Audio Freedom | Arts and Culture | Style Weekly

WRIR-LP 97.3 FM, Richmond’s independent radio station, has officially outgrown its Broad Street space after 17 years.

The main reason it is moving is to address an ongoing issue of accessibility.

“For 17 years, anyone with mobility issues has been excluded from volunteering because we’re on the second floor of a building with no elevator,” explains Melissa Vaughn, president of the Virginia Center for Public Press, WRIR’s parent 501c3 nonprofit organization and a volunteer at the station for the past six years, in an email interview. “We wanted a building with at least a first floor that’s accessible to anyone and everyone who wants to be a part of an independent community radio station.”

In the current location, located above the Camel restaurant and venue, the front and back entrances have not been ideal. From the Broad Street sidewalk, the entrance is nondescript, despite efforts to be more visible. The front stairs are narrow and dark, the back stairs are rickety. The radio station shares an alley space with the Camel; and the current space is not soundproofed enough to drown out nighttime performances from below. [Vaughn emailed us after this article came out to stress the main reason for the move is accessibility and that they are longtime partners with the Camel and soundproofing issues are not their fault, she wrote].

Organizers have been ready to purchase their own building instead of renting for over a year. Now they’ve found a Shockoe Bottom building at 1806 E. Main St., the former home of Richmond Balance Fitness, and have roughly two years to complete the move.

When they went looking for a new space, they didn’t have any particular neighborhood in mind, but Vaughn says one of their requirements was to be much more visible and part of a neighborhood. After looking in nearly every area of the city, they first saw a building in Shockoe Bottom in November 2021 and just kept coming back to it. “It’s got storefront windows, excellent foot traffic, and really cool neighbors,” she says. “The area fits our vibe and has endless opportunities for partnership and growth.”

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At 4,700 square feet, the new space is double the amount of space they currently have, as well as a completely empty three-story box that they can customize into the studio spaces of their dreams. It’s already wired for their power consumption needs yet has an old Richmond feel. A huge selling point was that they wouldn’t have to compete with anyone else’s soundchecks. “We’ll have accessibility for anyone who wants to volunteer, which is key, but the community is the real draw,” Vaughn says. “We’re very excited to meet and partner with our new neighbors.”

Vaughn’s intention is to get the move done sooner than two years, no matter what it takes.

“And what it’ll take is a bunch of different experts and tradespeople -architect, general contractor, soundproofing, electrician, plumber, folks that move sensitive electronics, broadcast and recording professionals,” she explains. “Plus lots of volunteer power to help break down the current space and set up the new. Anyone who wants to donate their time to help in this endeavor can email volunteer@wrir.org.”

The station is in the beginning stages of planning the buildout. Once they have a firm sense of the work involved, they’ll have a clearer idea of the cost, but in the meantime they’re on the hook for expenses in both locations as they begin the buildout process. With accessibility and volunteer safety paramount, they plan to include a small elevator, security, fire safety measures like sprinklers and a new generator.

To help manage it all, WRIR will continue their biannual fund drives in October – the upcoming drive is Oct. 19 through 26- and April, while also looking to do special drives and fundraising events. “Plus, we’ll be on the hunt for grants that might help offset accessibility and safety costs,” Vaughn says. “No funding avenue will be unexplored and, as always, people can donate any time at wrir.org and know that anything they give us is going to go right back into serving them better and giving our volunteers the best experience we can.”

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SCOTT ELMQUIST

The benefit of donating to a nonprofit radio goes well beyond hearing cool music you won’t find on commercial stations. Vaughn says WRIR’s mission is to give a platform to underrepresented news, views, and music. And by making this move, the station aims to be better partners and stewards of the Richmond community.

“We’ll be able to amplify more local voices, teach more people of any age, ability, or background how to record, produce, and tell their stories in podcast and radio format, along with better space to host local musicians and artists,” she explains. “We’ll be able to preserve the oral history of Richmond and share it more readily.”

For those devoted to WRIR’s programming, perhaps the best news is that the transition will be seamless. The plan is to turn off the broadcast at the old building and then begin airing out of Shockoe Bottom without interruption. That’s important, Vaughn emphasizes, because the volunteer staff sees WRIR as the city’s PA system and home to the voices of Richmond, be they music, storytelling, history sharing, or news making.

While WRIR remains committed to serving the community by amplifying, preserving, and providing a platform for Richmond’s voices, it doesn’t own or dictate the content aired by volunteers. “All we require is that they follow FCC guidelines and use common sense,” Vaughn says. “We aren’t afraid to have important, uncomfortable conversations or play subversive tunes. WRIR offers audio freedom without strings attached to the residents of Richmond.”

Wrir.org is holding its on-air fund drive for one week from Wednesday, Oct. 19 through Wednesday, Oct. 26. Visit the website to learn more.

Clarification: This article has been updated to better reflect WRIR’s main reasons for moving — accessibility.






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