In 1996, the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (MFACM), a Chicago arts organization dedicated to the preservation and education of Mexican culture, was asked by the Chicago Boys and Girls Club (CBGC not BCBG or CBGB
) if it would be interested in purchasing their radio station. Carlos Tortolero, founder and executive director of MFACM, said no. [Why would he be interested in a slice of the 3rd largest and thus 3rd most valulable radio market in America? Yeah, who would want that?]
Shortly thereafter, an unnamed
religious organization expressed an interest in purchasing the station, with plans to eliminate all of its educational programming. It was then that MFACM did a 180 and stepped forward. They purchased the 8-watt station for a mere $12,000 and founded WRTE,
In 2000 Program Director Yolanda Rodriguez admitted in an interview that their $320,000 annual budget, was a strain:
“It’s hard to scrape that kind of money together when your broadcasting radius is a mere three miles–five miles on a rainy day. "We can’t even get Arbitron ratings. That’s a big problem. … Realistically, if we remain at eight watts, I can see this project slowly dying out.”
At the time the unique station was almost another exhibit in the MFAC museum. It served spanish-language programming to the Latino residents of Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. It’s two pronged mission complicated things. They wanted to serve eclectic and local music and talk programs but also to operate with an all-volunteer staff of students under the age of 21. The value in the mission was clear, but it was an obstruction as well.
They had been trying since June of 1998 to make it work. They needed to increase the wattage. Then unexpectedly FCC chairman William Kennard asked WRTE
to apply for a new license under the new low-power radio classification he planned to introduce. The intention was for the station to serve as a poster child for the LP initiative.
But the station declined [WTF!]
In October 1998 WRTE
had filed to increase their power to 100 watts, and was still waiting for an answer from the FCC. It was a request that if if had been filed in 1980 would have been a sure thing. At that time the Class D licensed stations were almost being dragged forcibly to Class A status. But my 1999 The Class D was a dinosaur on the verge of extinction.
The obvious came to pass, and the original request was turned down in December of 1999. WRTE
reapplied at a lower 85 watts. When it became clear that wasn’t going to fly either, they lowered the number once more to the current 73 watts. Note: At only 73 watts, WRTE will now be the most powerful station in the class D category
One can speculate if they had just gone with the flow and filed for a LP license would they have goten the 100 watt wave? In my opinion, probably. So why did they reject the offer? Were they trying to stay out of politics? Regardless, I can kind of hear them from my Chicago hotel this evening. While I have no idea what the DJ is saying, the music is pretty good.