Broadcasting from the backwoods

2 months ago Waupaca County Post

Mark and Marsha Gerlach play a mix of blues, country, soul, rock, R&B and jazz from their home that is headquarters of WAUP 99.1 FM. They recently added a new radio program featuring jazz. James Card Photo

Community radio station offers unique programming

By James Card

The slogan of WAUP 99.1 FM is “A better variety of music” and Mark Gerlach was excited to add a new program this last week in their broadcast mix.

On Wednesdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. they started airing Rhythm, Country and Blues with Daniel Jay out of New Orleans. This one-hour show adds more variety to a music mix that is already hard to define.

When Gerlach launched a streaming service, he was prompted to check a category of music that the station played. He picked ‘classic rock’ and he still shakes his head at the label.

“It really doesn’t fit us. I call it an eclectic mix of everything. We’re a variety of blues, country, R&B, soul, rock and Americana,” said Gerlach. “We play B-sides, but we also dig deep into what I call lost or forgotten 45s that didn’t chart or never made it on the Billboard’s Hot Singles chart.”

Mark and Marsha Gerlach are the two-person team that runs the nonprofit low-power 100-watt station from their home near the Royal Oaks Legendary Lodging Campground, a few miles north of Waupaca.

Going down to the basement studio is like descending into an underground nightclub. Plastering the walls and ceiling of the stairwell are music posters, concert flyers and iconic images from decades of rock and roll.

That leads to a small nook illuminated by strings of Christmas lights, LED rope lighting and the glow of two computer monitors.

The large monitor next to a Jimi Hendrix lunchbox shows what is currently playing on the airwaves. The smaller monitor is for other tasks such as previewing some newly discovered music. Milk crates of vinyl albums are stacked everywhere and there are bookshelves of music CDs.

The work they do here is broadcast from antenna mounted on the Shambeau water tower behind Gusmer Enterprises and is leased through the city’s Public Works Department. WAUP’s transmitting equipment is inside a climate-controlled cabinet in the tower’s utility room.

Josh Werner, the city’s IT director, helped Gerlach install it.

“We ought to throw him a parade. He’s the best,” said Gerlach.

Inspiration up north

In 1992 they were relaxing at their cabin near Winter, Wisconsin, and they tuned into WOJB, a community station broadcast from the nearby Ojibwe reservation near Hayward.

“They were playing the best music you’ll ever hear. We were sitting there on the porch listening to it, and I’m like: ‘Why can’t we have a station like this?’ And that is where I got the idea and I’m going to go for it. We need a community radio station in Waupaca,” said Gerlach.

Waupaca Area Community Radio was incorporated in 1993 and after that were years of FCC applications, construction permits, gaining 501(c) nonprofit status and reserving the call sign of WAUP.

On July 11, 2015 they were officially on the air.
“WOJB has what we want, too, where different announcers come in and play music. We thought we have a lot of friends that are into music. Maybe one could do a jazz show and this guy could do a blues show. That’s a goal – to get more people involved,” said Marsha.

“Yes, to recruit and train programmers. The beauty of it is, anybody can log in and do their stuff,” said Gerlach.

They would like to get more people involved now that technology has improved where people can create radio programs from their own home with minimal equipment. They want more local music on the air and a bigger variety of content like a heavy metal hour or coverage of a Lakemen baseball game by a Bob Uecker-like announcer. The problem is finding the right people and the work is unpaid.

As a nonprofit, WAUP as a start-up was funded by the Gerlachs and revenue is from grants and donations.

They are only a two-person team so they can only do so much. They are both retired and worked at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King.

For years, Mark would come home from work and go straight to the basement studio. On vacations, they bring a laptop computer and keep the music flowing remotely.

Also there is the big picture. Mark is 64 years old.

“I want somebody that’s going to be able to carry the station on. I’m going to need a successor. My goal was to make it a community of voices and develop programmers but so far that hasn’t worked out so well,’ said Gerlach.

On the air

They have a locally produced humor program called Professor Smarts by Robert Tevis, broadcast at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“I don’t know where he thinks this up but it’s hilarious. I like a little absurdity. The way things are now, we need all the absurdity we can get,” said Gerlach.

Daily they run a two-minute newscast with the city of Waupaca and national news from Public News Service.

“We’ll help out any nonprofit. We don’t charge for it. Whoever we can find, we’ll get them on the air. Got a fundraiser going on? Heck, yeah. We’ll get them on,” said Gerlach.

They also run nationally produced syndicated programs such as Acoustic Café, Beale Street Caravan (the largest blues radio program in the world), Smokestack Lightnin’ (new and classic blues) and Live at the Bop Stop (a jazz mix) and Dead Air, a Grateful Dead program (“The guy has access to the vault. Man, you should hear some of the stuff he brings up,” said Gerlach).

From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, Mark and Marsha bring a portable mixer to the living room for their live show. In the past they hosted it on their back deck with local musicians.

“It’s very popular; we have a lot of people listen to it. They like to hear us banter and we play music,” said Marsha.

They focus on musician birthdays for that week and play some of their music. When Jeff Beck recently died, it was a tribute to his legacy.
arsha also developed a Sunday morning program that is a mellow acoustic mix that airs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Their broadcasts can be tuned in through most of Waupaca County and beyond depending on the quality of the receiving antenna. They have listeners in Iola and one passionate fan near the Iola Winter Sports Club built an outside antenna and pointed it in the direction of the transmitter.

The broadcasts are picked up in Manawa, New London, Bean City, Weyauwega and the edge of Fremont. The reception at the Chain O’ Lakes can be sketchy depending on the exact location. They have listeners as far as Wild Rose and to the west; the broadcast stretches out to Lanark.

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