Last week I wrote about how Radio is Relationships and what I was talking about was the relationship between the air personality and the listener. However, relationships are also important inside a radio station.
My hometown newspaper recently wrote an article about the local high school radio station in Pittsfield, Massachusetts – WTBR – that might go dark. This FM radio station that operates out of one of the city’s two public high schools has been on-the-air for over 40 years. It was recently fined $7,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for violating the commission’s regulations at the time of its license renewal.
The body that holds the license for WTBR is the Pittsfield School Committee and the school committee appealed the amount of the fine. The FCC reduced the fine from $7,000 to $5,600 “based on Pittsfield’s history of compliance” the local paper reported.
Now to put this fine in perspective, WTBR operates on an annual budget of only $6,000.
How it’s able to operate on such a small budget is due to the fact that everyone who works at the station is an adult volunteer from the community or a high school student. The annual budget goes to pay for equipment maintenance, fees and other miscellaneous expenses.
So what changed? A long time advisor to the school FM radio station retired. With his departure, student interest in the radio station also diminished, to just five students. Without this inside champion, the radio station is staring at a seven day a week, three hundred sixty-five day operating schedule with no people.
The school superintendent in addressing the school committee at a recent meeting outline three alternatives: invest in the program to develop a more professional broadcast curriculum, partner with a local media company that would be charged with overseeing the station’s operations or selling the FCC license.
The superintendent said with around five students interested in the operation, it didn’t appear that the investing option made much sense. Consolidation of the commercial radio industry in the area didn’t seem very plausible either. The last option could bring in $100,000 he thought.
The irony here is that WTBR is usually the only radio station in the city that is doing LIVE & LOCAL programming when I return home to visit family and friends during holidays. The local commercial radio stations usually are running either voice-tracking, syndicated or network programming.
The difference to me as a listener is the passion and one-on-one nature of WTBR. It’s the kind of radio that still attracts me as a listener. But without a visionary inside this radio station who’s building relationships with both students and the local community to run the station and be responsible for its operation and not getting it in trouble with the FCC, it may nearing its final days.
(Note: The first commercial radio station license was issued to Westinghouse for KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA in October 1920. In October 2020, radio will mark its 100th Anniversary. That original license for KDKA is pictured above.)