We assume that if you are regular readers of this paper and our column then you are probably advocates of free speech and free expression as tacit to a democratic society. But do you ever ask yourself just how to be heard?

The right of free speech and finding a forum in which to speak are two separate issues, but there is a solution: community radio. It's as simple as that. And Bloomington is fortunate to have its very own community radio station in WFHB.

Maybe you are already a listener, or maybe you've never heard of the station, but it has been around for nearly 30 years in one manifestation or another. WFHB was the first community radio station in Indiana, and over the past 15 years has evolved into a seriously representative and credible voice for the community.

Just recently the station added two new towers that extend broadcasting range to include Brown County and the Ellettsville areas and much of public affairs programming is available to the world via podcasting.

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WFHB is operated almost exclusively by volunteers with just four regularly paid full-time employees. And yet it manages to be on air 24/7, with current news and public educational programming, as well as stylized music shows that appeal to nearly any listener's ear.

While some volunteers are student interns, the majority (well over 200 of them) are community members from every profession, career, lifestyle, ethnicity, religious affiliation, economic level and life philosophy. And for all their possible differences, everyone works together to not only provide a space to give voice to you the citizen but to ensure that this opportunity remains and grows.

Where else can you tune in to hear a student talk about the ups and downs of high school or college life; listen to members of the Latina/o community talk about their histories and perspectives on life in Bloomington; hear about cultural perspectives and issues of interest to the black community; take in discussions about democracy; listen to a show dedicated to sports issues; hear exclusive coverage of international news and important local news; and, important to us for instance, learn about the issues and events relevant to the LGBTQI community?

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All of this and more is brought to you by local people, of local people and for local people. Whatever is happening in the community WFHB is there to cover it with an open mind and microphone. And it is accepted and honored that while we may each have our own unique perspectives and issues, we all share in this community called Bloomington within the larger context of South Central Indiana.

It is our belief that only through the sharing of unique differences will we come to a better understanding of one another, become more sensitive, caring and accepting of individual perspectives and eventually create stronger and healthier communities.

Besides these loftier goals, community radio is fun. It provides the opportunity to work with so many different types of people who might not meet in their regular daily routines. Each day new and interesting folks enter the studios of WFHB, bringing with them their unique histories and individuality ready to share with one another.

It is also a great way to bridge the age gap and stay in touch with what is hot and what is not, given that volunteers may range in ages from teens to well past those golden retirement years.

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Through underwriting, advertising and public service announcements, WFHB maintains a firm commitment to Bloomington and all of South Central Indiana in its support of the local economy. It cannot, however, achieve any of these goals without in-kind support from the community and its listeners.

WFHB is a nonprofit that offers specialty programming in partnerships with various community organizations, local businesses, other local nonprofit agencies, as well as with departments and programs within IU. Success in such initiatives has earned WFHB the Human Rights Commission Award in 2004, the Heart and Hand Award in 2004 and 2005 and the Nancy Howard Diversity Award in 2007.

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Okay, so let's say you are already a fan of WFHB and its programming and are all set one evening to listen to your favorite show; say, for instance, bloomingOUT on Thursday evenings. You turn on the radio and there is only static.

Hmm, something wrong with the radio? No, other stations are coming in. There are no storms in the area. So what happened? You make a quick phone call to the station only to learn that WFHB is off the air because of lack of funding. How did that happen you say?

The answer is simple: community radio is supported by volunteer and supporter donations both in terms of physical operation and funding. We maintain a fairly steady base of volunteers, but the cash flow is sometimes inconsistent and need is ever increasing.

As you might guess, the station has overhead expenses, such as taxes and utility bills, and we can't ignore the high cost of purchasing and maintaining the latest in electronic equipment.

Those of us who volunteer our time are true believers in the importance of a community voice and we know that our listeners feel the same way. But there are many ways to volunteer and one of the most essential is through monetary donations to the station. These donations can be made to WFHB in general or in support of a particular show and can be made by check, cash, auto-bank withdrawal or online with credit card -- www.wfhb.org.

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According to research results published in a recent issue of the Journal of General Science, folks feel better about themselves when they donate to a cause or group. This sort of proves the old adage that it is better to give than to receive, and our response to such information is obvious, not to mention conveniently timed, because coming up on March 28, WFHB will begin its annual spring fund drive, which is a good time to donate monetary support and feel good about yourself too!

During the entire week (March 28th-April 6th) phone volunteers will be on hand to assist donors in making this fund drive the best ever for our local community radio station.

Don't like using the phone? Stop by the station or go online with your credit card. We know these are not the best of economic times, and tough decisions are made on a daily basis for many. However, we believe that freedom of the airwaves without the constraints of commercially driven programming, although costly, is invaluable to a healthy productive society.

We hope you agree and encourage you to support the efforts of the staff, crew, broadcasters and other volunteers of WFHB and give yourself a boost by joining in their efforts to keep a part of the democratic process alive, well and a part of Bloomington!!

Helen Harrell and Carol Fischer can be reached at hharrell@indiana.edu and cafische@indiana.edu.