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In a changing city, community radio station gives voice to longtime Detroiters

Reverend Joan Ross recording in her studio
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
Reverend Joan Ross recording her show "My Block, My Hood, My City" for WNUC

Detroit’sNorth End neighborhoodis changing.

It's in a part of the city that's adjacent to the residential and retail boom that's drawn so much attention to Detroit in recent years. As that development moves outward from downtown, things are starting to look a little different around here. 

Joan Ross is a reverend and community organizer who works in the neighborhood. And like a lot of people who've worked or lived in the city for a while, she's thinking about what those changes mean.

"We always envisioned the station to be a unifying place that groups all across the city had this radio station,"- Joan Ross

Ross says a lot of the investment happening seems to benefit new residents rather than the people who've been here for decades.

She wanted to create a space for those longtime Detroiters to have conversations about their changing city, and she thought a community radio station would be a good way to do it.

“We always envisioned the station to be a unifying place, that groups all across the city had this radio station,” Ross said.

“We want this to be all the communities in Detroit. That’s why we chose the call letters that we did. Our call letters are WNUCwhich stands for North End Uniting Communities,” she added.

Ross got a little seed money from a foundation to start WNUC, but the rest came from neighbors and just everyday people.

“All the rest of the money was earned by grassroots efforts, spaghetti dinners, chicken dinners, just block clubs coming together and helping us with this,” Ross said.

Reverend Joan Ross in the studio with two of her producers
Credit Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Reverend Joan Ross and her producers recording a show.

The station’s mission is to shed light on topics in Detroit that often get ignored by mainstream news outlets — things like the positive work happening in every Detroit neighborhood.

Highlighting those stories is the focus of one of the shows that Ross hosts called My Block, My Hood, My City. She says the goal of the show is to get as many diverse voices on air as possible.

“Not necessarily yours may be the best opinion voiced, or you might have the right angle voice, but your voice counts too. We want to hear you,” she said.

There's also a local news hour, a Spanish news broadcast, and a Motown music show. And on Sunday nights, kids can tune in for bedtime stories.

"We need more of these stations. I mean it's cool to hear about what's happening downtown and all, but there's more to Detroit than that little area," - Nicole Simmons

WNUC is a low-power FM station. That means it’s noncommercial and mostly educational, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Low power FM stations often belong to churches and other community organizations. Most have a smaller signal radius than commercial FM or AM stations.

WNUC's signal reaches about 300,000 people in Detroit. It reaches from downtown to the North End neighborhood, and stretches as far west as Southwest Detroit.

The work that Ross and others at the station are doing is finding an audience. One of the people tuning in is Detroit resident Nicole Simmons. She calls WUNC her go-to place to find out about community projects.

“I didn’t even know there were so many neighborhood groups doing things in the city until I heard about it on here,” Simmons said.

Simmons stumbled across the station while driving home from work. She says what she's heard on WNUC has made her more invested in knowing about the city’s neighborhoods.

“We need more of these stations. I mean it’s cool to hear about what’s happening downtown and all, but there’s more to Detroit than that little area,” she said.

After more than three years of work from Ross, WNUC came on air for the first time in May. You can stream the station, and learn about what's happening in neighborhoods across the city, by streaming the station online.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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