Marika Partridge first became passionate about radio when she stumbled upon a community radio station in Alaska while working as a cartographer. Now 32 years later and after 16 years as the director of NPR’s All Things Considered, Partridge, on the 16th, is celebrating the one-year anniversary of WOWD-LP Takoma Park 94.3FM, the radio station she founded.
“I can walk over to a radio station, open the door and get on the air," Said Partridge. "It’s as if some angel designed my retirement plan for me.”
Partridge, who retired from NPR to take care of her autistic child, first had the idea for local DC radio after hearing about the Prometheus Project, a non-profit organization focused on building low-powered radio stations.
When the Local Community Radio Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2010, the FCC was mandated to issue new noncommercial licenses to nonprofits including those in major metropolitan areas, which used to be closed off to low-powered radio stations.
"It gave radio back to the people," commented Partridge.
Partridge then spread the word throughout the community, the landlord of the station, the owner of Airshow Mastering, Charlie Pilzer, was an early backer of the project.
Historic Takoma Inc. stepped in as the non-profit sponsor for WOWD. The application was submitted to the FCC in 2013 and approved in 2015. The station went live in July 2016.
According to program director Dèsirèe Bayonet, there's an emphasis on being representative of the diversity of the quarter-million people inside the Takoma Radio signal radius.
“We need to have a broad range of ethnic, and cultural groups, and a big a part of that is age," said Bayonet, “the youngest programmer is ten, the oldest 70.”
One of the programmers who exemplify this diversity is former Harvard professor Carolivia Herron, who turns 70 this month. According to Herron, she is called the “Grandmother of Hip-Hop,” because she taught one of the first classes on Hip Hop in the 1980s at Harvard, featuring guest speakers like Public Enemy, and Queen Latifah.
“I try to weave the stories of everyone into one narrative about the nature of a people,” said Herron about the goal of her show, Epic City which airs on Tuesdays from 4-5 pm. For 22-year-old Ethiopian DJ Gabriel Melaku, WOWD offers an alternative to commercial radio. He uses a DJ controller to mix tracks live on air Sunday nights, 11 pm to midnight.
"I got tired of listening to the BS on the radio," said Melaku. "They didn't play a lot of what was considered underground Hip-Hop or R&B. I want to remind people that there's good music out there, not just the stuff they listen to on commercial radio or T.V."
According to Bayonet, the station has applied for grants to help start a Spanish language show; she also wishes to launch a French language show to accommodate the area’s large West African Francophone population.
On Sunday, the station will host local live music from 12 pm to 7 pm. Along with the music; there is a CD and Vinyl sale, and ice cream provided by El Carreton.
"Our mission is to use community radio to build bridges," said Partridge, when asked about the future of WOWD. "You start to understand each other and create a bond between people who don't hang out with each other. We are one people, and this is our shared radio station."