John Graham's Spectrum 23.9 radio station broadcasts online out of a small studio in his southwest Fort Wayne basement. But he's got big dreams of what might happen someday if he's able to grow the station.
“Everyone has to start somewhere,” said Graham, 33. “I've always wanted to make an impact in our community.”
Graham, who has a high functioning form of autism, started Spectrum two years ago after he formed the nonprofit Radio for a Cause, which works to offer opportunities to people with disabilities, especially those with autism, in 2016.
His dream for starting Spectrum was to help those with autism develop an interest in broadcasting. The station runs automated rock playlists around the clock using a 700-song library in a commercial-free format.
On Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Graham and Jacob Bradtmueller, who is also autistic, broadcast the sports show “Jake's Picks,” using Zoom because of social distancing.
“When we first started, we talked about high school sports, football and basketball,” said Bradtmueller, 22, “then I decided to give myself an upgrade and talk about college and pro sports that are out there.”
They were planning a massive March Madness preview special before the NCAA men's basketball tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus.
“When I first came to see him do it, I was a little nervous, but when I started to do it I overcame it and gave it a try,” Bradtmueller said.
“It has inspired me to try to do some other sporting experiences. I've been thinking about maybe trying to broadcast a live high school game to get that experience.”
Graham's goal is to inspire others with autism, like Bradtmueller, to experiment, challenge themselves and see if they can develop a love of radio and broadcasting like he has.
“Radio was something I've been really passionate about all these years,” he said. “I started to get an online following when I was in high school, and I started a short project of doing podcasts here and there.
“This has been a long time coming, and I'm really happy about the product that it has turned out to be.”
Graham, who is a producer for Federated Media on local stations WOWO and WKJG ESPN Radio, as well as being in charge of public relations and attracting sponsorships, was part of the Homestead High School student radio station, receiving the Autism Society of Indiana's Self-Advocacy Award.
He has a 10-year plan for what the physical location of the station can become, including possibly more stations playing a variety of music. His hope is to develop an office complex for his station.
Graham started the station with an equipment donation from Sweetwater owners Chuck and Lisa Surack, an AWS Foundation grant, sponsorship from Partners in Autism and fundraising help from Buffalo Wild Wings.
“He's just learning and getting exposure and getting out at the different events, and he's very passionate about it,” said Vicki Johnson, AWS Foundation director of system navigation and marketing. “When anyone has something they are passionate about, they continually look for ways to improve, and John is very positive and excited. He likes to raise awareness and support causes.”
With help from event coordinator Jordain King, Graham broadcast live from the 2019 Disabilities Expo at Memorial Coliseum and when AWS Foundation moved into its new 8,000-square-foot building on Jefferson Boulevard in January.
Graham's hope is to find more prospective DJs or show hosts. He just wants to find ways to make the station work for whoever wants to try.
“They can do it from home or we can bring them into the studio,” Graham said. “This is open to the general public but we are going to give priority to people with disabilities. We're primarily looking for people who are interested in radio who are dealing with a disability.
“Just bear with us as we continue to learn and we will continue to empower the community of Fort Wayne with showing you how great autistic people are. We invite the general public to listen because they might learn something when we are on.”