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Signing On, Jasper: All-handicapped operated radio station in Jasper gives a voice to the disabled

 

At right, WIVL 88.3, a new non-profit radio station in Jasper, is operated entirely by a handicapped staff.
 
originally published 12/3/2009    
 
 
    The next time you find yourself driving around Pickens scanning your FM radio dial let the knob come to rest on 88.3 --- if you can pick up the signal you may very well be listening to history in the making.
 
According to The Great 88’s producer Mark Hellinger who has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, climaxing in 1992 with an Emmy for TV news, WIVL 88.3 is possibly the only non-profit station in the US operated entirely by the disabled. 
“There’s nothing else like this in the country,” Hellinger said at his studio on Church Street in Jasper, which already has over 10,000 song titles in queue for upcoming programming. 
“Everyone here is physically impaired in someway and no one on this staff has any broadcasting background at all. What we are doing is giving the handicapped a voice in the community…and the experience they gain here will be something they can put on their resume in the future.” 
Hellinger, who once owned local radio station WYYZ 1490 AM, says he was inspired to begin a handicapped-only station after watching his niece struggle with a severe disability. She was born with a spinal disorder, Hellinger told us, and has been through 54 major surgeries in her lifetime. 
“She lives in Ohio and at one point she went into an office to answer telephones and she really loved it. She felt like she was really doing something worthwhile,” he said.
Hellinger alluded to the marginalization many handicapped people feel when he spoke about his niece and touched on the importance of bringing joy to the physically challenged. 
“We have a man Roger Green who will be coming in on weekends for a few hours. He’s paralyzed from the neck down and he can’t use his hands but we are going to get him on the air for Soul Saturday.”
Not all of the 25 volunteers at WIVL are as severely handicapped as Green or Hellinger’s niece. The spectrum of disability of WIVL volunteers ranges from mild to severe but Hellinger said any disabled person is welcome and encouraged to participate.
“If you are physically challenged in anyway there are no questions asked. You have a spot here,” Hellinger said. “We will find something for you to do. This station is not about me. I’ve had my fame and glory. This is all about the staff, and in my 30 year history in broadcasting I can say this is the best staff I’ve had --- and they are all volunteer. It’s amazing.”
While The Great 88 has yet to gain licensing approval from the FCC, Hellinger and his team officially signed on Monday, November 16 at 8:00 a.m. and plan to offer live, local broadcasting from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and various hours on the weekend.  
From 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. WIVL will switch to a broadcast feed out of Athens. 
“We will be broadcasting something 24-hours a day…But this is such a different station it’s taking [the FCC] a while to approve us,” Hellinger said. “It usually only takes 60 days…we should have it soon…but we have permission from the owner to go on the air.”
Programming will be by and large up to the on-air personalities, “Within reason,” Hellinger said, who wants to keep the station’s music uplifting.
“WIVL is what you call a ‘broadcast.’ Most stations are ‘narrowcast’ where they have a specific kind of programming all the time. We are going to include everything from soft rock to gospel to country from the 60s, 70s and 80s, but [the DJ’s] can choose the music so you never know what you are going to hear. I just don’t want any rap or heavy metal.”
Hellinger is also looking to include a Sunday church corner, which will bring a different local pastor each week for preaching and teaching, and once a week live music and local news reading for the blind.
While Hellinger has plenty of experience in broadcasting, The Great 88 is his first go at non-commercial radio. WIVL is non-profit and Hellinger says the station will be supported by tax-deductible donations.
“We fall into the educational band on the FM dial, which is everything from 88.1 to 91.9. We are non-commercial radio so we have to be more discreet about the way we use our sponsors. For example, we would have to say something like, ‘This program was brought to you by,’ instead of having a big commercial from Ford…but people need to remember all donations are completely tax deductible. ”
The station’s tower, located on the top of the building that houses the Pickens County Progress, puts out a signal that Hellinger says reaches the majority of Pickens County.
“It gets up to Big Canoe and you can hear it really well in Bent Tree,” he said.
The uniqueness of Hellinger’s concept is, he says, already drawing some national attention. Hellinger told us NBC was keeping an eye out on the station and “told us to give them a call when they get things really rolling.”
And if the volunteers’ enthusiasm is any indicator, the ball seems to be well on its way to picking up speed.
DJs Bobby O’Brien and Chuck “Rick” O’Shay could hardly contain their excitement on my Monday visit. 
O’Brien, who is taking the morning shift, has been playing music for 40 years and has written many of the jingles that will be played on the air. 
“I play the drums and sing…Listen to this,” he said, clicking a few buttons on his keyboard. A WIVL jingle poured out of the stereo with closely layered vocals. 
“That’s me,” he added. 
O’Shay said he has been interested in radio since he was a young man.
“I recently retired from a state job. It’s like, life happens and then you start over,” he said. 
While Hellinger is not going to be on-air for the majority of the day, he said he may pop in every now and again for a cameo.
“Broadcasting is all I know,” he said. “I don’t know how to fix cars and I can’t shingle a roof, but I know broadcasting.”
If you would like to learn more about WIVL 88.3 visit www.wivlfm.net for more information. You can contact the station directly at 706-253-2501.