Matt Boland is no stranger to radio broadcasting. He previously hosted programs on WPBR-AM in Lantana, Florida, and on WDJZ-AM in Bridgeport before it went off the air in 2016, as well as a pro wrestling program on the internet-based BlogTalk Radio. But getting a new gig on a local radio station has been difficult.
“The jobs around here in the media are very few and far between,” Boland said. “I was tired of waiting for someone to pick me up, so I decided to do my own thing.”
However, radio broadcasting is not an industry that offers easy access to micro-budgeted entrepreneurs. “Unless you’re one of the big guys, like Cumulus or Entercom, it is just about impossible to get a license,” Boland complained. “That will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
While Boland did not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in his wallet, he did have $100 for a low-wattage radio transmitter and knowledge of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rules for radio broadcasting. In late 2016, Boland set up the transmitter in his Stratford apartment and returned to terrestrial radio via his startup Radio Free Connecticut at 1540 AM.
Radio Free Connecticut falls under the FCC’s Part 15 rule that allows stations broadcasting at an output of 100 milliwatts or less to occupy a space on the radio dial as long as it does not interfere with other stations’ transmissions. Part 15 radio stations are not bound by FCC limits on broadcast contents, and these stations can either be commercial or nonprofit.
Although Part 15 radio stations have been operating since the 1930s, the first within Connecticut, WXTZ 87.9 in Norwich, began broadcasting in 2013. “I find there are more people around the country doing it, but not too much in this area,” he said. “There might be one or two others in the state.”
Boland’s radio broadcast range is limited geographically to the Stratford-Bridgeport border community near his apartment, while a wider audience can be found through an internet simulcast of his programming. But even an under-the-radar broadcast presence in a restricted territory can encroach on larger frequencies.
“I try very hard not to interfere with any other stations,” he said. “I used to be on 1650 and I found that I was interfering with the traffic information station down at Lordship, which is state-run. Most frequency 1500 and 1600 on the AM dial. There’s not much available on FM.”
Whereas Boland’s previous radio gigs focused on conversation, Radio Free Connecticut is primarily music-driven. “My favorite is one-hit wonders, and I try to play different things that you might not hear on the radio,” he said. “It’s a little bit of everything — maybe some country sometimes, maybe some R&B, but you never know from one day to another. A lot of independent artists here in Connecticut are definitely agreeable to having their music on the air. It’s whatever I feel like playing.”
Boland runs the station as a one-man operation. “I call myself the wearer of many hats,” he laughs, but his other work in freelance writing does not allow him to keep the station running on a 24/7 schedule. Thus, Radio Free Connecticut usually starts its broadcasts in the afternoon and goes into the wee hours.
“I am more of a night owl,” he explained. “I am trying to do more stuff in the morning. I’m trying to work on music in the morning show. The station is usually on three to four days a week, sometimes five. I don’t have a set standard.”
While Boland views Radio Free Connecticut as his perch within the local media market, the lack of a continuous broadcast presence and an under-the-radar presence on the radio dial has not helped him gain advertisers. “It’s hard to monetize because it’s very hard to promote it,” he said, adding that he gives air time to local nonprofits and groups for public service announcements. This level of goodwill, he added, is essential to build links with his audience.
Listeners have come to Radio Free Connecticut via the station’s Facebook page and on Streamfinder. Looking forward, Boland is considering a revival of his pro wrestling show on BlogTalk Radio, which would be rebroadcast on Radio Free Connecticut, and he is open to bringing other shows to his station. He also believed more Part 15 radio stations could pop up locally, although he cautioned anyone taking this route to understand the responsibilities of being on the air.
“You definitely have to know what you’re doing,” he said. “And you need to be dedicated. It’s definitely not going to come easily.”