Radio-Free Garland

An unlikely suburban airwave pirate lands in the FCC's crosshairs

Within a week, he was broadcasting a couple of hours a day, and within a month, The Park could be heard for a full 12 hours, kicking off with Marty's live morning show. Before long, people were calling the station with requests for music and announcements of upcoming community events.

He ran contests and gave away movie tickets. Last summer, he invited neighborhood teenagers to become guest disc jockeys. One sixth-grader, Cara Vance, was such a natural on the air, she developed her own fan club. "We did what disc jockeys used to do--cater to the needs and interests of the local community and play music that complements other music," Marty says. "I chose the music by this," he says, pointing to his heart.

Each day, he would pick cuts from about 50 albums. One day's lineup, for instance, included Peruvian flute music, Van Morrison, Harry Connick Jr., B.B. King, Ry Cooder performing Cuban music, and Edith Piaf.

"Maybe I would play all the cuts of a certain CD, if I liked them. People were hearing stuff they didn't normally hear. And they seemed to like it. The station became very popular. It was starting to glue the neighborhood together."

In many ways, Spring Park is fertile ground for a community radio station, because it is one of the few suburban areas with a real sense of community--a middle-class island that lies mostly within the blue-collar confines of Garland.

Gary Clark, former president of the Spring Park Homeowners Association, calls it Brigadoon or "The Third Park City." It is an uncommonly green and hilly place, built around a 16-acre pond and teeming with wildlife. Only a few of the homes, which range in price from $100,000 to $800,000, have fences, so the back yards roll into one another, connected by grassy common areas.

Civic groups abound. There is a woman's group that visits people who have fallen ill or lost a loved one. The Quackers Club nurses sick and injured ducks and geese back to health. There's a moms-and-tots group that meets monthly, and every holiday is celebrated in a big way, especially Christmas. At the annual hoedown, held around a roaring bonfire, 300 people come for hayrides, a bluegrass band, free chili, and a visit from Santa, who arrives in a helicopter.

"This isn't Plano," Clark says. "People don't just drive to work and come home, pull into their driveways, and that's that. People here know each other."

The community pride is reflected in and stoked by the town's Web site and its monthly eight-page newspaper, personally distributed by 67 block representatives. In fact, the town recently won communications and community-spirit awards from the National Community Association. Such spirit thrives because of--or perhaps in spite of--the neighborhood's origins 25 years ago. Raymond Nasher of NorthPark fame conceived Spring Park as a planned community with residential, community, and commercial areas covering 16,000 acres. He and his partners only developed one-third of the original plan, building residences and a clubhouse before abandoning the project in 1980.

Nasher sold the remaining land and clubhouse to an insurance company, which, in turn, sold the clubhouse to private owners, who kept it open until 1994. By then, the clubhouse had fallen into disrepair, and its tennis courts and swimming pool were in desperate need of an overhaul. The owners decided to put it up for sale, and a mid-cities church put in an offer.

The prospect of losing the clubhouse galvanized some segments of the Spring Park community. Neighbors went door-to-door soliciting $1,000 contributions to buy the building. They raised $335,000 and donated it to the homeowners association, which borrowed the rest to buy the club back. Then the residents pitched in to remodel the club. Marty donated and installed a new sound system, and another man, who had recently sold his business, spent the first few months of his retirement building a deck for the tennis courts. Others painted the building, weeded the grass, and hauled off debris.

"I never heard of homeowners devoting so much time and energy to their neighborhood," says Margie Acheson, editor of the monthly Spring Park newspaper, News and Notes. "Marty and his radio station were symbolic of the community spirit we have in Spring Park. He was knowledgeable and entertaining."

When Marty took to the airwaves, he made a special point of promoting the clubhouse and its myriad activities--the Memorial Day and Labor Day barbecues, the swim meets, the Mardi Gras party. Marty felt strongly that the clubhouse was the heart and soul of Spring Park and that had they lost it, they would have become just another garden-variety neighborhood.

Not everyone in Spring Park agreed. There was a small but vocal group of residents who were opposed to the neighborhood association buying and operating the clubhouse, even though it did not increase their neighborhood dues. And it is clear that the clubhouse brouhaha led to Marty getting busted by the FCC.

Marty had a suspicion--which he says he recently confirmed through a Freedom of Information Act request--that one of his neighbors, a staunch member of the anti-clubhouse camp, turned him in to the feds.

"I was trying to get the neighborhood together, and I innocently irked someone," Marty says.

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