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Radio Free Limerick: FCC Grants an FM Broadcast License to a Louisville Performance Arts Venue

The exterior of Vault 1301, on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken
Eleanor Hasken
The exterior of Vault 1301, on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken

Performing arts venue Vault 1031 will soon take to the airwaves. The start-up theater and rehearsal space housed in the old Armored Car Company headquarters on South Sixth Street will begin broadcasting on a low-power FM frequency (92.5 FM) as soon as next March. The building, located on the border of Old Louisville and the Limerick neighborhood, has been renovated to include a 100-seat (still spartan) theater space and a fully-functional classroom/rehearsal hall . It still contains old money vaults and another legacy from its days as an armored car company – a sixty-foot radio tower used for communicating with the trucks."As a joke one day, we kind of said to each other, wow, we should have a radio station," said co-artistic director Jon Huffman. "Then it turned out the FCC was offering neighborhood radio station licenses and we thought, let’s see what can happen with this." Vault 1031 is partnering with Spalding University's school of communications to staff and program the station, which Huffman says will be a resource for the entire downtown area. “We want to be a real neighborhood radio station. Because those of us in Vault 1031 are clearly involved in the arts, we will obviously deal with arts as well, but our dedication, our mission with the radio station, is to serve a broad interest for downtown Louisville,” said Huffman.      Vault 1031 is raising funds to outfit its studio through the Fund for the Arts' Power2Giveplatform.  Huffman hopes that WEAV - the call letters stand for Education and Arts in the Vault - will start broadcasting by St. Patrick's Day, in honor of the Limerick neighborhood. Programming is still up in the air - he says they're figuring a lot out as they go - but Huffman is confident the community-minded mission will help steer the way."We are required to have a certain amount of public affairs programming. We’re required to provide a certain amount of children’s programming. We’re required to be on the air 24-7," he said. "We want to deal with issues that matter to people who live and work in downtown Louisville." The Local Community Radio Act was signed into federal law in 2011, paving the way for more noncommercial and educational organizations to broadcast on the FM dial. Other local radio stations that have applied for low-power FM licenses include  Art + FM (currently streaming online, it would share its broadcast signal with Squallis Puppeteers) and Crescent Hill Radio (currently streaming and broadcasting on the AM dial). Community radio stations that broadcast around the clock can be invaluable communication tools for local disaster readiness and emergencies.Over the last two years, Vault 1031 has hosted local performing arts groups as varied as Thompson Street Opera Company and Teatro Tercera Llamada, a Spanish-language theatre company, on its stage as the nonprofit organization continues to raise funds to complete a renovation of the performance space. The rehearsal hall, which boasts a sprung bamboo floor suitable for dance rehearsals, is rented almost every day by local groups and classes. Funds to renovate the facade have just come through, so the front of the building will soon be more inviting to residents and visitors - one more step toward solidifying Vault 1031's place as a community arts anchor. With Kentucky Shakespeare having a record-breaking attendance season (Huffman currently plays Claudius in "Hamlet") and the Rudyard Kipling restaurant and bar under new ownership, Old Louisville could be on the brink of realizing its potential as an arts hub connector between downtown and the University of Louisville Belknap campus and even Churchill Downs. "We would love, along with Kentucky Shakespeare and along with the Rudyard Kipling, to turn Old Louisville into a performing arts mecca, especially for some of the smaller groups in town," said Huffman. "I think we could become a performing arts mecca just as Nulu is a visual arts mecca in town." And the city is paying attention. Earlier this month, Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Councilman David James broke ground on a $500,000 streetscape project on the Fourth and Oak Streets corridor, a commercial cornerstone of Old Louisville. The project will include improvements to sidewalks, curbing, fencing, tree wells and landscaping. Huffman hopes infrastructure improvements will help make empty storefronts more attractive to potential businesses so the city can capitalize on Old Louisville's Victorian architecture and arts scene as a tourist destination. "That’s a huge step forward for us," said Huffman.