Don't touch that dial

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BRATTLEBORO -- The hosts of Brattleboro Community Radio's diverse programs are springing into action to get their programs back on the airwaves after the fire at the Brooks House destroyed their studio on April 17.

Resuming regular radio programming is of the utmost priority for WVEW, and at a meeting Tuesday, the station's members agreed they would try to be broadcasting again by the second week in August.

WVEW's studio was on the second floor of the building, located at the corner of Main and High streets. Though fire damage only occurred on the fourth and fifth floors, the rest of the residential/commercial building sustained heavy water and smoke damage.

The extent of the damage to the studio's equipment has yet to be determined as almost everything is still inside the building, said Louis Erlanger, WVEW DJ and president of VT Earth Works, an educational non-profit organization that applied for WVEW's Federal Communication Commission FM radio license in 2001.

Erlanger was able to enter the water-logged building last week. He said the condition of the studio is "very bad."

"We have a lot of water damage," Erlanger said. "We have a very large collection of CDs and vinyl, and even the ones with plastic on them were soaked through. All of our equipment is flooded."

The studio had computers, a turntable and a sound board, and it's not clear whether any of them can be saved.

"We're concerned that even if it looks like it's OK, if we plug it in, it will short out and create a dangerous situation," Erlanger said.

He estimated the total value of everything in the studio to be about $60,000.

The antennae on the roof looks like it might be all right, but its removal may depend on how stable that section of the roof is, he said.

Brattleboro Community Radio is insured, Erlanger said, but he doesn't know yet how much the policy will cover.

Despite all the unknowns at this early stage of recovery, members of WVEW are eager to do everything possible to get the station back on its feet. On Tuesday, 33 people attended WVEW's regular meeting at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden, a monthly gathering that Kenneth Schneck said typically draws fewer than 10 DJs.

"It was such an inspiration and validation of the station," said Schneck, Brattleboro Selectboard member and host of the WVEW program "This Show is So Gay."

"This tragic event will not suppress these voices, including one DJ who lived in Brooks House, who is just sorting out personal belongings and still came to a DJ meeting. It was amazing," Schneck said.

WVEW has seen a significant boost in donations made through the station's website, www.wvew.org, Schneck said, showing that Brattleboro Community Radio has a place in the heart of the community.

Certainly the station's history is unique. WVEW got its start as a "pirate radio" station in 1998 when a group of local residents began broadcasting at less than one watt of power. Over the next seven years, the station known as radio free brattleboro grew to 10 watts.

"RFB was licensed to broadcast by its community -- but not by the Federal Communications Commission," the WVEW website states. A legal battle ensued, and eventually radio free brattleboro's equipment was seized, according to James Maxwell, a local attorney and a WVEW DJ who hosted his show "Art Talk" back when it was a "pirate" station.

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Concerned for the future of community radio in Brattleboro, radio free brattleboro joined forces with VT Earth Works, which filed for a 100 watt, low power FM license in June of 2001.

On March 3, 2005, VT Earth Works was granted a permit to construct a 100 watt LPFM radio station to serve the Brattleboro community.

Though present-day Brattleboro Community Radio is in some ways eager to separate itself from radio free brattleboro, the pirate radio station's mission of non-profit, independent, diverse programming still lives on, Maxwell said.

"As wonderful as radio free was, we are a licensed FM station and we want to not only broaden our audience but we want to keep our professionalism high," said Maxwell, who fought to keep radio free brattleboro on the air.

Over the years, WVEW has grown to include radio shows ranging from Blues Monday, which is just what it sounds like, plus interviews with local people, to Monkey and Momma, which focuses on issues concerning children.

During their meeting earlier this week, the many hosts put their heads together, the first step toward conquering the multitude of challenges the station will face in the months to come.

They formed committees to salvage items in the studio, search for a new studio space, raise funds and reach out to the community, according to Schneck.

For now, the station is streaming a limited programming schedule online at its website and on its new Android mobile phone application, which Erlanger said was created just weeks before the fire.

A system for streaming live broadcasts is in the works, which will allow hosts to continue booking guests. But nothing is more important than getting back on the traditional radio air waves, said Maxwell.

"As important as it is to be present by streaming, it's still most important that we get back to broadcasting because that's what radio is," Maxwell said. "Everyone's got a radio; not everybody has a computer. And a radio is so portable, so it's the way we can reach people in the most democratic, all-encompassing way."

Brattleboro Community Radio is also planning to do several live broadcasts at upcoming events and fundraisers, to "publicize not only our situation but the situation of other people who were living in Brooks House," said Erlanger.

Erlanger said he is grateful for the community support WVEW has received so far and said the public can help out in the following ways:

-- Funding: In the form of donations, memberships, underwriting. More information can be found on the website www.wvew.org.

-- Space: If anyone has space to offer with reasonable (preferably low) rent.

-- Radio equipment and expertise: If anyone has radio equipment in good condition and/or expertise in helping the station get back up.

-- Time: "When we have specific things to accomplish, if there are people we can reach out to for an hour or two of work, that would be helpful, too," said Erlanger, who can be reached at bluemonday@wvew.org.

Jaime Cone can be reached at jcone@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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