Debra Hensley leads effort for low-power community radio station

Insurance agent and activist Debra Hensley.
Insurance agent and activist Debra Hensley. Photo provided

Lexington businesswoman Debra Hensley, well-known for her "social stimulus" initiatives highlighting interesting and often unknown aspects of Lexington, is now leading an effort to bring that same spirit to local airwaves.

"We want something really locally relevant, with community engagement and empowering programs," Hensley said of her effort to bring a low-power, community radio station to Lexington.

She said she had been discussing the idea recently with people in the area who know radio, including WUKY-91.3 FM general manager Tom Godell and Lexington artist Mick Jeffries.

Now, with the Local Community Radio Act signed in 2011 by President Barack Obama, Hensley says she and a group of interested parties are working toward an October application deadline to get a frequency.

Low-power stations, which cover a range of 31/2 to 10 miles, according to the Prometheus Radio Project, are most prevalent in rural areas. But the Community Radio Act opened the possibility for stations in more populous areas by reducing the distance on the dial required between stations.

Hensley envisions a station that would reach much of the core of Lexington and provide a forum for everything from hyper-local news to a forum for ideas and discussion to a place to hear local performers.

"I love the idea of small ... bigger is not always better ... small means local," Hensley wrote in an email. "From broadcasting an announcement about a lost dog, a neighborhood meeting, to a public forum on race relations to a hub for teaching young people skills and giving them a voice."

Recently, Hensley had been dabbling in podcasting, creating programs on people including Kentucky Theatre manager Fred Mills and heirloom seed expert Bill Best.

Hensley said Tanya Torp, who is known for her numerous activities with organizations including the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center and the William Wells Brown Neighborhood Association, will help head up the radio project.

Hensley said July will begin an intense period of work to make sure they meet all the requirements for a station, including committing to 20 hours of local programming a week.

"I don't want to miss this opportunity," Hensley said. "This really has the potential to empower local voices and impact the community."