FCC gives OK to increase signal

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GREAT BARRINGTON -- Someday soon, die-hard fans of community access radio station WBCR won't have to drive to Great Barrington to listen to the eclectic programming.

The low-power, all-volunteer neighborhood radio operation at the 97.7 FM frequency was just given a full-power broadcasting license by the Federal Communications Commission.

They have three years to raise enough money to buy the equipment to boost their signal that will extend it from Westfield to the ends of Columbia County in New York, and from northwestern Connecticut to central Berkshire County.

Once the transition is done, the station will go from 100 watts to 550 watts and the frequency will travel to 89.5 on the FM dial.

According to Paul Rapp, president of the board of directors of Berkshire Community Radio Alliance Inc., the FCC allowed new applicants for full power broadcasting licenses during one week in 2007 -- a rare opportunity.

So WBCR radio officials did the paperwork and submitted their application.

Tuesday, they were notified that they are on their way to more wattage.

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"This is fantastic, the kind of thing that happens once in a generation," said Jeremy D. Goodwin, programmer and volunteer at the station. "Now there is a lot of work ahead of us, but it is a really priceless opportunity."

"Our listener potential will expand dramatically," Rapp said. "Our fundraising potential will expand dramatically. But our expenses will expand dramatically as well."

Programming on WBCR is indeed eclectic. Among its 90 or so shows are several Spanish language shows, the syndicated news show "Democracy Now," a wide variety of music programs, and even some religious-themed programming. In its five-year history, hundreds of programmers have air their material on WBCR.

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Saturday programming is usually put together by middle- and high school-aged broadcasters. And the age of volunteer broadcasters heads north from there.

"It's really driven by who shows up and what they want to do," Rapp said. "It's extremely eclectic."

Now that the news is sinking in, station officials are considering the next step. The tough part will be raising the money for the expense of buying a high power transmitter to mount on a nearby transmission tower, and a smaller transmitter to send the signal from the studios to the tower.

Rapp estimated that cost at roughly $50,000 to $75,000.

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It also means the ongoing operational costs -- currently at about $3,500 monthly -- will double or even triple, meaning the year-round fundraising effort will have to generate more money than ever before.

And because of the expanded listening audience, it is likely the number of people wanting to get on the air will also grow.

"We're also talking about how we're going to handle that," Rapp said.

But folks in the WBCR community are happy to have these challenges ahead of them, Goodwin said.

"Right now it's really a neighborhood station," he said. "To go from that to a bona fide regional radio station is an exponential boost."

Aside from listening in Great Barrington, WBCR programs can also be herd streaming live on the Internet at www.berkshireradio.org.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6241.


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