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Fulcrum Community Communications celebrates FCC green light

Radio startup takes victory lap with funk band Planet Fly

Elliot Bailey, A&E Editor
Originally published September 20, 2015

Photo courtesy of Madeline Manolo

An audience member cuts loose toward the end of Fulcrum Community Communications’ Radio Bustout #8. On June 30, the FCC granted Fulcrum a permit to begin construction on a broadcast studio. The location is yet to be determined.

It’s Friday night and in the upstairs showroom of Ballard’s Salmon Bay Eagles club local soul/funk band Planet Fly is hanging out before their 7:30 p.m. show. BHS science teacher Eric Muhs is at a soundboard dragging knobs, getting levels for drummer John Rogers.

The event is for Fulcrum Community Communications, an FM radio non-profit of which Muhs is President.

The still-developing radio station is celebrating an important step in its formative journey. On June 30, the FCC granted Fulcrum a long-awaited construction permit, allowing them to begin building out a studio from which to broadcast. A site for this station is yet to be determined.

“We don’t have a studio site and we don’t have the money to pay for one yet anyway,” Muhs says before the show. “We’re really diverting most of our funds to the antenna problem. That’s going to take the longest to solve.”

The antenna problem Fulcrum has is getting the installation of their broadcast antenna approved.

“We have the building, we have the cooperation of the building’s owners, but you know, getting it through the city and departments,” Muhs said, trailing off.

The antenna, if approved by the city, will be installed on Phinney Ridge’s Norse Building, 5311 Phinney Ave. N.

For tonight, it’s all about celebrating. The FCC green light signals an end to what’s essentially been a two year standstill for Fulcrum volunteers.

And they’re out of the gates. Rogers is on stage tapping the electronic and acoustic elements of his kit, soundchecking with Muhs. It’s a good place to have a show, has a good feel.

The floors are made of tan wood and vocalists KJ Jones and Kate Davis walk across them, singing to each other. The light fixtures are mid-century modern, made of wide architectural rings, concentrically circular, like saucers landing on the lunar surface of a gray stucco ceiling. The dry sound of Rogers’ drum machine bites anachronistically in the warm, wooden room.

Muhs and Rogers have known each other for a long time and Planet Fly is playing the Fulcrum event partly because of their connection.

“I used to play in a band with Eric Muhs who helped organize the thing,” Rogers said. “He saw my band last summer, thought it’d be a good fit, so [he] gave me a shout out on Facebook.”

This event isn’t the first of its kind. Over a nearly two year period Fulcrum has put on seven shows similar to this one.

“In these various events, we’ve probably had 30 different bands play and I think I knew most of them one way or another,” Muhs said.

Much of Fulcrum’s early development is happening in this sort of community hey-I-know-you networking mode.

Rex Young is a volunteer that sits on the Capacity and Development Committee for Fulcrum. He only recently hooked up with the organization after encountering them online.

“I happened to see an article online that The Stranger posted about Fulcrum just getting their building license,” Young said. “It happened to mention that they’re eagerly looking for volunteers of any and all qualification, experience, skills.

“That sounded fun, sounded like something basically I could do for fun on the weekends, outside my regular day job and so basically I volunteered and I’ve been helping out ever since.”

Young is wearing a space invader shirt and a baseball cap. The atmosphere among the people at the show, the people behind Fulcrum in this early period is casual, but exciting.

“I have zero experience with radio, and the concept of creating something out of nothing, that, plus diving headfirst into something that I have zero experience with sounded like fun things to do,” Young said.

At 7:30 p.m. all is primed. On stage, Planet Fly is standing ready. Sage Borlo, former teacher’s assistant to Muhs, is sitting in a foldable chair by the door, a roll of tickets at his side. Muhs is behind the soundboard.

But at 7:30 p.m. when Planet Fly starts their set, the dance floor is empty. Around a dozen audience members sit satellite on benches around the room.

It’s slow at first, but by the eight o’clock hour, more people have streamed in. The audience gets out on the floor. People sitting down are dragged off benches by the hand to dance with friends or strangers. One woman organizes people into circular sort of everyone’s-a-winner dance battles.

Non-dancers cut loose with waggling arms.

This show is atavistic fun and while it wasn’t initially as triumphant as one might’ve hoped, you wouldn’t know it from the excitement of the band.

The whole overwhelming celebration seems impressive, even improbable, looking over the small crowd. But this contradiction, this mathematically unfollowable sense of energy, sum of, at most, 20 dancing bodies and a live band is maybe the nature of ventures like Fulcrum.

Planet Fly’s performance is a token of the Fulcrum idea, the small radio sentiment. While listeners aren’t yet coming in droves, the sound that’s going out into the community is good. And if the night’s any indication of future community-driven content in North Seattle neighborhoods, it’s safe to assume that we, alongside Fulcrum, have much to look forward to.

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Fulcrum Community Communications celebrates FCC green light