This article is reprinted (reposted) from the Advocate Weekly with kind permission from the author.
Thursday, September 17
By NICHOLE DUPONT
Berkshire Community Radio has been providing its listeners with some of the most innovative programs and music on the air. Now WBCR is asking the community to provide something in exchange.
On Sunday, Sept. 20, author and social commentator James Howard Knustler will give a talk titled “Living in the Long Emergency” at 7 p.m. at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. Tickets are $11. Additionally, on Friday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m., the “anti-corporate pranksters” known as the Yes Men will screen their film “The Yes Men Fix the World,” also at the Mahaiwe. Tickets are $15. [G.H. note: the screening is co-sponsored by the Berkshire International Film Festival.] The proceeds from both events will go directly to supporting the basic operating costs of WBCR, which relies solely on volunteers for its programs and upkeep.
Local attorney Paul Rapp, who is president of the board of WBCR, said this volunteerism is the pride of the station.
“The station is all volunteer; there is no paid staff,” Rapp said. “We’re listener- and programmer- supported. In this way, we are absolutely independent. We have a no corporate underwriting policy. That way, listeners know that the station is not influenced by anyone but the programmers.”
This fierce sense of independence has defined the station from its first broadcast from the top floor of Fairview Hospital in 2002 to its strong presence in the Berkshire community today. In fact, according to Rapp, WBCR is awaiting approval by the Federal Communications
Commission of a full-power license that will be valid for three years.
“This means that we need more transmitter space, so there is a constant need for money,” he said.
In addition to the FCC license, the station is in the process of finishing a new studio and establishing a new media library to support its 80 (and ever increasing) locally produced, locally sponsored programs.
One such programmer, Luci Leonard, will be the first to speak up for the efficiency and advocacy of the station to its listeners.
“WBCR is a community,” Leonard said. “We are not trying to be corporate; besides, this area cannot afford to be corporate.”
Leonard, who is a nurse and community health worker, hosts a gospel hour on Sunday mornings as well as a community health outreach program on Thursday mornings. She said she did not anticipate her involvement in community radio until she noticed that something was missing from the airwaves of the Northeast.
“I grew up in Alabama. Listening to gospel radio is how you prepared for the day,” she said. “When I first moved up here, I was looking for a gospel station to listen to. I had no inkling to be a radio programmer.”
Leonard’s desire for gospel music has transformed into a passion for radio. She hopes to mark her two-year “anniversary” with WBCR with a gospel concert to benefit the station.
“This is an outlet for the community and for the programmers,” she said. “It is almost a guarantee that after the ‘Healthy Connections’ show, the guests on the show will get several calls. Some even have people waiting for them when they get back to the hospital or the therapy office, wherever they’re from. It is such a resource.”
While programmers like Leonard provide listeners with both bodily and spiritual resources, WBCR isn’t all serious. There are many young programmers, too. Among these are Annalena Barrett and Hannah Talbot, the teenage hosts of the ‘Funky Cheese Shack,’ which airs Fridays at 4:30 p.m. The bubbly, sometimes cryptic high school sophomores have been covering a wide range of topics from decapitation to overbearing parents since the seventh grade.
“We tried to plan our first show,” Barrett said. “And it turned out to be the worst show ever! Now we talk about school a lot and just random things that happen, funny questions nobody would ever really ask.”
It is hard not to laugh during the action-packed, almost manic nature of the FCS girls.
“Mostly we make fun of each other and play some cool music,” Talbot said. “And we end up having a lot of our friends on the air because they come on the bus with us.”
While Barrett and Talbot appear nonchalant, draping over their production chairs with their laughter punctuated by moments of serious conversation and Jackson Five ballads, they are well aware of their public presence in the community.
“This is my extracurricular activity,” Talbot remarked. “The radio excites us; sometimes we’re just jumping out of our chairs.”
“It’s just what we do,” Barrett chimed in. “It’s been the most fun I’ve had.”
That seems to be the consensus for many of the programmers at the station, as well as the listeners. As WBCR extends its reach as a high-power station and continues to maintain a live stream on the Internet, programmers and volunteers will need more from the community to keep shows such as “Democracy Now,” “Splatto Festival,” “Gospel” and the “Funky Cheese Shack” on the air. Fundraisers and community involvement are the keys to this endeavor.
“We are a family,” Leonard said. “We are just trying to keep it afloat and do our thing for the community.”
For more information on WBCR and its upcoming events at the Mahaiwe, visit berkshireradio.org.