Swords will not be beaten into ploughshares, exactly. But the Rev. J. Morgan Hodges likes to think of his plan to convert an abandoned missile site into a radio station as the modern-day equivalent.
The planned FM station then would be used for occupational training of inmates at the D.C. Department of Corrections' Lorton facility.
"There has never been a radio station within a prison complex in the history of penal operations," claims Hodges, who says he will train the inmates for broadcasting careers. "Our call letters will be WDCJ -- We Deliver Civil Justice. They've already had criminal justice."
The Ethnic Public Broadcasting Foundation, which Hodges founded two years ago, has a Federal Communications Commission permit to build a 10-watt educational station at Lorton. But the foundation still needs an estimated $120,000 to buy equipment and refurbish the cinder-block building that was used as a control center for the underground Nike installation, built by the Army in 1954 and abandoned 20 years later.
"We are seeking funds from foundations, government grants and private contributions," says the 54-year-old Hodges, a nondenominational Christian minister. Hodges says he has even solicited contributions from half a dozen television ministers, including Billy Graham.
"They've told me, 'I'm with you 100 percent, Hodges,' but I'm still waiting to see the bucks."
Lorton officials say they are enthusiastic about Hodges and his planned station. Delbert C. Jackson, D.C. corrections director, issued a press release with Hodges earlier this month to announce the scheduled opening of the station the first week of March.
"When I first approached them, there was skepticism," says Hodges, who has worked in radio in Canada and the United States since he was 14. "But after a while, I had them eating out of my hand. I showed them that they weren't developing the kind of jobs for inmates on the outside that I could. They had to agree with me."
Hodges says the job market for his students should be good because "the broadcast industry is having a hard time finding enough ethnics to fulfill the FCC mandate that (stations) make room for minorities and women." But Hodges would prefer to own enough radio stations to keep the ex-inmates within his own corporate family.
His foundation has applied for stations in Jackson, Miss.; Frederick, Md., and Lancaster, Pa. Hodges says he also is "exploring the possibility" of purchasing two radio stations in the Dominican Republic and has been "invited by the government of the (Republic of) Cameroon" to establish a station for training personnel in that African country.
If it sounds as if Hodges is empire-building, he does not deny it.
"We're in the job development business, too," he says. "That is where most rehabilitation agencies fail miserably. They do a lot of lip service, but when these inmates come out of jail they end up working as custodians or dishwashing for the minimum wage."
Hodges' application for the station at Lorton was held up more than a year because the FCC was concerned that its placement on the FM dial (88.1) would interfere with another educational station.
"We did not make a petition to deny them a license," said Sue Harmon, general manager of the other station, the 50,000-watt WAMU, which broadcasts from American University. "We just wanted to be sure they didn't interfere with us."
WAMU, affiliated with National Public Radio, claims 90,000 listeners at 88.5 on the FM dial, closer than the four-channel separation the FCC requires between stations in the same area. But an FCC hearing determined Lorton's transmitter was far enough from WAMU's to minimize that concern.
While WAMU is satisfied with the FCC decision, Harmon says, station officials are keeping an ear open in Lorton's direction. "There is always the worry," she noted, "that low-powered stations close to you will get on the air and say, 'hey, we want more power.'"
Johnathan David, the FCC's senior attorney in the policy and rules division, says it is "natural for educational stations to start small and grow" and the FCC did not want to "close the door" on that kind of development. But because FM broadcasting bands around the country have become overloaded with small stations, the FCC last year stopped accepting applications for 10-watt operations. Hodge applied for his station's permit June 15, 1978, the final day such applications were accepted.
Likening the small stations to oil and the larger stations to sardines, David said, "there was so much oil in the can there was no room for sardines." d
All the smaller stations, including the proposed Lorton station, have until 1981 to move from the part of the FM dial reserved for educational stations (88-92) to the unreserved part (92-108). After the bigger educational stations are resituated, the smaller ones can move back, said David.
Hodges says when he applied for the station at Lorton there was no interest on the part of D.C. Corrections officials, but he had faith that things would work out. He uses the word cautiously. Though he is an ordained minister and a board member of the National Religious Broadcasters, Hodges says he does not intend to use the radio station "for any of that emotionalism and faith-healing you regularly get on black-oriented stations."
"I would play the 'reverend' part down," he says. "I do not intend to turn this thing into a circus. The sermon I preach is working with people down in Lorton."