It's been close to a decade since New York City's Metropolitan Opera was broadcast on Savannah airwaves, and now the city's only true community radio station is bringing it back.
Savannah Soundings (WRUU 107.5) has brokered a deal to air the longest-running continuous classical music program in the history of radio every Saturday at 1 p.m. beginning Dec. 2 and running through May. They will be only the second low-power FM station in the U.S. to broadcast the opera. You can also buy a ticket to watch high-definition screenings of the operas at local multiplexes in the region - but the WRUU broadcast won't cost a thing.
The Met's broadcast debuted in December 1931 and is currently heard on more than 300 stations in the United States and in 40 countries on five continents. The program, which features full operas performed by the world's preeminent musicians, has won several Peabody Awards.
Since WRUU's broadcast began streaming online in March 2016, the fledgling station has doubled the amount of original content. In March of this year, they went live on the radio dial. The majority of programming is locally focused with a sliver of syndicated material. The station now boasts more than 50 shows, with the weekly opera adding to the wide spectrum of offerings.
"It's really exciting to see everyone's interest," said Douglas Johnson, chair of the WRUU executive task force. "We have a super diverse list of programs. We have a wide variety of talk shows and music shows. It's been really heartening to see the growth on the program side.
"It's also really exciting for me to see to the degree that our schedule represents the makeup of Savannah. All different portions of our community are represented in this schedule."
Johnson added that the station has become a sort of "incubator of cultural expression."
"It's exciting for me to see how the station has become a hub for artists, activists and organizations to use as this place to talk about their work and get it out to people."
The all-volunteer station just finished its first membership drive, including one show host playing a fundraising concert. As the station grows, it's become more embedded in the community, experiencing organic growth they hadn't expected.
"We ended up raising more money than we thought we would with the membership drive," Johnson said. "That money is going to help us stay on the air. It was also great to see the extent of support we got from a broad spectrum of the community. It was our first on-air fundraising drive.
"Not only did we manage to raise an amount of money, but it was good to see the hosts doing it. Now that it's over, in retrospect, we can see it engendered this team spirit at the station that wasn't there. It made the project real in a way."
WRUU is taking a bit of a gamble with the Met broadcast, which does cost the station money. They're betting on the opera to help draw more listeners and supporters.
"Grand opera in its entirety is arguably the most under-represented art form in Savannah media today. There was an opportunity to do something that aligned with our mission and also, the Met is the preeminent opera company in the United States. It's an American radio tradition," Johnson said.
"WRUU really believes that a world-class town like Savannah should have access to world-class art. So carrying these broadcasts is like our gift to Savannah.
"We also hope that those individuals interested in the arts in Savannah will want to support the station to help continue these broadcasts. We are convinced that this is the right thing to do, but like everything else, we're completely listener funded. We're totally volunteer. This is a risk for us and a test for us.
"How will the community respond to this? If we give this gift, how will it be received? I am confident it will be received well."
WRUU 107.5 FM broadcasts The Metropolitan Opera at 1 p.m. Saturdays from Dec. 2-May 5. Learn more at wruu.org or metopera.org.