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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

WOOL Radio, VPR both get FCC approval for new broadcasting frequencies in county

—There will soon be two new additions to the Windham County radio dial.Great Falls Community Broadcasting Company (GFCBC), the organization that operates community radio station WOOL-LP in Bellows Falls, last week was awarded a construction permit by the Federal Communications Commission for the 91.5 FM frequency, as part of WOOL’s transition to a full-power non-commercial educational radio station.“This construction permit is a major hurdle in the very long process of building the future of our station,” GFCBC president Gary Smith said. “It’s a moment to celebrate, to breathe a long sigh of relief, and to gather energy for the next phase in the process: more hard work.”And Vermont Public Radio late last week was also awarded a construction permit from the FCC for an 88.9 FM frequency in Brattleboro.“This is wonderful news, and will fulfill a long-time goal of serving the Brattleboro area with a much stronger broadcast service,” said VPR President and CEO Robin Turnau.Smith said this is the first time in more than 15 years that the FCC has made new licenses available for non-commercial educational stations, and it is likely that this is the last time they’ll be made available for at least a generation.VPR has long sought a more-powerful signal in Windham County. Its main 89.5 FM frequency from Mount Ascutney in Windsor covers most of the county, but there are many areas — particularly around Brattleboro and in the West River Valley — where the reception is spotty to nonexistent.VPR does currently use 94.5 FM as a 10-watt low-power translator station in Brattleboro, but its signal does not travel much beyond Brattleboro itself.According to Turnau, VPR applied for the 88.9 frequency in the fall of 2007. WOOL, which signed on as a low-power FM station in 2005, also put in its application at the same time.Thousands of applications flooded into the FCC during a brief window of time where community, religious and public broadcasters were offered the opportunity to apply for new channel allocations in the 88-92 section of the FM band designated for non-commercial broadcasting.Smith said a collaboration with the Philadelphia-based Prometheus Radio Project, along with the work of Washington, D.C., attorney Gloria Tristani of the regulatory specialist firm Spiegel and McDiarmid, greatly helped the station navigate through the FCC’s process.Also, Smith said, GFCBC relied on Florida-based radio engineer Rob Robbins, of the firm Radio Data Services, to do the calculations to determine exactly what frequency, at what strength and in what direction WOOL’s new signal would best avoid interference with existing stations.GFCBC will now begin the next phase of moving to a full-power license, which includes raising the funds for new equipment, planning for increased operating costs and securing permissions from the tower owner for adjustments to WOOL’s signal.The radio station, which has operated almost entirely by volunteers, is gearing up for a flurry of fundraising activities this fall, including a live on-air karaoke competition, a silent auction and a magic show at the Bellows Falls Opera House featuring illusionist Jason Purdy.Turnau said VPR is also preparing for “the challenge of securing the financial resources needed to purchase the equipment and begin broadcasting.”Both Smith and Turnau were unable to offer firm sign-on dates for their respective new frequencies. Under FCC rules, once a construction permit is issued, a station has 18 months to get on the air.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #68 (Wednesday, September 22, 2010).

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