A golden opportunity: Whitehall man transforms home into non-profit radio station

Jim "JC" Cox, left, and John Alan, right, host the new 98.9 FM Real Gold Radio station out of a room in the garage of Alan's home in Whitehall. The station plays 50s and 60s music 24/7. (Andraya Croft | Photographer)

Jim “JC” Cox, left, and John Alan, right, host the new 98.9 FM Real Gold Radio station out of a room in the garage of Alan’s home in Whitehall. The station plays 50s and 60s music 24/7. (Andraya Croft | Photographer)

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

WHITEHALL, MI — For the last three months, John Alan has spent the majority of his time at home, throwing electricity into the air.

Among corn fields and trees of Whitehall is a house that sits on top of a hill, secluded from the average passerby. Inside the house – which Alan and his wife purchased almost three years ago – is enough equipment to duplicate a control room at NASA.

Through this venue, the Whitehall resident runs a non-profit radio station that pumps numerous songs and melodies through the airways.

“On Sunday afternoons, I had my mother drive me around so I could stare at towers,” says Alan, who found his calling before he could drive. “I was fascinated by the radio. At age 15, I lied about my age to get my first job in radio.”

In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission authorized the first batch of LPFM radio stations, limiting them to 100 watts. At the possibility of running one of only 500 of these LPFM stations in the country, Alan began planning.

“A friend of mine got a station in that first batch when I was living in Texas at that time,” Alan said. “I made up my mind that if (the FCC) ever opened another window, I was going to get it.”

After waiting two years for that window, Alan got his wish. He began investing in equipment and searched for the place that would be perfect to launch Real Gold Radio 98.9 FM.

Then Alan and his wife came across that house on a hill.

Today, the house looks just as modest as the day they came across it – except for the 96-foot tower that stands next to it. Held down by 55 tons of concrete, the tower is connected to the house through several wires that help project music across the White Lake area in a 20-mile radius.

However, it takes more than one person to man a radio station. So, Alan reached out to Jim Cox after receiving an FCC license.

Jim "JC" Cox, radio personality, works from 7-10 a.m. Monday through Friday for the new 98.9 FM Real Gold Radio station, while John Alan works the evening shift from 3-6 p.m out of a room in the garage of his home in Whitehall. (Andraya Croft | Photographer)

Jim “JC” Cox, radio personality, works from 7-10 a.m. Monday through Friday for the new 98.9 FM Real Gold Radio station, while John Alan works the evening shift from 3-6 p.m out of a room in the garage of his home in Whitehall. (Andraya Croft | Photographer)

Having been involved with radio in some capacity for 38 years, Cox was six years retired when he got the call. The Norton Shores resident was eager to get back in front of a microphone, and admittedly he had become tired of sitting at the window, watching trees grow.

On the first day back, Cox hit the ground running and fell back into the groove of things. As the host of the morning show portion for Real Gold Radio, Cox is on air from 7-10 a.m. Monday through Friday.

As the on-air personality that greets residents in the early hours, Cox plays music for three hours and interviews guests that range from the mayor of Whitehall to an Elvis impersonator.

The rediscovery of being heard from miles around has been a fountain of youth to the retiree.

“It’s been one great thing after another,” Cox said, smiling. “After I retired, I never thought I would be on the radio again, so it’s been a huge pleasure.”

Day-to-day operations

While it’s the computer that runs the station for most of the day, it still requires a lot of upkeep.

Take a step inside the secluded room, and the temperature changes significantly. Because of the heat that emanates from the equipment, there is an air conditioner that is left on at a constant 74 degrees.

The sound-insulated room might be the smallest in the house, but it requires the most electricity. With a gold-leaf paint job and a spackle texture that looks like oatmeal, Alan and Cox are never alone when the door shuts. They are joined by a picture of Roy Orbison that hangs on the wall, as well as a Johnny Cash action figure imprisoned in his plastic box.

Since he works from home, Alan spends eight to 12 hours a day working on the computers, maintaining the equipment and changing the music. Some days he works into the night for so long his nights turn into mornings.

The work is nothing, though, since it’s a passion Alan has had since his mother drove him around in search of radio towers as a teenager.

“I built this room from nothing to what it is, from the wiring to the audio equipment,” Alan said. “Music is my soul, it speaks to me. Music makes me laugh, it makes me cry.”

Before officially launching on May 26, Real Gold Radio streamed online for nine years.

When Alan first began streaming online, the music was mostly pulled from the 1950s and ’60s periods. Since then, it has progressed to include a lot more ’70s and early ’80s music.

Approaching 8,000 songs at their disposal, Alan said they plan on expanding even more. With a power increase to 200 watts in mind, the station could serve a wider outreach.

The future holds anything for Real Gold Radio as it has found solid footing in the three months of existence. Alan admits business is good and the response has been great, but said they can keep improving the sound to make it more in tune with what people want to hear.

“We want to be a local connection because all radio stations are corporately owned now,” Alan said. “So, we want to get away from that now. No glamor, just music.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 28, 2014)

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