BRATTLEBORO — After WVEW-LP 107.7 FM saw its second-floor studios and transmitter at the Brooks House heavily damaged in the April 17, 2011 fire that gutted the downtown landmark, the nonprofit, independent community radio station found itself homeless and unable to broadcast.
A year later, WVEW was back on the air from its new broadcast studio at the Hooker-Dunham Building, across the street from the Brooks House. But there was one big problem with the station's new home in the repurposed shoe warehouse - the two steep flights of stairs that people had to climb to get to the studio.
"It was great, in our desperation, to have a home at the Hooker-Dunham," said longtime WVEW member David Longsmith. "But inaccessibility has been a problem for some our members."
That problem is about to be solved, as WVEW will be moving its studios back across Main Street, this time into the High Street & Green building, owned and operated by noted community radio advocate Tom Bodett.
WVEW's new home at 46 Harmony Place is on the ground floor of the building and offers access to the facility that is compliant with design standards specified in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The new offices will house multiple broadcast and production studios as well as office and meeting space for the all-volunteer radio station.
Before he came to Vermont nearly two decades ago, Bodett's long career in broadcasting began at a community radio station in Homer, Alaska.
His love of community radio - plus a chance meeting with Longsmith earlier this year - played a role in securing WVEW's new studios.
As Longsmith tells the story, he and his son were heading into Bodett's building to see if his son could get a dishwashing job at A Vermont Table.
"We started talking about radio and mentioned how WVEW was looking for a new place for its studios," said Longsmith. "He said he had just the place for us, and the space he showed us takes care of a lot of what we needed. It's a dream setup for us."
According to Longsmith, the new space will contain two separate radio studios.
"Hosts will be able to set up their shows in one studio while the preceding show ends in the other studio," he said. "The empty studios will also be used for production of underwriting, public service, station identification, and other notices."
The two studios, he said, "will also allow people to pre-record their programs, perform interviews in an appropriate setting, and practice both the skills of operating the equipment and of finding and assessing musical or other content."
Making it happen
Longsmith said that WVEW's move would not be possible without the financial support of many contributors. The biggest donation was $20,000 from state Rep. Sara Coffey, D-Guilford, and Dave Snyder, the founder of Guilford Sound.
That gift launched the fundraising process, and Brattleboro Community Radio is continuing to raise funds to build out what Longsmith called "a Forever Station for our members and our community."
With a $20,000 goal set forth by the WVEW Board President John Lightfoot, Longsmith set up a GoFundMe page and did some networking that quickly yielded $1,410 as of Sept. 8.
In the coming months, WVEW will tackle the huge task of turning the new space into a broadcast-quality studio. In the meantime, Longsmith said, the station will continue to broadcast and stream from the Hooker-Dunham Building until the new studio is ready.
"Our lease expired on Sept. 1," he said. "The Hooker-Dunham folks are flexible and letting us go month to month at this point, but we'd rather rent two spaces at the same time for as little time as possible."
A little history
The genesis of WVEW started in 1998, when a group of citizens started a low-power FM station, radio free brattleboro (rfb). It was not licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and, after a long battle, was ultimately shut down by the federal agency.
While rfb's struggle played out, a local nonprofit, Vermont Earth Works Inc., was concerned for the future of community radio in Brattleboro and filed an application for one of the new 100-watt low-power FM (LPFM) licenses during a five-day window set by the FCC in 2001.
On March 3, 2005, Vermont Earth Works was granted a construction permit for a 100-watt LPFM radio station to serve the Brattleboro community. Legally.
"After years of patiently waiting, a chance had finally been given to provide Brattleboro with its own licensed, non-commercial, independent, community access radio station," according to a history on the WVEW website.
"Vermont Earth Works is committed to operating a station that increases community access to information and music, and that reflects the diversity of our community in its programming."
On Sept. 1, 2006, WVEW made its official debut and, aside from the disruption caused by the Brooks House fire, has been broadcasting ever since.
Its program schedule is filled with locally produced shows featuring a diverse range of music, interviews, and educational and political programming. It remains an all-volunteer operation, one where the current hosts help train newcomers and where new voices and ideas are encouraged.
"Think of what we're doing as Brattleboro Community Radio, version 3.0," said Longsmith. "Version 1.0, radio free brattleboro, [was the brainchild of] the wild pirates that launched the idea of local, community-focused radio. Version 2.0 was Vermont Earth Works putting together the legal and logistical framework with the FCC that created WVEW. It was stable for 15 years, but every month was a challenge."
Now, he said, "we have version 3.0, which will begin with a custom-built, accessible studio to help us move into a new era of community radio."
And you might even hear WVEW's new landlord on the air.
"Who knows? Maybe I'll fill an on-air shift someday," Bodett said in a news release. "If I can remember how to do it."
This News item by Randolph T. Holhut was written for The Commons.