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Radio Arts Foundation-St. Louis still waiting for the green light

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 24, 2013 - If Jim Connett’s been feeling some deja vu lately, it’s understandable. He’s back in the same building, on the same floor and in the same room where he worked for KEZK 25 years ago.

But a lot new is happening for Connett these days, too. As he awaits FCC approval for the frequency of St. Louis’ newest classical radio station, Connett’s navigating how the new station will sound different, how Radio Arts Foundation-St. Louis will maintain funding as a nonprofit, and how they’ll connect with listeners in this social media world.

All of it feels full circle, he says.

In 2010, KFUO, Classic 99 FM, went off the air after more than 60 years. 

Today, 99.1 FM is a contemporary Christian station. St. Louis also has Classic 90.7, St. Louis Public Radio’s HD channel, which offers classical music around the clock.

RAF-STL plans to bring that music back onto the analog airwaves, soon, Connett says, though the process of getting FCC approval has been a tangled and long one. RAF-STL will be available on analog, in hybrid digital at KIHT HD2, and through live streaming online. 

It’s all taken longer than Connett or anyone else involved anticipated, though. “It took a lot more time than we expected because, really, no one’s ever done this before,” he says.

RAF-STL got its initial support from big donors such as Centene, which provided $1 million as a start-up grant. But that’s not enough to run a station, Connett says.

The station, a nonprofit, will offer 72 minutes of advertising a day and plans to work with underwriting, other grants and fundraising avenues for its day-to-day expenses. 

The station's model is unusual and what you’ll hear on the air will be different, too, Connett says. The new station offers studio space for live performances, and it plans to work with the St. Louis Symphony and Opera Theatre St. Louis. Plus, the station wants to work with listeners, both through social media and the kind of music it’ll play. In the past, the classical station on your radio dial played mostly top 40 classical music, but with the new format, Connett says, this station will be able to go deeper into the genre than before, and to be more local.

“We’re spending more time bringing our community in with local performers,” he says. 

The new station in the old space, which includes new studios and a performance space, is at 7711 Carondelet in Clayton. RAF-STL will be heard along the highways 40 and 44 corridor, Connett says; he’s just not exactly sure when yet. 

“I’m shooting for March.”

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