BELLOWS FALLS -- WOOL Radio is back on the airwaves.
The member-owned, not-for-profit station got up and running again on Sunday, March 8, after about a month of uncharacteristic silence.
Formerly operating as 100.1 FM, WOOL relaunched on 91.5 FM four months after receiving $25,000 from the Rockingham Revolving Loan Fund to help purchase a new transmitter, a new antenna and the professional services needed to install them on a tower on Fall Mountain in New Hampshire. Gary Smith, who is on WOOL's board of directors, told the Reformer that a company from the Boston area was hired as the rigging company while one of WOOL's members did the engineering work and volunteers brought the equipment to Fall Mountain, sometimes using ATVs and snowmobiles to get it there.
Smith said WOOL, also known as "Black Sheep Radio," is operating under program test authority, which allows it to broadcast even though it likely won't get its non-commercial educational Class A license from the Federal Communications Commission until around Tuesday, April 1. The license will be issued to Great Falls Community Broadcasting Company. Smith said operating on a new frequency comes after more than eight years of finagling, strategizing, fundraising and borrowing.
"It's unprecedented, in our area, that an organization such as ours would get this kind of license," he said in a telephone interview. "It's a full-power license. All other stations of this power -- we have 550 watts -- at least as far as we believe, and someone else may want to challenge this, is run by either NHPR, a commercial company, by a college, a church or a high school in New Hampshire or Vermont."
Smith said WOOL's signal now reaches Grafton, Putney, Chester, Ludlow and other towns it didn't touch before, including Claremont, N.H.
WOOL was granted the $25,000 loan at a Rockingham Selectboard meeting in early November. The Selectboard approved the loan for a term of 10 years at an interest rate of 1.25 percent, with principal payments deferred for 12 months. According to a letter from Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh, the money was to be used to buy machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, and other essential inventory to allow the station to operate at full power in Bellows Falls. Smith told the Reformer on Friday another $5,000 or $6,000 was generated for the project.
He also said financial shortcuts "were blocked by congressional upheaval and partisan politics."
Walsh previously said the upgrade could help boost the local economy and Smith told the Reformer the stronger signal has already help membership.
"It's thrilling," he said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.