BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro Community Radio, WVEW at 107.7 FM, is back on the air.
After the fire at the Brooks House destroyed the station's equipment last year, it took almost 12 months for the volunteers to reorganize, purchase new equipment, and find a new location for the studio and antenna.
Now, if you go to 107.7, you will find many of the same disc jockeys, and a strong clear signal.
But behind the scenes WVEW is emerging from the Brooks House tragedy with a completely different organizational structure.
In the coming months, the community radio station will move from being run by an appointed board to a non-profit organization that is run by its members, who will elect the board of directors.
The change will establish WVEW as a local nonprofit which holds annual meetings and elections, along the lines of Brattleboro Community Television and the Brattleboro Museum & Arts Center.
But the change did not come easy.
"When you have a catastrophe, as we had, someone has to take control," said long-time station disc jockey and volunteer Jim Maxwell. "Nothing was being done. Everything became a political issue, and it was distracting us from what we needed to do."
Eventually five board members resigned.
A number of former board members left during the tense negotiations this year, which even forced the station volunteers to call in a mediator to settle the ongoing disputes.
Maxwell said after
Community radio in Brattleboro has a long and colorful history, and the latest change only adds one more chapter to that story.
Back in 1998, a small group of area residents started Radio Free Brattleboro, which eventually grew into a 10-watt station with a dedicated core of volunteers and DJs.
Radio Free Brattleboro never received an FCC license, and after years of battles with the federal government in the courts, the FBI raided the studio on June 22, 2005, seized the equipment and shut down the station.
While Radio Free Brattleboro was fighting for its life, an independent group, which later took the name of Vermont Earth Works, applied for a low-watt permit, which was granted in March 2005.
Brattleboro Community Radio, which went on the air on Sept. 1, 2006, was run by a different group than the one which ran Radio Free Brattleboro.
And while the station thrived under its new structure, and with the FCC license, Maxwell said there was always some tension between the board, and some of the disc jockeys who had come over from Radio Free Brattleboro.
Radio Free Brattleboro was largely controlled by the board of directors, which held the FCC license, and the board was made up of area residents who were invited to join.
After the fire, Maxwell said, when it was time to make decisions about the future of the station, all of those issues between the board and the disc jockeys caused hours of acrimonious debates.
After a tragedy such as a fire, under FCC rules a radio station only has 12 months to get back on the air, and Maxwell said as the months passed it became clear that changes were needed or Brattleboro would once again be without a community radio station.
Insurance covered the equipment, so the station was able to invest in new, modern radio and computer technology.
But as decisions had to be made about the move, and about how the station would emerge from the fire, the meetings tuned emotional.
"The board was under incredible pressure to get all this done with the clock ticking," Maxwell said. "Everyone had strong opinions, and passions. We had to figure out how to get back on the air, but we also had to address all of the other issues and it was very, very hard to do both things at the same time."
Maxwell said as the deadline neared, the remaining Vermont Earth Works board members made decisions to move the process along, which created further friction.
The station had until early May to get back on the air and it was able to meet the deadline by a about a week.
WVEW is now broadcasting from a new studio in the Hooker Dunham building, overlooking Main Street in downtown Brattleboro.
The station also built a new antenna at the Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing which will send a stronger signal across town.
In the coming months the existing board will establish new bylaws and begin to move toward the membership organization structure.
At some point, possibly in the late summer or fall, WVEW will hold its first annual meeting and elect a new board of directors who will lead the station into the coming year.
"I think we had to go through all of it. It was necessary for us, and the station is stronger now," Maxwell said. "Now we can just concentrate on running a radio station."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279