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New radio station the Southside Pirate sets sail

Posted 3:28pm on Monday, Jan. 07, 2013

John Rody wants to showcase Fort Worth's musical treasures.

The Southside Pirate, a new, Fort Worth-based radio venture the veteran broadcaster launched in early December, is fueled by "a truly 100 percent local music diet," as Rody puts it, and owes its existence in large part to the Local Community Radio Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2011.

In essence, the law grants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to license LPFM (low power FM) stations for broadcast, which is an opportunity Rody could not pass up. The new law takes what was once strictly against the rules -- running a pirate radio station reaching a very small area -- and makes it legal. A low power FM station is classified by the FCC as being 100 watts or less, reaching a broadcast area of roughly four miles.

"We actually have an opportunity to do this in a legal, sanctioned way," Rody says. "We have found an opportunity to build our station on the south side of Fort Worth. There's no need for me to put up a station that'll play KXT [the NPR-affiliated music station in Dallas] ... this will have a unique character and miniscule size. In a perfect world, this station would be the ArtsGoggle station. ... It seems when broadcasters get a license, it's for a huge area, which stymies their ability to effectively serve communities."

(Presumably, Rody will try not to step on KTCU's toes either; the Texas Christian University-based station boasts lots of locally oriented programming, such as the long-running Good Show which airs on Saturday mornings.)

The technical term Rody uses to describe the Southside Pirate's aims is "micro-broadcasting," a sort of hyper-local radio station enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the neighborhoods and city it serves. That said, Rody did allow that the Southside Pirate's reach extended all the way to Fort Worth's naval air station, and that two "generous people" were donating some high-altitude building space for antenna placement.

"There's not a better city to try [micro-broadcasting] in than Fort Worth," Rody says. "There's a critical mass in terms of population and musical acumen, in some cases exceeding Dallas'."

The Southside Pirate, which currently broadcasts a live stream over the Internet, is building its library in unorthodox fashion: Rody placed what he calls "a booty box" in the Boiled Owl Tavern, where local musicians can drop off physical copies of their music to be collected and, eventually, played on the station. Rody considers it a test of a band's commitment to its craft -- "I want them to lift a finger" rather than blast out an MP3 file, he says -- and also a bit of community engagement.

On a recent afternoon, the playlist proved to be a fascinating reflection of Cowtown's diverse sonic offerings, present and past: Oil Boom, Sloan Automatic, the Jace Bersin Trio and even vintage Black Tie Dynasty and Chatterton tracks popped up.

"The quality that we've gotten [so far] in the 'Booty Box' is outstanding," Rody says. "If there were a place that could be another Nashville, Fort Worth is that, moreso than Dallas."

As the music continues to wash ashore, Rody is involved in the due diligence phase of getting the Southside Pirate on the actual airwaves. Feasibility studies need to be conducted, a board of directors needs to be assembled (Rody describes his perfect candidate as someone enamored with local music and the arts, and who plans to be in Fort Worth for at least the next five years) and continued broadcast testing needs to take place.

The current window to file for a FCC LPFM license is projected by the government to be on or around Oct. 15, which gives Rody and his collaborators roughly nine months to get everything lined up, although Rody says the Southside Pirate could launch its LPFM broadcasts sooner if conditions warrant.

Rody intends the Southside Pirate to be a counterweight to large-scale corporate radio stations -- "It's a whole new genre of commerce," Rody says, "We have a right to the airwaves too" -- and Rody is seeking endorsements from "local politicos and community leaders" to help get the Southside Pirate in ship-shape condition.

Beyond getting Fort Worth music out to the community, Rody, who says he has committed a year to this endeavor, envisions a 501(c) (non-profit) community arts group (which has to be formed in order to apply for the LPFM license) that could, at some future date, choose to get a LPTV license and create something with that. There's even the possibility that what is being built in Fort Worth could be a model for other communities -- Rody says he's already gotten inquiries from cities like Muscle Shoals, Ala.

But for now, he's focused on making sure Fort Worth bands are being heard by Fort Worthians and that everyone -- not just musicians -- benefits from this new voyage.

"It's a community effort," Rody says. "I want some locals to see this as a real opportunity to use some [broadcast] spectrum space in a very efficient way."

Those interested can reach out to Rody via the website, or via the Southside Pirate's Facebook page.

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