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Why community radio station WERA 96.7 has had lo-fi beats on loop for nearly two months

Arlington Independent Media in Clarendon (file photo)

Arlington’s local radio station has been playing the same music on repeat since December.

The continuous lo-fi beats, noted by listeners more than a month ago, are a result of aging equipment and financing delays complicating Arlington Independent Media‘s move into a new office building that is home to a transmitter critical to AIM’s operations.

The nonprofit community media outlet — which has TV and radio programming and offers media training courses — is mid-way through its move from its Clarendon outpost at the corner of N. Danville Street and Wilson Blvd, behind the Beyond Hello dispensary, to a new location at 2300 Clarendon Blvd.

Staff packed up and stored all AIM’s non-technical equipment in its new Green Valley outpost while its TV and radio broadcasting equipment sits in the lobby, awaiting contractors who can rewire it in 2300 Clarendon Blvd, a new space dubbed AIM Live!

It is a point of consternation for Alvin Jones, the station manager for the community media outlet’s radio station, WERA 96.7 FM.

“It’s been frustrating,” he told ARLnow. “I don’t get to hear, when I’m in my car, the great programming 50 producers are putting out.”

Former radio show producer Bennett Kobb says he has noticed the same music playing since Dec. 1, 2023. The beats are intended as a backup when interruptions arise, whether that is due to a power outage, a delayed DJ or problems with a station computer, he said.

“It is not permitted to broadcast ‘dead air’ for any significant length of time, that is, a radio signal with no content and no station identification,” he said. “Many radio stations have such arrangements in place… But this was never intended to go on for weeks as it has.”

As of Jan. 12, he had not heard of any communications to the public explaining what was going on. AIM did ultimately provide an update that listeners should expect the radio to go silent on Jan. 20, followed by TV on Jan. 24, as a result of the move. The post noted listeners “will continue to hear music through our transmitter on WERA 96.7 FM.”

The reason for the prolonged continuous loop is because the equipment that relayed microwave signals from AIM’s Clarendon location to the transmitter at 2300 Clarendon Blvd went down, says Jones. AIM will not need this equipment once it is set up in the same building as the transmitter. Jones likened fixing it before the move to upgrading the tires on a car just before trading it in for a new vehicle.

AIM originally had until Dec. 31, 2023, to move out but now predicts that full move-out will happen next week. The delays come down to finances, according to Jones and AIM CEO Whytni Kernodle.

They say they are waiting for Arlington County to approve the rest of a funding request from November for Public, Educational and Government (PEG) funds — subscription revenue that the county receives from franchise agreements with Comcast and Verizon.

These funds only cover capital expenses, which include hiring contractors to take down and rewire equipment.

AIM requested $368,000 on Nov. 9, 2023 for both “move out” and “move in” costs, says county spokesman Ryan Hudson. Arlington County met with AIM on Dec. 29 and agreed to provide payment for costs incurred to “move out” of Wilson Blvd, totaling $220,000, and defer payment on “move in” costs.

The county determined on Jan. 5 that the $220,000 was PEG-eligible and AIM received this funding on Jan. 16, he said. Hudson says Arlington County has not yet received the complete request for “move in” monies.

Jones says AIM has a meeting scheduled with the county to ensure the rest of the moving funds are approved, asserting they are all PEG-eligible. If the county releases the rest of the funding soon, AIM will be able to broadcast again within weeks.

Jones says the newly inked memorandum of understanding with the county — which establishes rules for a heretofore ad-hoc process for requesting PEG funds — includes a provision that Arlington’s Dept. of Management and Finance would disburse expenses deemed eligible by the Dept. of Technology Services within 30 days.

“Despite this last delay in payment, we anticipate the county abiding by this MOU,” Jones said. “This would make us able to be fully [operational] on both the TV and Radio sides within weeks.”

While awaiting county approvals, AIM dipped into its operational budget to pay for the equipment to be taken down, says Jones. Its operational budget is already strained, as staff were furloughed — not for the first time — to make it through the move and the holidays. Arlington County, meanwhile, is putting pressure on AIM to rely less on public funding for its operational expenses.

“It has not been easy, but we as a team have endured,” Jones said. “We are excited about our progress and anxiously anticipate our future.”

Kernodle expressed enthusiasm for how the new, street-level studio within Courthouse Plaza space will animate the community.

“‘AIM Live!’ will be a vibrant and inclusive space, enhancing its appeal as a community asset and fostering a sense of connection and collaboration among Arlington residents,” she said.

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