Local Christian radio station tripling reach to 1 million

The Q90.1 extending its reach

By Laurie Schlatter
Citizen Chronicle Writer

CHARLTON — The local Christian radio station, Q90.1, is expanding into Southern New England by adding a second station, Q91.5, and another 500,000 to 1 million listeners. The project, to extend its mission “to share the hope of God with more listeners,” has surmounted obstacles of bureaucracy, budget and even the bombogenesis snowstorm.

The Q90.1 WYQQ-FM, owned by Epic Light Network, broadcasts from a studio in Trolley Crossing off Route 20 via a 120-watt antenna on a tower off the Mass. Pike in Charlton. It reaches about 350,000 listeners in Worcester County and Northeast Connecticut. It’s also available through the free Tune In app.

The new station under construction, Q91.5 WSJQ-FM, will also air from the Trolley Crossing studio via a 10,300-watt signal off two antennas being added to leased tower space in Burrillville, R.I.

Station Manager Ryan J. Gagne, also the morning host from 6 to 9 a.m., talked about the expansion in an interview Wednesday, Jan. 10, in the studio.

Ryan J. Gagne is overseeing a large expansion that will bring the Q90.1 to as many as 1 million listeners.

Ryan, what is the expansion project in terms of its numbers, its reach, the area it’s going to cover?

“The expansion project is a new radio station for northern Rhode Island. It’s going to be serviced and licensed in Pascoag, R.I., and the tower location is in Burrillville, R.I. The 10,300-watt radio station’s primary reach is going to be northern Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut and parts of the Blackstone Valley.”

How many people will it reach?

“The overall, based on the census data and what we’ve gathered, is going to reach strongly a half a million to on the fringe about a million people. The 90.1 reaches about 350,000. The (new station) will be additional because we’re still going to have both channels.”

How did (the new station) come about?

“St. Joseph’s Church head pastor, Father Bob (the Rev. Robert Grattaroti), came over (in 2016) and explained that they had acquired a construction permit for a new radio station they applied for over a decade ago. During that time, there was no Christian radio in this region. He said they had no desire to move forward with (the permit) and they decided they wanted us to acquire it. So they asked us if we would take it. We worked out a deal with them. They transferred the ownership of the construction permit to Epic Light Network (last spring). The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) approved, which was a big step, in September of 2017, which officially enabled us to talk about it with our community.

“We announced to our listeners on Sept. 28, and from that time forward we articulated what it would cost, what it would take in order to meet the (Jan. 8, 2018) deadline to get this station on the air. The total (estimated) cost of the project, based on the equipment, engineering, labor costs, was $120,000. And those figures in each item were listed on our website for our listeners to see. Listeners then started donating toward that cost and, as of this day (Jan. 10), we have raised $109,000 plus, so we’re at 91 percent of the way there.”

Do you have to have the full amount raised before you can flip the switch?

“At this point we’re just raising money to pay the entire bill, everything that was on that list. All the equipment has been purchased to get this station on the air. The remainder of the costs  include additional labor and some built-in startup costs.”

You had some fundraising efforts that took place to make this happen?

“We’ve done a motorcycle bike ride rally with the Christian Motorcycle Association in July that raised a few thousand dollars. We have also done a couple of benefit concerts. One with Sidewalk Prophets in November in Shrewsbury raised several thousand dollars as well, and then we did a big Christmas benefit concert with Tauren Wells in December in Auburn that raised about $6,000. We’ve done ebill, social media campaigns and on-air fundraisers specifically for the project. So with the combination of on-air and off-air fundraisers, we’ve raised $109,000 so far.”

Have you had any major donors?

“We’ve had a few. One donor gave a $10,000 gift. We’ve had several $5,000 gifts. Everything from $5 to $10,000.”

What has been the equipment process?

“Part of the process was to acquire a tower, so we have rented space on a tower in the town that we have our construction permit assigned to. The (two directional) antennas we had to purchase. Then we have a transmitter that puts out the power to the antennas, then miscellaneous equipment like computers and processors that keep the sound clean.”

Will you be doing any upgrades on the Charlton space to do everything you plan to do with two stations?

“Both 90.1 and 91.5 are going to be programmed out of the same studio space here in Charlton. Everything that we have now suits us, but we do eventually would to do some upgrades in the future.”

The big question is, what is the purpose of this expansion?

“The purpose of the expansion is to share the hope of God with more listeners in the New England area, to bring forth the mission of the Q to farther places for people to get encouraged, and just be another outlet in a culture of media that’s so negative. We want to offer some hope and joy and music that connects with people in a real relevant way.”

Those things are expressed in your mission statement online. So this has been a faith journey. What’s the role that faith has played in this journey for you?

“It’s the motivator. Faith is the motivator through this whole project. We said from the very beginning that God has to do this and it’s not us. We can do fundraisers and buy equipment all day long, but if God is not in it, we don’t want nothing to do with it. And he’s shown miracle after miracle. I mean, such a short amount of time to raise money, a short amount of time to buy equipment, to deal with bureaucratic issues. One obstacle has been overcome after another, and it just reminds us that this is kind of bigger than ourselves. We’re just excited to see how people are going to get encouraged when they tune in.”

When do you expect to flip the switch? Is that what you actually do to go on the air? What does that involve?

“So once all the equipment is installed and everything is tested to make sure it’s safe for the community, then correct any issues, then once all that takes place and everybody signs off and good to go, then we will officially start broadcasting. We will be announcing the official launch at a later date, but we’re hoping to get this on the air very, very soon.”

Define soon.

“Within the next month.”

Do you need FCC approval on the final paperwork?

“We file paperwork with the FCC. They’ve mandated steps for us to follow. Once we follow those steps, we upload those to the FCC and they finalize and we’re good to go.

“We’re in a tolling period (a holding pattern) for several months, because of the recent blizzard (Jan. 4), from the FCC to get through the winter conditions for us to get everything ready. But our intention is to get it done quicker. It’s hard for us to say right now, there’s still a couple obstacles we’re trying to overcome, so to give you a definitive estimate is hard for us to do. We were supposed to be on the air by Jan. 8, but because we’re in a tolling period (of six months) we have to regroup. We would notify the FCC that we’re ready to build, then we’ll be able to finish up the project and get it on the air.”

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you want to discuss?

“We’re just looking for the opportunity to serve those communities well and we appreciate the support the community has given so far. We just want to remind people it’s a community station that’s there for people who just want a local radio in their region.”

What about staffing? Are you going to be hiring more people?

“Eventually we’re going to look at what the needs are and the ways we can fill those needs. We have a team of nine people now.”

Charlton-based Christian radio station Q90.1 will soon reach a whole new set of listeners with a leased tower in Rhode Island. (Ryan J. Gagne Courtesy Photo)

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