Former WBTN manager steps into volunteer role, says rest of station should follow suit
BENNINGTON, VT. >> The local AM radio station must become all-volunteer, or close, according to its former general manager who is remaining on as a volunteer.
Aaron Sawyer was named general manager of 1370 WBTN-AM in January. He said Tuesday that he is no longer with the station as an employee.
"I'm still volunteering," he said. "I'm basically taking care of some of the jobs that I used to take care of as an employee there, training other volunteers and things like that."
Sawyer joined the station in 2011. Without him it has two paid staff members, one who handles marketing and another who is there on a part-time basis.
"It just seems to me the job I was hired for, which was to help WBTN stay afloat, the only way I could do that was not be paid by WBTN," Sawyer said. "It needs to be a volunteer organization for the most part. I feel like the community itself could do it if they chose to."
The station began operating in 1952, having been started by Belva Keyworth. Its second owner was Vermont Public Radio. In 2000, it was bought by Robert Howe, who two years later donated it to Southern Vermont College, which ran it as an unsuccessful commercial venture.
In 2008, SVC sold the station to a nonprofit group formed for the purchase, Shires Media Partnership.
Robert Raffone, the station's treasurer and a member of the board of directors, said Wednesday that he feels it is likely the board will lean toward Sawyer's suggestion, but he cannot speak for the other members. The board plans to meet soon to determine a course of action.
There have been a number of attempts to bring the station some income. Sawyer said that last year there was an item on the Town Meeting Day ballot asking voters for $7,500 that lost by 40 votes. The station then approached the Select Board directly, asking to be placed on the ballot, but was told no.
Sawyer said about half the station's costs are personnel-related. He feels three or four volunteers willing to learn the technical aspects of running the station, who can commit to doing so regularly, would suffice. The remaining costs are related to overhead and FCC licensing.
The town should also be more supportive of the station, he said, adding that it's likely many still think it's a for-profit, which was why the ballot measure failed.
There is support, however. The recent pledge-a-thon saw approximately 100 donors giving between $50 and $75 donations. Still, it was not enough.
Raffone said that revenue streams have declined in recent years. Businesses that used to advertise — "sponsor" in the case of nonprofits — have either left the area, ceased to exist, or no longer contribute.
He said the station was also receiving a large sum from a private benefactor, but that person has not been able to provide as much support lately.
The Bank of Bennington has maintained its support of the station.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 ext. 115
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