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CHIRP Radio To Hit the Public Airwaves After '7-year Odyssey'

By Darryl Holliday | November 20, 2014 3:26pm
 It’s been more than seven years in the making but independent online radio favorite CHIRP is finally on its way to a spot on Chicago’s FM dial.
It’s been more than seven years in the making but independent online radio favorite CHIRP is finally on its way to a spot on Chicago’s FM dial.
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LOGAN SQUARE — It’s been more than seven years in the making, but independent radio station CHIRP is finally on its way to a spot on Chicago’s FM dial.

The Chicago Independent Radio Project has been awarded a construction permit to build a station tower at its North Center home, 4045 N. Rockwell Ave.

Several hurdles remain until CHIRP’s broadcast signal goes out to neighborhoods on the North and Northwest sides, but the permit is a huge win, according to CHIRP founder Shawn Campbell.

“We had to change the law at the federal level,” she said. “We got what we wanted after all this time, and the result is hundreds of stations being licensed across the country.”

The fight for the Local Community Radio Act involved a grassroots coalition of hundreds of community activists, independent stations and public media supporters from around the country and was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2010, allowing stations like CHIRP to exist on the broadcast spectrum.

“This 7-year odyssey shows us there’s still a lot of passion out there for local radio that is intelligent and speaks to the interests of their audience,” Campbell said. “When you produce local-based content, you have an outlet for local music and conversation about issues going on in the area … there’s a hunger for actual human connections and something that’s put together with loving care.”

CHIRP is expected to be on air at 107.1 FM in summer or fall of 2015. The signal will extend for about a 3.5 mile radius from the North Center station, but the exact range is an “imperfect science” depending on a variety of factors from radio quality to elevation, Campbell said.

The broadcast range covers as far south as Logan Square, where many of CHIRP’s 250-member volunteer staff live; Avondale, Uptown, Lakeview, Albany Park, Lincoln Square, Irving Park, Edgewater and North Center are also among areas that should be able to tune into CHIRP at 107.1 FM.

The online station gets about 67,000 tune-ins per month and Campbell expects to add listeners when CHIRP goes live on the dial.

“In some ways discovery is easier when you’re dealing with a finite resource,” she said. “It remains the number one question we’re asked when we’re out at events — it doesn’t matter if they’re 20 years old or 60 years old — ‘what number on the dial are you?’”

Legitimacy is an issue with online radio, she said, and access is another, because “the people who are shut out of tech are traditionally those shut out of media."

Reaching marginalized groups is another hurdle CHIRP hopes to alleviate with its entrance to the radio dial, Campbell said.

While the station still has work to do — including meeting city permitting requirements and fundraising for an antenna and other materials for the tower, which could cost up to $35,000 — plans are to stick with the shows and formatting that made CHIRP a Chicago institution to begin with, including its popular annual record fair.

“It doesn’t mean we build a tower and throw the switch tomorrow,” Campbell said. “But we’ve always treated it as if it were a broadcast station, because we always assumed we were going to be on the radio some day.”

CHIRP’s five-year anniversary is set for January 2015 and will come with a year’s worth of special events, Campbell said.

Look out for a Logan Square celebration, the Chicago Music Dinner, Jan. 19 at Lula Café.