Miami-Dade County

New Miami FM station shakes things up

Peter Stebbins, is the CEO of Shake 108, Miami's new FM radio station. Stebbins runs the station off a Dell work station at his Morningside home, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014.
Peter Stebbins, is the CEO of Shake 108, Miami's new FM radio station. Stebbins runs the station off a Dell work station at his Morningside home, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami has a new FM radio station that plays mash-ups, bucks traditional formats and accidentally drops the occasional F-Bomb on the drive-time airways.

Shake 108 is rough around the edges, to be sure. It’s run (legally) by novice broadcasters off a Dell computer in the Morningside home of a middle-aged, self-described “computer nerd.” Low-budget advertising strategies include holding homemade signs on the highway.

The founders of Miami’s WMIV 107.9 FM are learning on the job. For them, simply getting on airwaves dominated by Clear Channel and Cox Media was a barstool pipe dream. Now that they’re actually on the air, they’re scrambling to raise money and refine their brand.

“It’s starting to get rolling. It’s all a learning process now,” said Peter Stebbins, the station’s 44-year-old CEO.

Shake 108 began operating last month, broadcast via a scraggly-looking antenna atop a Coral Way mid-rise. The signal fights with other stations at times, but can be heard as far north as the Golden Glades and throughout a patchy zone that includes downtown, Wynwood, Little Havana, Coral Gables and parts of Doral.

Shake’s 24-hour playlist is an eclectic, randomized loop of about 600 songs, including calypso, hip hop, dance, rock and bluegrass. There are no live DJs yet. And commercials, according to Stebbins, are recorded onto an iPhone and then downloaded onto his computer, which is equipped with broadcasting software.

Stebbins said more programming and structure is on the way. He’s courting donors and sponsors to the station’s governing non-profit, and trying to provide more of a voice for local musicians and community organizations. For now, though, the format is simple: good music, regardless of genre.

“Marketers have told me it’s a bad idea. They say stick to salsa, or be a rock station. Stick to a certain genre,” Stebbins said. “Music is like food. Everyone likes all types of gourmet food. We need to give people more credit.”

If jumping helter-skelter between Latin jazz instrumentals, Outkast and the White Stripes doesn’t work out, Stebbins said he’ll reconsider his plan. But he says he wants to see if his original idea will work, because he’s already spent so much time just trying to get on the air.

Stebbins says he began talking about establishing his own station some 14 years ago, when he moved back to the Miami area from Atlanta and realized how “commercialized” FM radio had become. But none of his ideas — including starting a pirate station or broadcasting from a giant tower in Bimini — seemed plausible.

He said his break came in 2010, when Congress passed legislation cutting red tape that kept the Federal Communications Commission from licensing local, non-rofit radio operators to broadcast on low-power stations up to 100 watts on FM radio. A window to apply opened up a year ago, and Stebbins learned in March that Shake 108 been accepted. Better yet, it had received a frequency all to itself.

He set up the non-profit 305 Community Radio and placed his family and friends on the board. He made himself station CEO, and says he put about $20,000 on credit cards buying the equipment he needed to run the station. Royalties for the songs Shake 108 plays cost about $300 a month, he said.

John Viera, a childhood friend of Stebbins who sits on the station’s board, said he never thought his friend would get on the radio. The idea always seemed like drunken banter, he said, but Stebbins kept at it.

“He went through a bunch of hoops before it became reality,” said Viera. Now, he said, “we’re trying to be a cool, artistic radio station and hopefully that will bring in supporters who won’t want to see it go away.”

Shake’s non profit board is reaching out to other organizations, trying to forge partnerships and become a voice for the local community. The station is working toward getting local acts onto the radio, and promoting other non profits, like an environmental association linked to the Museum of Science.

Stebbins, who continues to work as a computer technician, hopes he’ll be able to take his station studio remote soon, and broadcast local DJ sets and live music performances. But for now he and Shake’s board are trying to find sponsors, establish a more structured format and tie up loose ends — like the sneaky expletive that found its way into a Ludacris track this week.

“Listening daily. But sometimes I gotta change the station when the kids are in the car. More radio edit songs please. Lol,” Alberto Solano wrote on the station’s Facebook page this week.

Stebbins said he’s working on it.

“We need it,” he said. “Miami needs it.”