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WBCR opens amid outbreak, operating on automation

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The technical problems that kept a local community radio station from broadcasting from its new location have recently been resolved, but the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has now delayed it from going live.

WBCR-LP-97.7 FM closed its studio at its new location at 320 Main St. on Thursday because of the pandemic, according to longtime radio station volunteer Asa Hardcastle; the station is airing only automated content for now. Hardcastle doesn't know when live programming will resume.

Berkshire Radio Community Alliance had recently resolved the problems that prevented WBCR from broadcasting live from its new location. When live programming resumes, passersby on the town's main downtown thoroughfare will be able to watch the station's veteran and newly trained volunteer programmers chatting with guests in WBCR's storefront studio in the space formerly occupied by longtime retailer Hildi B.

"Broadcasting live while looking out the window to watch people passing by is a dream come true," said veteran WBCR broadcaster Serene Mastrianni, who hosts the radio program Radio2Women. "WBCR has always been connected to the community, however, now our connection is visible and [in] real-time.

"The Main Street presence is critical, especially as the landscape of listening has evolved over the years," she said.

To broadcast live from its new location required WBCR to maintain a specialized, direct connection from the station's on-air mixing board at 320 Main St. to the radio tower atop Fairview Hospital. Because of changes in technology, the old studio-to-transmitter link that WBCR used when it broadcast from its previous locations on Rosseter Street and the basement of the Pink Cloud for over 10 years were no longer viable.

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Having to switch technologies led to a host of technical problems that required troubleshooting with various providers and resulted in months of delays. Since moving from Rosseter Street, volunteers have stored the mixing board and other equipment and maintained automatic programming 24 hours a day to comply with Federal Communication Commission regulations.

Hardcastle has been running the station's automated system for four years, while staffers secured a new location for the studio and executed a five-year business plan that he had helped to write. Proceeds from a station Kickstarter campaign in 2019 have provided a steady source of income to cover overhead and new equipment purchase, while the technical team worked on connecting things at WBCR's new location.

Alliance members recently elected a new board of directors that is charged with guiding the station through the current transition to its new Main Street location.

Long-term plans included podcast training, the broadcasting of live and local performances, the addition of audio pods to tape radio shows and podcasts, and eventually buying a building to provide WBCR with a long-term home.

"I think the Berkshires deserves to have a voice," said Howard Lieberman, the newly elected president of the board of directors. "Radio is a perfect way to create community."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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