If you're scanning the FM dial and miraculously land on a song that doesn't suck, chances are you've found Miami's newest low-power radio station, 107.9, AKA Shake 108. For that, you can thank Miami native Peter Stebbins.
The 44-year-old first thought to start his own station years ago, after returning from a brief stint living in Atlanta and realizing how bad South Florida radio is. "When I first looked into opening my own station, I found that it's pretty much impossible," Stebbins remembers. "You need about $20 million to start a Y100. I didn't have $20 million."
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"So I started to think about becoming a pirate [radio operator]. And then I thought about opening a station in Bimini -- they get our signals, so I thought maybe I could open there. But it turns out I would have to build a really tall antenna."
Then Congress passed the 2010 Local Community Radio Act to give small-time radio operators a chance against the Clear Channels and Cox Radios of the world. But it would be three years before anyone could apply for a frequency, and the application period would only last a week, Stebbins explains.
Chances were slim, and because the Miami radio market is so saturated, there were only three frequencies available. If multiple applicants applied for the same station, they might have to split the airtime every day. And there wouldn't be another application period for ten or 15 years.
"I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want anyone else to get it," he says.
Almost miraculously, he says, he landed the frequency -- and all to himself. "It could have been half me playing Beastie Boys and half Christian gospel!"
He bought an antenna and stuck it atop a ten-story building in the Roads. His brother, Johnny, an engineer, helped with technical details, and his brother Freddy, a comedian, recorded voice-overs.
"They said, 'We can't believe you actually put this thing together! We thought you were drunk!'"
Ultimately, says Stebbins, who is a self-described "computer nerd" by day, it cost him about $20,000 in equipment to get started, plus small fees for his application and for an engineer he consulted. He pays about $300 a month to cover licensing for songs.
Right now, the brothers broadcast from a laptop, mostly running playlists of favorite songs and suggestions from friends.
"It's not supposed to be 'alternative' - just good music," Stebbins says. "You might hear an old Yellowman reggae song, followed by bluegrass from North Carolina, followed by Suénalo, then Beyoncé, then Elvis."
Eventually, they hope to grow the station into a full-fledged operation with live DJs and shows. They're already playing local bands like Spam All-Stars and the aforementioned Suénalo, and hope to have a locals hour every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
As a non-profit, though, the station relies on donations, and is limited in what kind of advertising it can run. Ocean Mazda and Clandestine, a South Beach bar, have already jumped on as sponsors, and individuals have been donating through a link at shake108.com. Music also streams on the website.
Currently, the station can be picked up in downtown Miami, Wynwood, Little Havana, Brickell, Coral Gables, and Coconut Grove. Another 107.9 ("elevator music," Stebbins says) is broadcasting out of Palm Beach County and sometimes interferes. But as soon as an equipment upgrade is complete, Shake 108 should be heard from Aventura to Cutler Ridge.
So far, news of the station has spread only by word of mouth -- and by Stebbins' weeklong efforts waving signs on a street corner.
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But he's already gotten tons of emails from newfound fans, all offering to help.
"Send me your favorite ten songs," he says.
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