WOJB is Back to Full Power

Saturday, January 13, 2018 | by James Richard Bailey |

Since 1982 northwest Wisconsin has been served by WOJB 88.9 FM, the Native-licensed 100,000 watt public radio station emanating from the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Reservation near Hayward. But, over the last few years the Woodland Community broadcaster has been plagued by technical and financial problems. Their programming was often only available within a fifteen mile radius from the antenna tower, as online streaming through their website at www.wojb.org, and with the TuneIn app. 

Now WOJB's new general manager, Carissa Corbine, is finally able to announce that all of the work at the tower site has been completed. The broadcaster is finally back on the air with a signal that reaches listeners within about 70 miles of the transmitter.  In perfect weather conditions, at its peak efficiency that range extends to over 90 miles. 

WOJB General Manager Carissa Corbine

Thanks to an LCO Financial Services Community Development Grant, the proceeds from a benefit concert, and contributions by major donors, what was once thought to be nearly a $60,000 project has been carried out for much less.

The project started with a complete revamping of the transmitter building on Larson Hill. Carissa described the project. “This will hopefully extend the life off our current transmitter to allow us enough time to raise funds for a new transmitter. The building for the first time ever is a well maintained, professional site. 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. It also keeps the building's air clean for the same reason. Work high up the 400 foot antenna tower was also needed to put new bulbs in the legally required flashing red warning lights.”

“This all began because of the help of one single generous listener, Kyle Nemetz, as we didn't have the resources to begin the project. We couldn't upgrade the electrical system without first sealing the building. This would have required around $60,000 which was not in our budget as a community station that generates its own revenue. We are extremely grateful for all that has been done by so many people to help WOJB,” said Ms. Corbine.

First Kyle, along with friends Mitch Clute and Dean Wahl, cleared the site of brush overgrowth. Then they painted the building, filled the cinder block holes, donated and installed a new door. They tore the dilapidated old generator building off the back of the main structure and ditched in 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. They replaced the roof and sprayed foam insulation inside the building. Then Kyle and Mitch helped with the massive rewiring project by donating the materials and working under the guidance of Voyageur Electric owner Ken La belle to bring the wiring up to code, as it was suspected that this was the cause of years of equipment failures. LaBelle was kind enough to offer consultations so that everything would be ready when the transmitter would finally be hooked up.

Next came the work on the actual transmitter, which is a used version of the original Harris device from 1982. It was purchased two years ago, and has itself needed many repairs due to age and the electrical issues at the site, and has needed new parts which are not always immediately available. 

“It's not a modern, solid state transmitter. It is tube-based and has had a cascade of component failures. Licensed broadcast engineer Dan Zimmerman of the Twin Cities has spent quite a number of days doing the the high voltage work on its complex circuitry, installing parts that had to be specially ordered,” she explained.

WOJB transmitter building at the base of the 400 foot antenna tower on Larson 

The transmitter depends upon a rotary power converter that turns single-phase electricity into three-phase, which has operated since 1982 with virtually no maintenance. It's blow out led WOJB to discover that the entire site had to be upgraded before an electrician would reconnect the power, as the current wiring was not only dangerous but not up to code for operating the high power equipment.

Such electronic work was not limited to the transmitter site, either. 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, which is necessary to access the vital paid programming that comes from National Public Radio, Pacifica Radio Network and Native Voice One. Automation is an especially useful feature for a radio station that broadcasts 24 hours a day. If a live host is not available, or if environmental challenges occur, it can even run autonomously. This will help to prevent the dreaded “dead air”. Lundeen also designed a second studio for production work, and generally organized and brought all of the wiring in the broadcast studio up to code.

Of course, the radio station's financial problems exacerbated the physical ones. Fund raising was just not in the cards until full power broadcasting had resumed. Revenues from business underwriting dwindled, and the yearly Fall Pledge Drive didn't happen. Even the annual grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) were affected because required reports were not previously submitted on time. This resulted in several years worth of $25,000 penalties which were deducted from the CPB's annual grants. Furthermore, those grants are matching in nature, and the calculations depend upon amounts of Non-Federal Financial Support like business underwriting and listener donations. Being on low power so much made raising those local contributions very difficult because it seemed to many outside of that range as if WOJB was off the air entirely. In short, it was a downward spiral.

But, things are looking bright in WOJB's future. General Manager Corbine is delighted to say that “The listeners love WOJB. 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.”

WOJB 88.9 FM's format is unusual in this day of public radio specialization, offering both eclectic music styles plus progressive news and public affairs blocks. The weekday hosts are Eric Schubring with Local Morning Edition and Jeff Jones with the Afternoon Show. Throughout the evenings and weekends dedicated volunteers play music with styles encompassing blues, folk, jazz, Native, country, honky tonk, world beat and about every other style one can imagine.

Ms. Corbine concluded by saying, “We have had significant issues over the past year that I didn't anticipate when I started, but with the generosity of this community and their love for the station, we are back on track to delivering the programming that people from all over the world enjoy. Thank you for the letters, emails, phone calls, and Facebook love from all the listeners who support WOJB 88.9 Woodland Community Radio and the dedicated volunteers who make it all possible. We are here for you!”

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