A group of five like-minded individuals gathered on Nov. 29, 2010, at the home of retired College of Charleston psychology professor Faye Steuer to create what would become Charleston’s first community-supported, commercial-free local radio station.
They met with the shared goal of creating a group that cared about media reform and protecting democracy.
The original group consisted of Steuer and her former student Vikki Matsis, retired college teacher Kathy Key, Navy veteran and locksmith Jerry Huhn and former Charleston City Paper columnist Will Moredock. They called their group “Media Reform SC.”
Though Ohm Radio wouldn’t debut until Aug. 1, 2015 (with the Star Wars theme song), the station essentially was born out of the work of Media Reform SC, which remains the radio station’s nonprofit today.
“We just kept pouring energy into it, and more people joined us,” Steuer said. “The energy kept growing, and Vikki in particular was interested in the idea of low-power FM radio. … She kept our noses to the grindstone working on what we needed to do to start a low-power FM radio station.”
Wide range of programming
Tune into Ohm Radio on 96.3 FM or online at ohmradio963.org any time, and you’ll discover a diverse range of programming from world music and local artists to national news and Charleston history — and everything in between.
“It’s such a different way to connect to people,” Matsis said. “We’re all in our filter bubbles, right? You’re only exposed to your Spotify algorithm or whatever. But the radio never cares about what you’re about to listen to, so I discover so much new music through Ohm — just because it’s not trying to predict what I like.
“It’s not trying to keep me on the station. It’s totally weird and sometimes random. And it exposes me to different ideas I would never hear, different people I would never be in contact with, different songs that I would never seek out on my own. And that’s so important as a person to be exposed to those ideas, to be challenged, to be outside of your comfort zone.”
This mindset is the driving force behind Ohm Radio — to seek truth and new perspectives. Through that exposure, it works to strengthen and uplift the local community.
An “ohm” is actually a unit of resistence, representing a resistance to corporate media and an embracing of local voices.
“I always felt I was fighting for democracy,” Steuer said of creating Media Reform SC and, eventually, Ohm Radio. “Because for democracy to work, people have to know each other, talk to each other, explore issues together and come to agreements. … The large media corporations are not fostering that, and in many cases, they’re preventing it.”
‘For the people, by the people’
After eight years on air, Ohm Radio remains true to that initial goal. The station offers an ever-growing variety of shows.
“You’re really hearing the voice of Charleston,” said Grace McNally, Ohm’s station manager.
Black historian and college professor Bernard Powers shares Black culture and history at noon on Mondays during Black History Talks. The publisher of Universal Latin News, Marcela Raben, hosts the Spanish-language show El Ritmo Latino with Latin music, stories and interviews at 2 p.m. every Tuesday. Lynnette White of the Plantation Singers, a gospel group, illustrates the traditions of Gullah Geechee culture during Gullah Voices at noon on Fridays.
For music-heavy programming, you also can discover alternative and underground music on Mirror Kissers Radio at 9 p.m. Thursdays. Explore your appreciation of classical music at 1 p.m. Fridays during My Classical Closet. And let loose during Electric Paradise with electronic dance music at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“It’s opened up Charleston in a new way for both our creative community and our business community, being able to meet people from different fields who are doing really inspiring work,” McNally said.
“Independent media is a little bit of a dying breed … so I think it’s valuable for communities to have independent media because it allows for the real voices and stories to come through.”
Small donations matter
As a commercial-free, community-supported low-power FM station, Ohm operates under its nonprofit Media Reform SC and is funded by grants and donations. Though large donations are very helpful to running the business, Matsis said much of the donations come from small $10 monthly contributions.
“Stuff like that really propels us,” she said.
Matsis, McNally and program coordinator Zandrina Dunning work closely, along with the station’s board, to cultivate local voices, sharing knowledge and great music. McNally and Dunning both host shows too — Travel Notes and The ZD Experience, respectively.
All of Ohm’s other DJs are volunteers who bring their unique points-of-view, expertise and passion to the station.
“I think Ohm has definitely progressed the most with our reach,” Dunning said. “Every year it gets bigger and bigger, more and more people are getting wind of who we are and what we do. We’re not just a typical radio station — it’s for the people and by the people.”
Part of Ohm’s goal to foster a strong sense of community includes promoting local artists.
“We’ve been able to debut a lot of first-time artists’ singles and things like that,” Dunning said. “So that is extremely rewarding just to see their faces [when their song plays] and to know that we were the people who made that happen. It’s just beautiful.”
Ohm hosts a Local Music radio hour at 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays featuring Charleston musicians. As musicians themselves, Matsis, McNally and Dunning feel a particular connection with the local music scene and empowering those artists.
After eight years on air, Ohm Radio has come a long way from a small group of people with a big dream and no idea how to start a radio station. Steuer said she and some of the other members of the original Media Reform SC group stepped back once the station debuted.
“[We] handed over the reins to the younger people who had more energy than we did,” she said laughing. “It’s really in the hands of the people it should be in the hands of now.”
The station’s official anniversary is Aug. 1, but Ohm will celebrate from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. July 30 with a party at Commonhouse Aleworks. Danny Martin of 2 Slices will host trivia, the Lee Barbour Trio will play live music and Commonhouse Aleworks will donate $1 from the sale of a select beer to Ohm Radio.
“Our hope is to continue to grow as Charleston grows,” McNally said. “Grow our team, grow our listenership.”
In the last year, the station has gotten more involved with music festivals and partnered with local businesses, which the team said they hope to continue.
McNally also hopes to conduct more remote live broadcasts, which allow the station to broadcast from anywhere with a WiFi connection. In the last year, Ohm has remotely broadcast from the 2022 Charleston Literary Festival and the Wadmalaw Community Center during a live performance by The Plantation Singers.
In recent weeks, Ohm has faced some service interruptions, but it is currently upgrading equipment to prevent these disruptions. Listeners can always stream the station on ohmradio963.org or on the Ohm Radio app, Matsis said.
Listeners will find program schedules, archived editions of every program and a feature called “Who’s Playing,” which archives and displays every song played on the station with direct links to the song on Spotify, Apply Music and Amazon Music.
“I watch it from afar now,” Steuer said of Ohm, “and I’m really happy to see how it’s developing and gaining more and more support from the community and broader kind of programming. I just think it’s wonderful.”
Upcoming Ohm events
Celebrate Ohm Radio’s eighth anniversary at Commonhouse Aleworks in Park Circle from
3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. July 30.
DJ Danny Martin of 2 Slices will host Ohm Radio trivia from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The winner will receive a $50 gift card to D’Allesandro’s Pizza and an Ohm Radio T-shirt. Commonhouse Aleworks will donate $1 from every sale of a select beer to Ohm Radio. Party-goers can also “round-up for good” to donate to the station. The event is free, but registration through eventbrite.com is encouraged.
Ohm Radio co-founder Vikki Matsis will present during PechaKucha 43 on Sept. 12 at the Charleston Music Hall.
Every third Friday of the month, Ohm Radio hosts an open mic night at Clerk’s Coffee inside Hotel Emeline. Attendees are encouraged to share music, poetry or comedy. The next open mic night will take place Sept. 15.
Commonhouse Aleworks and Ohm Radio will again partner on Sept. 23 for a female songwriter showcase.
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