G-town started in 2006 as a livestream. In 2018 they obtained a low-power license to also broadcast at 92.9 FM, Wednesday through Sunday, over what they consider their target audience in Northwest Philadelphia
Tom Cassetta became General Manager of G-town Radio in January 2020, just before everything locked down. He buries his face in his hands for a second and looks up with a grin.
“We had a really smooth transition, then all of a sudden…it’s just different.”
G-town started in 2006 as a livestream, fashioned after college and small-town stations founder Jim Bear used to work at. In 2018 they obtained a low-power license to also broadcast at 92.9 FM, Wednesday through Sunday. The broadcast range covers what they consider their target audience in Northwest Philadelphia: North to Cresheim Valley Road, south to Ridge Avenue, east past Cheltenham Avenue, west to Belmont Avenue. They’re on the air every day at gtownradio.com or through a phone app.
“Home production skills had to change…How do you bring in guests? That was a huge thing,” said Casetta. A grant from the Philadelphia COVID-19 Community Information Fund helped them remodel their studios, modernize equipment and obtain software and equipment so programs could be produced from home while the pandemic kept their building on the Maplewood Mall shut. With everyone using Zoom or similar platforms, Internet radio became even more dependent on the Internet.
One of Cassetta’s goals was avoiding pre-recorded content.
“Even our programmers doing it from home were able to keep that fresh liveliness going, which I can’t say surprised us,” he said. “It affirmed we had a good team going forward. It made us realize we were at a good point, we can do this right now. If anything, the pandemic reinforced what we believe the radio station mission is, and how it has an impact on the community.”
Community radio follows a different programming model than commercial stations. Program Director Joanna Wikander screens proposals from locals with an interest, but not necessarily a radio background.
“Community members come to us and they say ‘Hey I’m interested in a show.’ So there’s a proposal process,” she said. “From there, we start training. We want eclectic. We want stuff you can’t hear elsewhere. We want stuff that’s locally focused.
“One of the things about this kind of radio is that people come in here with no training; they’ve never done a radio show before. Sometimes that technical curve is difficult.”
One of the programs in development is a show run by high school students to promote voter registration among 18-year-olds. David Brown recently started a Saturday evening program, Jazz Continuum. He is a geologist with no background in broadcasting but a huge record collection. On the web page describing his show, he concludes with “Tune in…so my obsessions are justified!”
Some of their programming is provided by Germantown United Community Development Corporation and the Germantown Life Enrichment Center. On any given day, there is a mix of music, shows about real estate, environmental issues, community updates, economics, and even a weekly radio drama.
“I’ve always used this analogy that we have these vast airwaves that’s like a public park,” Cassetta said. “Nobody owns it, we’re just the stewards. As you go through this park, there’s different kinds of discussions going on…sometimes you’re involved, sometimes there’s stuff that doesn’t interest you, but overall it’s a gathering place.”
“We spent the year trying to find the balance,” Wikander said. She told programmers they didn’t have to talk about the pandemic or the election. “We need those little oases.”
Cassetta and Wikander are actively soliciting public service announcements from the community.
“If they have information that’s community, civic or culturally minded, we would love to make PSAs,” said Cassetta. “Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.” Sometimes these contacts have lead to show development. The Infohub Hour, Thursdays at 5 pm, started as a series of pandemic updates sent in by the Germantown Infohub.