SKOWHEGAN — Annie Stillwater Gray was up to the M’s in music uploads to a computer from which community radio station WXNZ will broadcast starting Saturday morning at 98.1 FM.

“My job has been putting music into the computer, and I’m up to over 7,000 songs — all kinds,” Gray, of Solon, said Tuesday. “Yesterday I spent the whole afternoon with Glenn Miller, and I’ve just gotten to Van Morrison. I’m doing it all alphabetically.”

The station is called Hooskow Radio — a take-off on the fact that the new radio studios are located in cell blocks in the converted former Somerset County jail in downtown Skowhegan.

“Hoosegow” is a slang term derived from Spanish to describe a jailhouse. Combine that with “Skowhegan” and you get WXNZ, a low-power, noncommercial FM radio station that will be going live from the 1897 jail before Aug. 1 — the deadline in a construction permit inked a year ago with the Federal Communications Commission.

“We need to get the Wi-Fi situation worked out so we can start broadcasting from down here at the jail,” Gray said. “We have a broadcast computer and a production computer that we are now getting ready once we get the Wi-Fi connections.”

As of Saturday morning, the music will be broadcast from a laptop computer linked to the transmission tower on Bigelow Hill in Skowhegan. It may be low-power, Gray said, but the strains of blues, jazz, rock, folk, gospel, hip-hop, country and world music can be heard all the way to Solon, Canaan, Madison and Norridgewock — up to 12 miles away.


“We’re going to go on the air this weekend,” Gray said from the studios — a six-person, three-cell block that once held a day room table bolted to the floor, small windows and a shower behind sliding steel doors. “We’ll be broadcasting via computer laptop from a school bus on the top of Bigelow Hill. Our engineer, Tim Smith, has been doing tests on 98.1 and runs music off of a laptop.”

They expect to be on the air Saturday morning with a variety of music and a broadcast statement from Amber Lambke, co-owner of the former jail and founder of the Somerset Grist Mill located in the stone-and-steel building. Lambke is donating the cellblock space and paying for the work installing new windows, new electrical wiring and heating in exchange for on-air promotional consideration.

There will be five underwriting statements promoting the Kneading Conference, the Artisan Bread Fair and the grist mill itself.

Wesserunsett Arts Council board president Lolly Phoenix said the radio station’s goal is to provide a broadcast outlet so local people can air their own radio shows for music, live broadcasts, drama, poetry and storytelling in central Maine. Radio station contributors include past arts council president Serena Sanborn, of Canaan, who helped with the initial licensing; John Harlow, of Athens, who organized fundraising efforts, offered creative and technical support and made a promotional video; and Pine Tree Redemption Center in Madison, which is donating proceeds to the station.

Last year the FCC granted a construction permit to the Wesserunsett Arts Council to operate a radio station. Part of the agreement is to pay dues to three performance rights organizations. Another license requirement is to broadcast the station’s “legal ID” at the top of each hour, Gray said.

“What we have been doing is collecting voices of people saying the legal ID,” she said. “We go to parties, we go to the farmers’ market down here and we have people give the legal ID, so when you listen, there are all these different voices, because we want to get across that this is true community radio. Every radio station has to give the call letters and the location at the top of every hour.”


By Aug. 1, all of the programming and broadcasts will be done from the cellblock in the old jail, but fundraising is still underway to complete the work started a year ago. So far acoustic tiling and soundproofing have been installed along with a countertop for work space and shelving. There also will be extra space upstairs at the old jail for a music library, which Gray said will be populated immediately with CDs donated by Colby College, where she and her husband, Andy Wendell, host on-air radio programs on WMHB.

The FCC construction permit was free, but Gray said the arts council still needs to raise money in order to be up and running by the FCC-imposed deadline. The council needs to raise $17,000 to outfit the studios.

Gray said they want the radio station on the air while a fundraising dinner is being held at The Pickup Cafe downstairs at the former jail. Dinner is served from 4 to 9 p.m., and 10 percent of the proceeds will go toward the final work on the radio station. Tours of the station also will be offered.

Gray said the ultimate goal is to have a fully equipped studio at the grist mill where people can come in and host their own community radio shows.

The FCC created low-power FM radio service in January 2000, according to the FCC website. Low-power FM stations are authorized for noncommercial educational broadcasting only — no commercial operations are allowed. They operate with 100 watts of power or less, at 100-foot antenna height above average terrain, according to FCC rules. The approximate service range of a 100-watt station is 3.5 miles from the studio, but an assortment of factors would make the signal heard beyond that distance.

Major commercial stations often have power of 20,000 to 50,000 watts.


Current broadcast licensees with interests in other media, such as broadcast or newspapers, are not eligible to obtain low-power radio stations.

“We can get up and running and please the FCC and get our license,” Phoenix said. “But once we get the help that we need to get this equipment, the sky is the limit in what we can do with radio. We’re going to put this town on the map. WXNZ — music and art will set you free.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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