by Branden Jaquays
Tom Laurenson moved to Little Falls in 2001, just about a year after the city’s longtime AM radio station WLFH went silent. “I’ve always wanted to get local radio going,” says Laurenson, one sunny Sunday afternoon in late March. Laurenson, with a radio transmitter in hand, is overseeing the instillation of a low-watt AM radio broadcast system at the Little Falls Senior Community Center. The community center, located at 524 Main Street, has become the home of Little Falls Radio and the low-wattage transmitter and antenna being installed on the roof will broadcast a signal strong enough to cover about a mile in radius, reaching the downtown area.
Little Falls Radio can be heard on AM band 1610, “We don’t have to worry about call letters because we don’t require an FCC license” explains Laurenson, “that’s because we are a low-watt part 15.” According to the Federal Communications Commission, low-power, non-licensed transmitters are used virtually everywhere; cordless phones, baby monitors and even garage door openers all operate under this classification. Laurenson says Little Falls Radio will carry live community events for local residents to hear; things like open mic nights, high school and community plays, musical performances and even political debates. “If it’s not local, then we aren’t interested,” he says pragmatically. Laurenson has been collecting an audio archive of community events for the past year, those events will be broadcast, along with police and fire news bulletins and special event advisories and announcements; things like parking information and event schedules during the city’s Canal Day celebration.
Longtime Little Falls resident, Dr. Oscar Stivala remembers how the community responded to local radio decades earlier, “I remember doing the radiothon at the hospital, they would come with the equipment and people would ask questions about medical problems and we would answer them,” he recalls. Dr. Stivala is referring to the annual fundraiser that local for-profit radio stations produced for Little Falls Hospital during years past; he remembers how it brought the community together. “It’s so great that we are going to have it again,” he says smiling, referring to the return of community-based radio programming.
Little Falls Radio is on the air now, but a few tweaks need to be done before the station is fully operational, “Once we get it up and running we will see how far it goes, then we will see about extending the system,” he says, envisioning at least two more transmitter repeater sites to boost the signal, one on the east end of the city, possibly near Little Falls’ hospital and the other near the west end, by Furnace Street. These additional sites will cost about $1,000 each, however Laurenson says this transmitter network will also be able to provide wireless internet access, an added bonus “Free Wi-Fi within the city, that’s a great draw for tourists.”