Radio silence coming? Nonprofit WDNP fights to stay on the air

Steve Shumaker, program director of WDNP 102.3, poses for a portrait at the radio station in Dover. He is also a social studies teacher at Dover Middle School. He brings students in Saturday mornings to get experience on the radio.
Steve Shumaker, program director of WDNP 102.3, poses for a portrait at the radio station in Dover. He is also a social studies teacher at Dover Middle School. He brings students in Saturday mornings to get experience on the radio.

DOVER ‒ Nonprofit community radio station WDNP-FM could go off the air if the Federal Communications Commission decides to put its frequency up for auction.

The Western Radio Group, based in New Philadelphia, has petitioned the federal agency, asking that WDNP's frequency, 102.3, be put up for sale so the company can start a 6,000-watt FM station to serve the village of Dennison.

"We're a low-power station. We're the lowest in the pecking order," said Steve Shumaker, WDNP's program director. "We're not protected by the FCC, but we do community service. When we found out, obviously, we were one, shocked, and two, pretty upset about it.

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"We thought, what are we going to do? We consulted with our founder and we consulted with a few other people in the area that are radio veterans and they've dealt with the FCC before. It's going to be a long shot for us to keep from losing our frequency. Basically, if the big boys get involved and they decide they want this signal, you're looking at $100,000, $200,000, $300,000 or more. That's just for the right to use the frequency. That's not including tower, facilities upgrade. That doesn't include any of that."

Shumaker, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Dover Middle School, added: "We're a nonprofit. We don't have any kind of money like that, and we don't have a sugar daddy. There's no way we can compete with that."

WDNP-FM displays two radio awards that it has won.
WDNP-FM displays two radio awards that it has won.

What is WDNP's format?

The station plays hits during the day and rock at night, he said.

On weekends, the station does specialty programming, playing oldies, jazz, doo-wop, music from movies and alternative rock.

Shumaker hosts a program on Saturday mornings from 9 to 10 when he brings in kids from Tuscarawas County and they talk about good things that are going on in the community, including school theater productions.

"We try to focus on the positive, because sometimes all you hear about kids is awful things. I try to have some fun with the kids. We do a little everything," he said.

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WDNP has done remotes from blood drives, the Canal Dover Festival and First Town Days. It does not charge to do a remote.

In a technical statement filed with the FCC, Western Radio Group notes that allocation of the signal would not interfere with other nearby radio stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. However, it would displace two 100-watt low power stations ‒ WDNP in Dover and WNPA-LP in Canton.

On Oct. 17, the FCC agreed to consider the company's request.

The WDNP sign can be seen from outside the studio windows.
The WDNP sign can be seen from outside the studio windows.

The agency said the request warrants consideration because it would provide local service to Dennison.

The people involved in Western Radio Group are also partners in WBTC Radio Inc., which owns WBTC in Uhrichsville. WBTC Radio Inc. purchased the station in July from the estate of Jim Natoli, who founded WBTC in 1963.

The parties to the FCC application are listed in agency documents as Brian Walker of New Philadelphia, Leonard H. Dugger of Dover and Kevin Willoughby of Dennison.

None of the three men responded to phone and email requests for comment from The T-R.

A message seeking comment also was left with WNPA.

Western Radio Group Petition by Lauren Young on Scribd

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The history of WDNP

WDNP went on the air on July 13, 2015. It broadcasts from its studios at 123 W. Third St., Suite 201 in the old J.C. Penney building in downtown Dover. Its founders were Dan Slentz and Jody Brogan.

The station's signal can be picked up in the immediate vicinity of Dover and New Philadelphia. It also streams online and has listeners from all over the world ‒ mainly Tuscarawas County transplants.

More:WDNP 102.3 receives recognition for pandemic work

The station's staff and board members have been doing what they can to stay on the air, Shumaker said.

"We have been quietly working away, working with some local folks who are known people, trying to get them to send in letters of support because we are in what's called a time of public comment for the FCC," Shumaker said. "They're going to look at public comments and say, well, maybe we won't do this. Now, is the FCC going to look at this and go, yeah, maybe we'll turn down $300,000? It was going to take a Hail Mary pass here."

WDNP-FM radio buttons displayed on the reception desk.
WDNP-FM radio buttons displayed on the reception desk.

Listeners sharing comments with the FCC

Board President Tod Carper has attended council meetings in New Philadelphia and Dover in the past couple of weeks to alert them to the situation.

New Philadelphia City Council on Monday passed a resolution in support of the station, saying that putting the frequency up for auction "would lead to the destruction of a valuable nonprofit asset in our community that has been a tremendous advocate in advancing important nonprofit causes."

The station is also encouraging its listeners to contact the FCC.

"Our listeners are stepping up and they're writing letters of support," Shumaker said. "If they can't figure out how to get them in to the FCC, they send us all their information and their letter, and we put it in and tag it, because that's allowed."

About 30 area residents have already submitted comments to the FCC.

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One came from Lisa Stilgenbauer, local director of Soccer4All, a league for children with a physical or mental disability.

"WDNP has been instrumental in the success of our program, supporting us and helping get the word out," she wrote.

She concluded, "For WDNP, a nonprofit station, to lose out of their frequency via auction would be a tremendous loss to the community and I urge you to reject the proposed open bidding on the 102.3 FM frequency in Tuscarawas County."

Another resident, Dawn Brogan, wrote, "Even though there is no huge revenue from this station, the benefits it provides to our community are priceless. This will be a huge loss to our community if this radio station ceases to exist because the frequency was sold to a for-profit company who does not have the same mission for community support that DNP does."

Matt Ritzert, in his comment, raised the possibility that the frequency could be sold to a large national chain with little interest in the Dover/New Philadelphia area or Tuscarawas County.

"We don't need another jukebox," he wrote. "We need a radio station committed to serving our community which is exactly what we have with DNP LPFM."

How to show your support for WDNP

Listeners can go to WDNP's Facebook page to learn more.

"There will be an old-style MTV picture there that says, 'I want my DNP.' In that is a link that will take you directly to the FCC page that you need to submit to," Shumaker said.

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People who want to show their support have to first write a letter, then fill out a form on the FCC website and attach their letter to it.

The deadline to submit a comment is Dec. 8.

Shumaker noted that the Western Media Group is represented by an attorney who has a great deal of experience in working with the FCC.

"This all might be whistling in the wind, but we're going to try it anyway," Shumaker said.

This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Radio station WDNP in Dover and WNPA in Canton could go off the air