Guest column: Update on WBTN
Over the past several months much has been said and rumored about the status of WBTN. As a past Board Member of the Shires Media Partnership, and the present acting Treasurer, I am in a better position than most to help people understand what has been happening.
First, since I have been associated with the Board of Directors, WBTN-AM has had significant financial challenges. We have managed to keep WBTN-AM on the air, but if not for the generous donations of one family, WBTN would have been closed years ago. In fact Southern Vermont College found running the station to be a serious financial drain. The station was on the verge of closing when local community leaders, organized as The Shires Media Partnership, stepped up to save the station. Now, the one large donor family that has given so much to WBTN is no longer able to support us at the same level they once did. We are now faced with the same dilemma every other entity that ran the station for the last 20 years has had to face, a lack of adequate funding.
In order to preserve the station we have run two pledge-a-thons and have tried to secure greater corporate sponsorship and donations. We had increases our presence at various functions such as Mayfest and the Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival, at great cost to the station. As a community member, the station has provided many services. WBTN-AM has been involved in food drives, school cancellation notifications, as well as the daily menus, emergency service announcements during times of crisis, weather alerts, and announcements of various fundraisers and events in the community. Most importantly we have given a voice to many of the non-profit and charitable organizations in the area. Many of those organizations may not have had any voice if not for WBTN.
Besides the prizes that we give away daily, WBTN in conjunction with Bennington Cinemas provides a free movie every month. In fact, the past movie (The Jungle Book) at Bennington Cinemas was attended by over 160 people. Over the past few years, thousands of people and their children have taken advantage of this great offer.
The work at WBTN is largely done by volunteers. We do have a couple of paid employees. Vermont Associates provide a couple of workers who do much of the work for the day to day operations. Almost all the voices you hear coming through the radio waves or internet are volunteers. As a Board we have cut all expenses to the bare bones, cutting expenses by more than 50 percent while not cutting costly services our listeners have come to expect.
In this process, many changes have had to take place. The changes have included new and or changes shows. The changes were accompanied by hurt feelings, resignation of hosts and volunteers, and negative comments made on social media. Could those changes have been handled better? Possibly. Were people hurt or insulted by what happened? Yes and some rightfully so. Were all these changes needed? Not only were these changes needed but without many of them we might have gone silent by now.
The remaining Board Members at the Shires Media Partnership have dedicated themselves to keeping this station open. We have volunteers who have expressed their willingness to do more than they are presently doing to make this a success. Our staff is doing the work of a staff of three times the size. Board Members have given more time and emotions than should be asked, even in the face of personal tragedies and illness.
How long are we able to continue maintaining a working radio station is the question. We are still broadcasting and will continue to do so as long as possible. In my mind, the one thing that is abundantly clear is that without the continued support of our listening community, our steadfast sponsors, and the time and effort of all those involved, the station would have collapsed. But aren't these the factors that help characterize the makeup of a community radio station? WBTN is truly one of the many assets that define this area and were are fighting for its continued existence.
— Robert M. Raffone is the acting treasurer of WBTN-AM.
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