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Community radio station sees rebirth, hopes to Kickstart its bank account

The idea is that live programmers will be working in front of the window in much the same fashion as they did in the television show “Northern Exposure” and its fictitious AM station, KBHR.

Great Barrington —Some say traditional over-the-air radio is on the outs. Maybe, maybe not. But after a period of decline, Great Barrington’s once-proud community radio station is rising once again.

WBCR, the low-power FM station that has broadcast at 97.7 on the dial for 15 years, has emerged from a hiatus of live programming and rented a studio on Main Street.

For at least three and a half years, the station has been broadcasting mostly automated programming from its antenna at Fairview Hospital. Financial problems and a dwindling number of programmers prompted the all-volunteer WBCR to leaves the Rosseter Street studios the station had rented from playwright Joan Ackerman.

Flyers for the WBCR kickstarter fundraiser line the window of the new studio. Photo: Terry Cowgill

After much work, the station’s board members realized something of a dream when last month they secured studio space in a highly visible Main Street storefront. That storefront, at 320 Main St., was until recently occupied by the now-closed Hildi B’s, the clothing retailer owned by Hildi Kaufmann.

Graham Dean is a musician who sits on the station’s operations committee, which meets every Thursday at the Berkshire Co-op Market. He told The Edge WBCR’s volunteers are thrilled at the rental of the Main Street studio.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Dean said in an interview. “We’ve been working hard on creating a business plan and vision over last two or three years. Part of that was finding a Main Street location.”

And part of that plan is to raise money for the sundry expenses incurred in keeping a radio station on the air. The marquee event will happen Thursday night (Feb. 28) at the Barn at the Egremont Village Inn. The goal for Kickstarter stage of the fundraising campaign is to raise $25,000.

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., food will be served and a slate of locally-based musicians will perform. The line-up includes Jackson Whalan, Tom Ingersoll, Michael Lesko, Jess Kinn and Black Lake. Admission is $15 at the door but organizers promise “no one will be turned away for lack funds.”

WBCR volunteers Asa Hardcastle, Michelle Kaplan and Art Ames. Photo: Terry Cowgill

This week, the station’s volunteers were busy moving furniture into the space. After the lease was signed a few weeks ago, a table with a sound board and a WBCR banner was placed in the window.

The idea is that live programmers will be working in front of the window in much the same fashion as they did in the television show “Northern Exposure” and its fictitious AM station, KBHR.

Dean says the goal of the fundraising campaign is to raise enough money to get the station through a year of operations. Expenses include rent, utilities, insurance and licensing fees. Eventually, the station hopes to hire a part-time station manager or executive director.

“Once we’re on Main Street and in that location, the plan is to have the live programming,” Dean said.

Since the announcement of the new studio space, more 60 applications for programming have poured in. Dean says applicants are of virtually all ages and range from newcomers to veterans from the Rosseter Street days. Those without substantial broadcasting experience will need to be trained.

When WBCR opened its doors in 2004, it quickly gained a reputation as a player in local radio, staffed by volunteers and offering an eclectic menu of locally produced programming. The original studio was in the basement of the Main Street building where the Pink Cloud Gallery is located. About nine years ago the station moved to the basement of a building on Rosseter Street.

At the peak of the station’s popularity, there were more than 70 programmers. By the time the Rosseter Street studio closed, the number of programmers who produce original programming had dwindled to about 20 and the station’s friends had shrunk proportionately.

WBCR has not been without controversy. In 2010, the station applied for a grant from the local chapter of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which at the behest of a couple of its members, threatened to withhold the grant because those council members found one WBCR program, “Democracy Now,” objectionable and suggested it was anti-Semitic hate speech. In the end, two council members resigned and WBCR received its grant,  although far less than the amount it had sought.

If you’re looking for more information on WBCR’s history, click here to read an Edge article from last fall when the push for a new studio began.

Dean could not say for sure when original programming would resume in the new studio — there are a variety of factors to consider — but he expects passersby to be able to see live radio programming in the window sometime this spring. Meanwhile, he hopes to see lots of people at the Kickstarter Thursday at The Barn.

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