Changes in the air for SVC radio station

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Saturday, February 9
BENNINGTON — Bennington's local AM radio station can no longer be supported by Southern Vermont College, the college's trustees decided last week.

In September, the college was looking for ways to raise revenue at the radio station, WBTN 1370 AM, which has been losing money since it was donated to the college in 2002, college spokesman David Scribner said Friday. Last week, the trustees decided the efforts were fruitless and voted in favor of cutting their losses.

"The board directed (President Karen Gross) to end the station's losses by the end of the spring term," Scribner said.

Many options still remain open for the future of the radio station, he said. It could be sold or leased to a community group or business; the college could sell a majority of its interest; or the college could hold the station's license for a year, under FCC regulations, and reopen the station as a non-profit on campus, he said.

The station has been losing between $75,000 and $100,000 each year since it was donated to the college by trustee Robert Howe in 2002, or about $450,000 over the past six years, Scribner said.

Howe said he was "quite sad" Friday and voted against the board's decision last week. He said he would have liked to have seen the college hire radio and business experts to see if they could get the station to at least break even.

"The college didn't work very hard to get the program to break even," he said.

Howe, of North Bennington, said he donated the radio station because he believes in the importance of local media. He said it was meant to be the cornerstone of the college's communications program, something he believes never materialized.

Scribner said the communications program is in the process of being restructured because of the questionable status of the radio station. He said the college's 10 communications majors work at the radio station and some have shows.

The station also provides local news and programming, featuring interviews with community members. It also broadcasts Boston Red Sox baseball games. Scribner said an on-air tag sale on the station has also been popular.

He said he would like to see a group come forward and maintain WBTN as a community station, stressing the importance of community news and dialogue.

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"No one's happy about this situation," he said.

Scribner said it was hard to justify the station's operating deficit when the college's resources are really meant to go toward educating students.

Commercial enterprises

Howe responded by saying every program at the college loses money. They are just not looked at as commercial enterprises, he said.

A community consortium that would come together to support the station and allow the college's students to participate in operations would be an ideal solution, according to Gross.

Gross said the worst-case scenario is not even that bad: the college would retain the license and set up a non-profit radio station on campus to save money. She said she did not think all would be lost.

"I have a hard time believing the radio station will be completely dark and forever be unutilized," she said Friday. "The form it could take could be quite diverse, and I think we have to be open to all kinds of possible combinations."

Trustees also said they wanted the radio station to remain as a community forum, either by having a local organization buy it or partner with the college. Unfortunately, the station was just no longer a feasible option for the college, trustee Jon Goodrich said.

"The college must focus on its main mission and must concentrate its efforts and resources on educating students with exciting new academic initiatives," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we cannot continue to subsidize a commercial radio station."

Howe did say he thinks the three staff members at the radio station, including station manager Richard Ryder, are doing an outstanding job running the station.

Ryder, in his fifth year at the station, called the news disappointing Friday, but he said the station crew was hanging in there and would continue to do their jobs.


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