BENNINGTON — Spencer Sweet, general manager of WBTN — 1370 AM, has announced that he will retire at the end of this year.
Sweet, who has been at the helm of the community radio station for three and a half years, said his last day in the office will be Dec. 24.
He said he's long had an interest in music, sound and technology before he took the job in June of 2012.
"This was like working my hobby," Sweet told the Banner during an interview at the station Monday.
A Bennington native who grew up listening to WBTN, he spoke of his dedication and love of the community and the station, and also of the importance of using other mediums — like the internet — to complement over-the-air transmissions in the digital age.
Sweet said he's proud of where the station is now, but would like to see more support from the community.
"You can get content anywhere — music online through Pandora, you can get talk radio and music out of Albany," Sweet said. "But what you can't get anywhere else is the local flavor. Local programs made by people who actually live in the community."
Robert Howe, board president for Shires Media Partnership, the non-profit organization that owns the station, praised Sweet for both his technical and business knowledge.
"He's been a great asset to the station," Howe said. "He's really built it up to something very good during his time here. It'll be hard to replace him."
"I'm sorry to see him go," said Joe Hall, the board's chairman and vice president.
Both Hall and Howe said the board must meet to discuss the station's operations after Sweet's retirement. It wasn't clear whether a new general manager will be hired.
"Raising revenue is an issue," Hall said. "That's why we need to explore various avenues and make a decision."
The 1,000 watt station has had a few owners since it was established as a commercial radio station by Belva Keyworth in 1953. An FM station, 94.3, was added in 1978. Vermont Public Radio purchased both in 2000 and continues to broadcast on the FM frequency.
That same year, Howe purchased the AM station, broadcasting studio, 200-foot antenna and 1370 frequency from VPR; he gifted it all to Southern Vermont College in 2002. In 2008, the college, saying it was losing money on the station, placed it up for sale. In July of that year, the station was purchased by a new non-profit community organization, Shires Media Partnership, for $100,000.
Since then, the station has operated as a community radio station, Sweet said.
"Because content is available everywhere, the business model of a commercial radio station is not viable," he said.
WBTN has a staff of three full-time employees in the four-studio location, located at 407 Harwood Hill (Route 7A). About 30 local volunteers produce between 30 and 40 hours of local programming a week, according to Sweet, including a morning show, discussions with area playwrights and music.
Sweet said that since he took over, he has placed an emphasis on the business side of the station. He said he worked closely with Ted Hollows, the director of sales, to obtain more sponsorships.
The station uses social media to interact with listeners, he said. And between 2,000 and 3,000 people listen to the station each month online.
"Community radio is the future of AM radio," Sweet said. He added that WBTN is on the "cutting edge" in terms of similar AM community radio stations.
Sweet previously worked at the former H. Greenberg & Son hardware store for 25 years, having been manager of the Bennington store for 12.
He said he is looking forward to spending time with his wife during retirement. He also plans on continuing his own show, "Tech Talk," which he hosts Thursday mornings at 8:30 a.m. with morning show host David Lively.
Hall spoke of Sweet's ability to build the station's programming by reaching out to community members with various interests.
"We're a community radio station with local interest and local talents, and I hope that can continue," Hall said.
To learn more about the station and learn how to advertise or volunteer, visit www.wbtnam.org.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979