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Volunteers, donors put Native station back on air

Since 1982, northwest Wisconsin was served by WOJB-FM 88.9, the Native-licensed 100,000 watt public radio station at Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation near Hayward. But, over the last few years, the broadcaster has been plagued by technical and financial difficulties. Programming was often only available within a 15-mile radius of the antenna tower or online.

Now WOJB's new general manager, Carissa Corbine, announced work on the tower is complete and listeners as far as 90 miles away can tune in.

LCO Financial Services Community Development Grant, proceeds of a benefit concert and contributions by major donors helped pay for the work.

The project started with a complete revamping of the transmitter building on Larson Hill.

"This will hopefully extend the life off our current transmitter to allow us enough time to raise funds for a new transmitter," said Corbine. "The engineer can now work with heat and air conditioning. The AC isn't just for comfort, either. The high-powered transmitter and associated gear all generate a tremendous amount of heat, which affects the efficiency of the equipment."

The work was made possible by a single, generous listener, Kyle Nemetz, Corbine said.

Nemetz, and friends Mitch Clute and Dean Wahl, cleared brush, painted the building, filled the cinder block holes, and donated and installed a new door. They tore a dilapidated generator building off the back of the main structure and ditched connecting wires to the newer outdoor backup generator.

LCO Development came in and finished the grounds clearing with gravel surrounding the building, and improved the road coming in, and replaced the roof and sprayed foam insulation inside the building. Then Nemetz and Clute helped with the massive rewiring project by donating the materials and working under the guidance of Voyageur Electric owner Ken LaBelle to bring the wiring up to code. LaBelle offered consultations so that everything would be ready when the transmitter would finally be hooked up.

Licensed broadcast engineer Dan Zimmerman of the Twin Cities spent many days doing the the high voltage work on complex circuitry, installing parts that had to be specially ordered to repair the 1982 transmitter, Corbine said.

The broadcast studio also received major work thanks to sound engineer Mark Lundeen. He upgraded the Arrakis audio board by installing a newly purchased automation system, necessary to access the vital paid programming that comes from National Public Radio, Pacifica Radio Network and Native Voice One. If a live host is not available, or if environmental challenges occur, it can even run autonomously. Lundeen designed a second studio for production work.

Of course, the radio station's financial problems exacerbated the physical ones. Fundraising was just not in the cards until full-power broadcasting had resumed. Revenue from business underwriting dwindled, and the yearly fall pledge drive didn't happen. Even the annual grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were affected because required reports were not previously submitted on time. This resulted in several years worth of $25,000 penalties that were deducted from the annual grants.

But, things are looking bright in WOJB's future, Corbine said.

"The listeners love WOJB," she said. "Our supporters are diehard fans of what this Native-licensed station has provided over the years. Even in the worst of times, they dug into their pockets to contribute, and we are thankful for the donations that have been coming in as soon as we turned our transmitter back on. We now made it easier to donate with a newly designed website that will process credit card donations securely. On the same web page they can check our program schedule, learn of special events, get contact information and, of course, listen from anywhere in the world."

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