It sounded like a joke: The economy's so bad (how bad is it?) that a funky, spunky local community radio station has resorted to asking its cash-strapped supporters not for money at the moment but for … scrap metal.
That's right. Lawn mowers, washing machines, aluminum cans, car batteries and Christmas lights. Bronze, brass, copper, steel. Come Monday, they'll take it. And has it really come to this?
Well, yes, it has, when community radio loses state funding, when loyal listeners call in to pledge drives to apologize because they can't afford to give, when the station lays off employees for the first time in its history until a big donation helps save the day (a classic WMNF-FM 88.5 ending, by the way).
But maybe the station's "Scrapping for the Airwaves" drive next week is less a sign-of-the-times tale of despair than a story of a Tampa Bay institution that has long survived by being, pardon the pun, scrappy.
WMNF has come a long way since cranking up in an old house in Tampa's Hyde Park neighborhood in 1979, back when a band of believers went door-to-door raising money to make community radio happen. (News and public affairs director Rob Lorei remembers getting 20 bucks, huge at the time, from a guy who turned out to be Bucs quarterback Doug Williams.) After stints in a church and a leaky-roofed bungalow, they moved in 2005 into a listener-funded $2.1-million building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It's the kind of place where peace signs and rainbow stickers adorn bumpers in the parking lot, and no one minds when a volunteer brings her dog to hang out while she works.
If you have not listened, it would be easy to dismiss this as some lefty, post-hippie station exclusively for those of the same ilk. WMNF, with its particular politics and spirited call-in shows, is definitely a voice against the chorus of right-wing radio.
Some people still believe WMNF pulled votes from Al Gore in the 2000 election against George Bush because the station featured Ralph Nader during the campaign. And back when John Grant, who was a conservative state senator at the time, pushed to deny the station a $104,000 grant, listeners rose up to donate $122,000 — another classic WMNF ending.
This week, you could go on their website to hear a Daily Show "reporter" asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who believes in drug testing welfare recipients, to pee in a cup himself.
But even if Amy Goodman's relentless Democracy Now! is not your thing, there's so much more to hear. (Radio for the rest of us, they call it.) Besides the bluegrass, folk and '60s music you would expect, shows on Jewish music and culture, women's issues, a polka party, Latino music and one about animals all have had homes at WMNF. I'm not totally sure what Christian crunk is, but you can hear it on a hip-hop gospel show Sundays, following the more traditional gospel hour.
So this fundraising idea may be less grim than inspired. Maybe we don't have a shekel to spare for a pledge drive, but a rusty refrigerator? That we've got. It's just the little radio station that could, long part of our local landscape, scrapping for support again— just more literally than usual.
For more details about Scrapping for the Airways, go to www.wmnf.org and look under WMNF Blog.