Happy birthday, WVEW!
Wendy M. Levy holds one of the music selections played on her show, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” on WVEW-LPFM.

Happy birthday, WVEW!

All-volunteer radio station celebrates 15 years of broadcasting

BRATTLEBORO — In a national landscape of extreme media consolidation and focus-group-tested, lowest-common-denominator, homogenized radio, southeastern Vermont boasts something music- and free-speech fans in other regions can only dream about: two commercial-free community radio stations, run completely by volunteers, where program hosts can do almost whatever they like on the air.

One of them, WVEW-LPFM, in Brattleboro, celebrates its 15th anniversary this month.

The nonprofit radio station's leaders - a group of three directors, and a small handful of other volunteers - arranged a series of events to mark the occasion. Earlier this month, they broadcast excerpts of air checks from its first official day on the air: Sept. 1, 2006.

Fundraisers and other events, both in public venues and over the airwaves, are still in the planning stages.

* * *

WVEW, Brattleboro Community Radio, is a 100-watt station with studios in Brattleboro's Hooker-Dunham building, located on Main Street. Its transmitter and antenna are on the campus of the Winston Prouty Center in the former Austine School, overlooking Interstate 91.

The station broadcasts seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The schedule consists mainly of live, locally produced shows featuring music, interviews, and educational and political programming that one does not often hear on commercial radio or public radio.

WVEW also broadcasts a selection of syndicated programs, including Democracy Now and CounterSpin.

The station's directors encourage anyone of any age with an interest in hosting a program to apply for a spot, even if that person has no prior experience. Newcomers learn to use the equipment and speak on the air with training from current program hosts, many of whom in turn first learned how to be on the radio from other WVEW disc jockeys.

In addition to being operated and funded by volunteers who pay membership fees to host their shows, the station is supported by local business owners who donate money in exchange for underwriting spots - brief and simple messages that merely inform listeners of the business's existence and that their respective owners believe enough in WVEW to finance its operation. As mandated by its license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), WVEW airs no commercials.

* * *

The “LPFM” portion of WVEW's official call letters indicates that the radio station holds a low-power FM license, which can range from 1 to 100 watts of power.

The FCC began issuing LPFM licenses in 2000, in response to pressure from radio enthusiasts, artists, educators, religious leaders, and free-speech activists and organizers.

What all of these groups had in common was the desire to establish an affordable outlet on the nation's publicly owned FM airwaves, often to offer voices not commonly heard on commercial radio.

Prior to the FCC's decision, all licensed radio stations had to broadcast at 100 or more watts.

The costs of establishing a full-power FM station, which include expensive engineering studies to ensure the signal will not interfere with those of extant radio stations, prohibited nearly every group or organization from legally broadcasting - except for commercial radio, NPR affiliates, and stations run by large colleges and universities.

One of the Congressional acts that brought LPFM to communities throughout the country was supported by Vermont's senior senator, Patrick Leahy.

* * *

Vermont Earthworks, formed to take advantage of the opportunity to bring low-power, all-access, commercial-free radio to Brattleboro, filed for this new class of broadcast license in 2001.

Four years later, the FCC granted the nonprofit's application to construct a commercial-free, low-power, 100-watt community FM radio station to serve the greater Brattleboro area.

Within about 18 months, the station's volunteer staff began testing its broadcast signal.

And, on Sept. 1, 2006, WVEW-LPFM officially went on the air.

* * *

The individuals who created Vermont Earthworks were inspired by the existence of another Brattleboro community radio station: radio free brattleboro.

The unlicensed radio station - its name very deliberately lowercase - was founded in 1998 as an act of civil disobedience to protest the lack of accessible space on the public FM radio band.

RFB's (and WVEW's) founders knew that someday the FCC would likely come calling to raid the station and seize its equipment. In 2005, after a prolonged court battle, that is exactly what happened: radio free brattleboro was shut down.

Thanks to the foresight of Vermont Earthworks' first directors and the dozens of dedicated volunteers, radio nerds, audio engineers, music lovers, talk show hosts, and hundreds of individuals in Brattleboro and across the globe who donate money, time, and expertise to keep the signal airing, WVEW has done the improbable: It has remained on the air.