TAMPA — For some, the words "scrap metal" might evoke images of shadowy figures hopping fences and scaling walls, prying copper wiring from the back of air conditioning units or brass bars from the bottom of cellphone towers.
Such desperate thieves have struck so often in recent years, that the practice of trading metal for cash is one regarded as dirty by some.
But not the folks at WMNF. Tampa's community radio station is asking supporters to donate metals to next week's "Scrapping for the Airwaves" fundraiser.
Starting Monday, listeners can recycle junk metals at the radio station's east parking lot, at 1210 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The donated items will be turned over to a local metal recycler in exchange for funds that will be used to keep the station on the air.
"It's probably unusual, but we're known for doing unusual things," said Laura Taylor, WMNF's development director.
With a rough economy and the cancellation of state funding for community radio, WMNF operators looks for help where they can find it. Though 70 percent of the station's $1.6 million budget comes from listener contributions, significant portions come from special events and fundraisers, Taylor said.
"We always strive to think of new ways to raise money," Taylor said.
Joe Griffith, a Tampa artist affiliated with the Experimental Skeleton arts group, came up with the idea for a scrap metal fundraiser after seeing the 2010 Brazilian documentary Waste Land, which tells the story of an artist who creates mosaic portraits from materials gathered from a landfill.
"I thought, wow, there's a lot of people throwing out metal," Griffith said. "Why not target a venue and use it to fund their program."
Last year, Griffith helped launch his own group's "Scrapping for the Arts" initiative, an experimental fundraising effort for local arts venues.
Since then, the group has hosted scrap metal donation efforts for the West Tampa Center for the Arts and the Tempus Projects art gallery. Those projects brought in a few hundred dollars each, Griffith said. But he anticipates the WMNF project will produce even bigger results.
"People don't have to write a check or anything," Griffith said. "They just have to clean out their garages and stuff."
Copper wire and pipes, Christmas lights, steel and cast iron, air handlers, refrigerators, washing machines, household appliances, and industrial metals are all on the list of acceptable items for donations to the radio station.
Among the unacceptable items: radioactive materials, aerosol cans, air tanks, explosives and ammunition, televisions and cathode ray tubes, fluorescent lights, ballasts, and railroad ties.
Griffith says he wants to change the perception of metal recycling. If done right, it could be an easy way for nonprofits to raise money, he said.
"There's a lot of scrap metal people that are totally legitimate," Griffith said. "Anybody that would steal anything is a thief."
Law enforcement is not particularly concerned about the "Scrapping for the Airwaves" drive.
"We have not ever seen any type of theft as a result of donations, because there's no incentive for it," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. "Whatever they think is going to be successful for them, we encourage them to try it."
Dan Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3321.