Lexington is getting closer to having its own nonprofit, non-commercial, community-based radio station.
Spearheaded by insurance agent and former Urban County Council member Debra Hensley, the volunteer-run station is ahead of schedule on an Oct. 1 deadline for broadcast.
"Think of it as NPR (National Public Radio) but hyper, hyper local," Hensley said.
Commercial radio was deregulated in 1996. Consequently, major corporations quickly bought a large number of the nation's locally owned radio stations.
Never miss a local story.
As a result, the Federal Communications Commission in 2000 began to dole out licenses to non-profits for low-power radio stations to serve particular communities. However, radio lobbyists pressured Congress into keeping the FCC from granting any more licenses.
And that was how the issue stood until the Local Community Radio Act in 2011.
The act directed the FCC to issue low-power FM licenses, which largely consist of a construction permit, to community nonprofits across the U.S.
Lexington's community radio will focus mostly on public wellness, as well as entertainment, community announcements, public health and other topics of local interest.
"My goal is for this station not to be just a Lexington station, but for it to be a vanguard station for other communities to draw from," Hensley said.
The financial side will run like any other non-profit radio station, with funds coming from grants, foundations, listener support, memberships, individual donations and underwriting.
The coverage area for the station — and a planned second station — will stretch over most of Lexington, but there will also be a free app that allows users anywhere to listen to the station free.
The first of the stations, WLXL-LPFM, will broadcast on 95.7 by the Oct. 1 deadline from studios at the former Johnson Elementary School at 123 East Sixth Street. The transmitter is on the Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus off Leestown Road.
Hensley and others that comprise Lexington Public Radio are passionate about creating a voice and a community for less-prosperous contingents of Lexington, so the goal is to phase the first station into an all-Spanish station in three years.
"We want to make sure those low-income communities aren't overlooked like they often are by local broadcast media," said Hap Houlihan, general manager of the station.
The second station, WLXU-LPFM, will broadcast on 93.9 and has an April, 2016 deadline.
The main difference between the two stations will be the increasing Spanish-speaking and Latino-centric programming that will accompany the first station.
As that station is phased into a Latino-centric station, the second station will remain public radio for the community at large.
"The impact will be (introducing an) opportunity for communities to make and listen to radio programs that affect them — and voice topics that generally aren't given a voice in Lexington," said board member Kakie Urch, who is also director of programming and community engagement.
Urch, an associate professor of multimedia in the school of journalism and telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, was also a founder of UK's student-run radio station, WRFL-FM 88.1.
"Debra Hensley and Lexington's city council gave us the final $10,000 that made the station (WRFL) possible," Urch said. "So when Debra comes to me 25 years later and says, 'Will you help me start a radio station?' I said, 'I think I owe you a radio station.' It's a full-circle thing."