RAYMOND — Kristie Doyle doesn’t exactly wear her passion on her sleeve, but it’s very close.
On her back below her right shoulder is a large tattoo with the letters WJZF written on a ribbon. The ribbon flows below an old-fashioned microphone and some scattered roses.
WJZF are the call letters for a small, Standish-based radio station that Doyle has been working to keep on the air for the past two years. The station’s creation was the lifelong dream of Doyle’s uncle, Dave Patterson, who died in October 2011 of a brain aneurysm at the age of 64.
Since then, Doyle has been struggling with the various obstacles to running a small, nonprofit radio station with no advertisers. These include navigating government regulations, fundraising, and rounding up volunteers. She kept the station on the air for more than a year by playing one of her uncle’s music and comedy programs over and over, on a loop. Then in May, after more than a year of working to get nonprofit status for the station, she officially relaunched WJZF with a full schedule of music, including smooth jazz, country and oldies.
Now she’s working to make sure the station stays on the air, which depends largely on whether she raises money and gets other people involved.
But Doyle doesn’t see her efforts as merely trying to save a radio station. She’s trying to save her favorite uncle’s dream.
“I had some of the best times of my life hanging out with my uncle,” said Doyle, 38, of Raymond. “And this was his dream.”
Doyle’s “Unka Dave” was the guy who always made her laugh, who brought her to Maine Mariners games and fostered her love of hockey, and who persuaded her to go on the radio with him and have fun. Patterson, who had no children of his own, called Doyle “Sunshine.” It’s a nickname she treasures, using it on her email and having it written into her WJZF tattoo as well.
“She’s a girl who really lost her best friend, her uncle,” said Fred Miller, a longtime Maine radio executive who is now retired and volunteers at WJZF. “She was faced with what to do to honor his memory, and she has really pulled all this together.”
Doyle works for a South Portland accounting firm by day, but on nights and weekends she sits in her den at home, using her uncle’s equipment, digitally programming the music for the station. She gets one- or two-hour blocks of music and talk from a half-dozen or so volunteer DJs who work out of their own homes, and puts those on the air as well.
She does most of the work from her house, since the station has no studio, and she sends the signal out via an antenna at Standish Town Hall. She spends $700 a year on music licensing and is looking at a needed upgrade of equipment that will likely cost more than $1,200. Other than that, she uses her uncle’s equipment and relies on volunteer help.
The signal – heard on the radio dial at 97.1 FM – reaches only a handful of Lakes Region towns, including Standish, Limington, Buxton, Windham and Gorham. But it reaches a much wider audience online, at wjzf.org. Doyle hopes to get more people in the area involved so they can use the station for public affairs and announcements and whatever the community might need.
Doyle hopes more people will embrace the station that her uncle started and look at it as a community asset. She welcomes anyone who wants to get involved and help keep the station on the air.
“We’ve sent out notices to nonprofits, looking for announcements, but we haven’t gotten a lot of responses,” said Alan Freedman, a WJZF volunteer who worked with Patterson when the station began. “Hopefully they will. I know Dave wanted this station to be something for the whole community.”
Patterson got his station on the air in 2005, but had applied for a “low power FM” license from the Federal Communications Commission in 2000, almost as soon as the low power licenses were created. The idea, according to the FCC, was to grant licenses for small, 100-watt community stations for “non-commercial, educational broadcasting” and therefore give community groups a relatively inexpensive way to get on the air and provide content not readily available on stations owned by corporations.
WJZF is not the only example of small Maine radio stations that are basically on the air because of one person’s passion. There are several across the state, with missions to provide something on the air that people can’t hear on most commercial stations.
One Portland-area example is WYAR (88.3 FM) in Yarmouth. It was started by Gary King, a retired television engineer, in his Cousins Island home in 1998. King had a massive collection of 78-rpm vinyl records of music dating from the early 1900s to the 1950s. He got an educational radio license, like college stations often do, and set out on a mission to keep what he called our “heritage” of popular music on the air. King, now 79, still runs the station with a corps of volunteers.
Doyle and others in Patterson’s family say Patterson first got passionate about radio when he worked as a radio operator on a ship in the Navy when he was 18. Miller first met Patterson when Miller owned Portland-area station WDCS in the 1970s, and Patterson walked in looking for experience.
“He wrote copy, did all kinds of things,” said Miller. “He basically just came in looking for an opportunity.”
Patterson grew up in Portland, served in both the Navy and the Air Force, and also worked at the post office and for a local telephone company.
When he finally got a chance, because of low power licenses, to get his own station, he jumped at it. He acquired “lots of debt” while setting up the station and buying equipment, his niece said. He also had to do a lot of things most of us know nothing about, like finding a broadcast tower to use.
“He was passionate about giving back to the community, and he was tired of the mega-commercialized radio stations in Maine,” said Doyle. She said her uncle wanted to give listeners music they couldn’t hear on most stations. He was a big fan of the format “smooth jazz” and artists like Sergio Mendes, Roy Haynes, Delton Walker or George Howard. So the station plays a lot of that. In fact, Patterson’s voice can still be heard announcing the smooth jazz songs.
But other volunteer disc jockeys, including Doyle, are putting together shows every week featuring country, or oldies. Doyle still does a show called “Country Barn” that she did with Patterson.
The show then was mostly Patterson doing an outrageous Maine hick character, with pig grunts and flatulence noises in the background, talking a lot about a woman named Ethel he was always trying to avoid. The jokes, with Doyle as straight man, were often about why Ethel was a woman to be avoided, or the lengths to which people might go to avoid her.
“Ethel had a car wash and she charged $50 to get out,” said Patterson in one show. “And people paid it just to get away from her.”
On those shows Doyle can be heard laughing at her uncle’s antics.
“There were times that all I did on the air was laugh my butt off,” she said.
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org