In 2006, Great Falls Community Broadcasting Company submitted an application for a new radio license. WOOL-LP, the community radio station started by the organization had only been broadcasting a short while when the opportunity arose to increase their broadcast power. Today, after more than eight years of finagling, strategizing, fundraising, and borrowing, WOOL finalized the process and is now operating on a new frequency with a more powerful transmitter and is heard in many towns where its first station had been silent. The station has stopped broadcasting on 100.1FM. Its new frequency is 91.5FM.
“Like many technical pursuits, the distinctions between licenses and the impact of those distinctions are difficult to explain,” notes Gary Smith, a longtime volunteer at WOOL. “But it’s something like the difference between a motorcycle license and a license to drive a bus. They both get you somewhere but one can bring a lot more people.”
In 2006, thousands of applicants responded to the FCC’s first opening in more than twenty years for new licenses. Great Falls Community Broadcasting will be the area’s first independent, member-owned organization to receive such a license in decades.
The journey to this new license was Homeric. Given a three-and-a-half-year deadline to complete work on its new broadcast facilities, the volunteers of WOOL were truly put to the test. As the drama mounted, obstacles increased. Engineers and attorneys battled with numbers and regulations. Financial shortcuts were blocked by congressional upheaval and partisan politics. Over the years the governing character at WOOL changed as the Board of Directors became more dependent on volunteer DJs for decision-making. Moral support was enlisted from the Rockingham economic development office and the offices of Senator Leahy, Congressman Welch, and Governor Shumlin. Finally, installing the new antenna on the Mt. Kilburn tower was absurdly problematic in February’s sub-zero weather, requiring convoys of donated half-tracks and snowmobiles to ferry people and equipment up the icy slopes.
“It really became a metaphor for the importance of working together,” Smith chuckles, “I’m not much of a joiner but this experience literally proves the mountains we can climb when we work as a team. WOOL is ordinary people doing extraordinary things, however you want to slice it.” In the end, there wasn’t a moment to spare. The antenna was installed and the transmitter turned on just one day before the deadline.
The power upgrade is only part of the story. “Our programming also has improved exponentially,” says Mark Piepkorn, WOOL’s de facto Program Director, “we have considerably more shows relevant to the community including a far greater percentage of locally-produced content. This isn’t cookie cutter radio, that’s for sure, it’s a growing expression of who we are.”
WOOL’s staff is entirely volunteer. Its on-air personalities hail from more than twenty towns and villages across Vermont and New Hampshire. The organization is a bona fide non-profit but receives no governmental or institutional funding. Instead, it’s financed almost entirely by its members. The station intends to quickly increase its membership with its new signal.
If ever there was an organization pulled up by its own bootstraps, it’s this one. In addition to the programming created at the station’s studio in Bellows Falls, VT, WOOL broadcasts a smattering of independently produced shows and some from the Pacifica Radio Network of which it is an affiliate. With most of the changeover behind them, the members of WOOL are focused on the future.
“We hope our new good fortune helps us maximize our goal to educate, entertain, and inspire our listeners and also to give our area a more cohesive and audible voice,” Smith says. “Not only is the media landscape overrun by profiteers, most of them control their operations from a great distance away. Not so with WOOL.”
Station president Bill Holtz continues the thought, “NHPR and VPR are great networks and we’re lucky to have them on the dial. But community radio like WOOL is less concerned with national and international news and more interested in the people of our own region. We’re even luckier to have WOOL on that dial.” Already broadcasting under Program Test Authority, the station expects final license approval from the FCC in the first week of April. People wishing to become members can get information and even listen online at the station’s newly overhauled website at www.wool.fm.
For more information contact Gary Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org