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Of Woods and Words: Deeply Rooted

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The other day, while I waited to check out at one of the local grocery stories, I noticed a familiar mug resting in the coffee corner. It was just an ordinary beige coffee mug, the 12-oz. kind that are ubiquitous in any Midwest cupboard. But that’s not why the mug was familiar. It was the teal logo that made the mug pop out. The logo showed a four-paned, curtain-framed window with an old-fashioned radio resting on the sill. Cook County Community Radio, the mug read.

Long before there was WTIP, there was Cook County Community Radio. It wasn’t an actual radio station, it was just a group of people who sat around kitchen tables and tried to figure out how to make a volunteer radio station work on the North Shore. I was just a little kid in the spring of 1992 when the organization formed and one of the kitchen tables this group of people often met around was my parents’. Although I was far too young to help with any of the grant-writing, researching, and fundraising necessary to make community radio in Cook County a reality, from that time forward, the radio project would be an important focal point in my life.

The dream for Cook County Community Radio was always to become a station run by local volunteers providing local information, entertainment, and music programming, but that was a very big dream. It was a dream requiring a studio space, FCC approval, and plenty of funds. During the six years it took to raise the $90,000 necessary to install a transmitter which would rebroadcast KUMD’s signal out of Duluth on WTIP’s space on the radio dial, there was many a bake sale held in Cook County Community Radio’s good name.

To generate interest in the project, Cook County Community Radio tried to have a presence in every Grand Marais Christmas parade. One year the volunteers marched through the Grand Marais streets with boom boxes perched on their shoulders as part of a “boom box army.” Another year, we tried to create a marching unit for the parade that would somehow communicate that the radio was the true center of a home. We spent hours painting a massive cardboard box with that Cook County Community Radio logo, then cut arm holes in the sides and made a very tall person wear the box with his head sticking out of the top. For some reason, for that particular parade, my brother and I ran around in dog and cow costumes; I suspect because those were the only custom sewn Halloween costumes we ever owned.

But getting a radio station on the air involved much more than slight ridiculousness in local parades. In the commissioners’ room of the courthouse, I perfected my mass mailing skills, folding fundraising letter after fundraising letter and stuffing them into Cook County Community Radio envelopes. For two Fisherman’s Picnics, we set up the concessions booth for the softball tournament in the Rec Park. We’d rent a small moving van to hold all brats, buns, toppings, and donuts. We’d begin those early August mornings smearing plain donuts with chocolate frosting and for the rest of the day, my brother and I would camp out in the back of the van until it was time to pack up the leftover chopped onions and relish in Tupperware containers at the end of the day. I burned my tongue on hot apple cider at another bake sale held in conjunction with some dog sled race and for one Fourth of July bake sale I drew 100 teeny U.S. flags to stick in the tops of 100 cupcakes.

Cook County Community Radio is deeply rooted in my childhood. Even after the radio station became a reality in 1998 and assumed its more familiar name of WTIP, the station remains an important part of my life. I’m proud to say that after nearly 20 years, Cook County Community Radio remains an endeavor well worth supporting. Just as that kooky Christmas parade float tried to demonstrate years ago, I believe WTIP really has become a local communications tool that brings people together and serves as the center of many a household. I hope you’ll take a minute now to think of all the ways WTIP is deeply rooted in your own life and if you’re able, I hope you’ll honor us with a pledge of support during this fall membership drive.

Airdate: November 9, 2011