detroit radio station round out the rest of the station’s roster.
Winslow said from the start, the station was intended to be a way to communicate with the community, and not just a source of entertainment.
With the island’s rough winters, Winslow said getting important messages out can be difficult.
“Now, the island has always been able to communicate via a phone tree, which you know is cumbersome and if someone is in the bathroom with their kid getting ‘em ready they don’t hear the phone. With the radio station we can tell people, ‘Hey, schools are down today’ or if the planes aren’t flying we can let people know that.”
If safety through communication is their primary goal, a close second would have to be creative community expression.
Winslow said the station’s airwaves are open to the public. They even teach classes on how to make your own program.
“The goal was to teach them how to use this radio station, and then do with it whatever they wanted. We taught them how to edit digitally we gave them the software.”
Winslow said some people are already taking advantage of the new creative outlet.
“We have kids that work at the Paradise Bay coffee shop. They do a top ten. They go out there and they put together the music, they do the voice tracks. Again they ship ‘em in to us and we put it together. We have another guy who’s on the island who’s a techie he does a show called tech tips.”
They’re also working with members of the historical society to rebroadcast antique performances and stories from the island’s past.
“One of our goals too, is to gather audio from some of the longtime residents and let them tell their stories on the air, and we’ve started doing that.”
Winslow said one of the most popular programs they’ve aired was a memorial service to a respected island member. He said it was a shining example of what they’re going for with this station.
I could see the delight in Winslow’s eyes as he explained why the station is so ingrained in the community after only a year.
“Everybody on the island is so involved that we’ve had people volunteer to help us wire. We’ve had people volunteer – none of us are paid – I mean we’re all doing this because we love what this station is and can become. Which is great, and that also gets buy-in from the people on the island because now it’s their radio station, because they ran the wires to the antennae!”
The placement of the radio station is only too fitting. It seemingly represents a common motif I came across on the island.
Modern technology housed within a row of buildings that all look, on the outside, as they did a century ago.
A clear illustration of the connection between classic and contemporary that the islanders seem to strive to achieve.