A radio station aimed at the African immigrant population in central Ohio is now on the air.

The low-power FM radio service WCRM (102.1) currently is broadcasting test transmissions from a new antenna on top of the Northland Professional Building, 1495 Morse Road, said Ernest M. Opuni, a native of Ghana whose Pri-Value Foundation obtained the license for the station.

Opuni, who has lived in the United States for 15 years, has been in insurance and financial services for the past decade. He started the nonprofit foundation as a separate entity in order to focus on social needs.

One of those needs, he said, is to improve communication among the immigrant populations in central Ohio, and he sees WCRM-LP as an ideal means of doing that.

"We realized there was a huge gap in the transfer of information from the city level and the state to our community," he said. "We want to use this as a platform to communicate and also to educate our community on where these resources are and how to access them."

"It just feels good to hear yourself reflected on the radio in America," said Michael Ndaribamare, who is on the board of WCRM-LP.

Ndaribamare is a Northland resident who was born in the United States to parents who came here from Burundi. He volunteered at the former license- holder, the Neighborhood Network, doing a weekly show featuring African music for about eight years.

Ndaribamare said he approached Opuni about obtaining the license of the Neighborhood Network, which is how the new station came about.

"I think it'll be great," Ndaribamare said. "There are a lot of Africans here. Our tower where we'll be broadcasting from is off Morse and Karl roads where there's a huge African population.

"It gives people a voice and an outlet."

That's exactly the purpose of a low-power FM radio service, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The licenses for such stations, which are supposed to have a broadcast range of between three and five miles, were created by the FCC in January 2000.

"LPFM stations are available to noncommercial educational entities and public safety and transportation organizations, but are not available to individuals or for commercial operations," the FCC website states.

"The creation of the low-power FM radio service stands as one of the greatest successes in recent efforts for grassroots media reform," according to the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization. "As a result, hundreds of new low-power community stations are broadcasting that otherwise would not be, operated by civil-rights groups, schools, farm-worker organizations, environmentalists, cultural organizations and others."

"Initially, when we got the license, we were so excited that we put the word out in the community," Opuni said. "People could not wait for us to get started."

Paperwork involved with the license transfer delayed the testing phase for WCRM-LP until early December, Opuni said.

"Our reach has been very, very unbelievable," he said. "We have had people from Pataskala call us."

"In my head, I hope this might give some kids, mostly African kids in Columbus, a chance to do their own radio shows," Ndaribamare said.

"If they want to go into journalism, it gives them a community to come in and be accepted. If you're the kid of an immigrant, sometimes it's not that easy to have internships and things like that."

Opuni is recruiting people to serve on the station's community advisory board and help shape the programming when WCRM-LP goes into full operation, perhaps by April.

Those interested in being on the panel may contact him at ernest@tvan.tv.

"The joy for me personally is being able to provide a service which seemed so out of reach to our communities," Opuni said. "It's an accomplishment for our community. It's high time for us to have something like this."