VFR Chronicles: Vol. 2

VFR Chronicles, Volume 2: Collaborators of Technology

Writer, journalist, and VFR Programmer of Straight to the Music

Written by Miasha Lee.

Valley Free Radio has a flourishing partnership with NCTV (Northampton Community Television), the city of Northampton’s public access television network. Collaborating on public events such as Northampton Pride, have an underwriting group with them and had an internship program from 2015-2016 training high school students on audio productions and editing.
“Like us, NCTV has been a partner organization in terms of trying to foster independent media and independent media creators in giving them a platform. They’re more in the visual realm and we’re of the audio realm,” responded VFR member Stefan Ward Wheten.

In 2005, Former VFR member Joel Saxe began attending VFR meetings in a social hall at the First Churches of Northampton. He got his start in video production, filmmaking and teaching at Amherst Community Television and Springfield Community Access in the 1980’s when public access television was called community access television. “It was a really important side of community media production,” said Saxe. “Very much a
precursor in some ways to the low power FM movement that valley Free Radio is a part of.” He continued, “Now, people are making broadcast quality videos on iPhone. Back then if you wanted to make a video, you had to go to a community access station or a video production facility.”

With his background in video production, Saxe went to those meetings proposing a collaboration between Valley Free Radio and Northampton Community Television. To create programming for both shows through this partnership. “It would be synergetic to have the possibility that people could be doing public affair shows that would come out on Valley Free Radio on the airwaves, but there could also be a broadcast on Northampton Community Television on cable access,” Saxe told. “This was before
cable and streaming was what it is now. We didn’t have it at that point so the ability to distribute independent media was something you didn’t have the kind of networks that we have today that are through the Internet.”

Saxe had a series of conversations with NCTV on a possible collaboration. However, it didn’t pan out at that time for them to pair with VFR.

In 2006, Saxe became an VFR member and joined the Bread and Roses Radio. When Ed Charla the driving force of Bread and Roses passed away, Saxe took over the leadership capacity of the show until his departure from the station in 2018. In 2014, Saxe continued to do media work and editing projects at NCTV. While advocating a partnership with Valley Free Radio. Saxe, Wheten and other VFR members Bob Gardner and Rick Haggerty reached out to NCTV for a second time. They spoke to director Al
Williams and his board of directors on working together. NCTV said yes and that same year, the first studio camera was installed followed by two more in 2017.

In addition, NCTV advised the station on setting up the Dow studio and helped them do remote broadcasts. “In that time,” Wheten stated. “We’ve been able to lay the foundation of how- to multimedia content creation. We’ve been able to bring in cameras and given the opportunity to
broadcast video content. For programmers to record their shows on camera and make them available also to rebroadcast on NCTV on the actually television channel.”

Recently, NCTV changed their name to NOM (Northampton Open Media) which is a direct re-brand of the network. As Northampton Open Media, they’re more than just television. They are still continuing to foster media creation in terms of Internet and multimedia content which Wheten hopes there’ll be more opportunities in the future to do that as well.
The cameras are set up at the radio station and there are resources available for shows that want to use the editing facility and borrow equipment such as remote audio recorders, microphones or
cameras that are up.

VFR still has a standing underwriting agreement with NOM and do their best to share their resources wherever possible.

Stick around for Vol. 3 of Valley Free Radio Chronicles.

How It All Began …

The VFR Chronicles is an ongoing series chronicling the early history of Valley Free Radio / WXOJ-LP.

Written by Miasha Lee, writer, journalist, and VFR programmer of Straight to the Music (Sundays 7-9pm).

Volume 1: The Innovators – On Aug. 7, 2005 – Valley Free Radio took the Pioneer Valley by storm (and on air!) with its thought-provoking talk shows and good feeling music. Valley Free Radio is a non-profit independent community radio station. The station is run and operated by volunteers, providing free training in live programming, broadcast equipment technology, digital audio production and editing to its members.

The idea of VFR arose in 2001 from a small committee comprised of Ed Russell who was an audio/recording engineer, pirate radio operator and the creator of locally-produced radio show, Active Ingredients, Will Hall, the founder of the nationally syndicated radio program, Madness Radio, Jackie Scalzo, a radio activist, and David Gowler, a local DJ of original Americana music. These four were inspired by the Prometheus Radio Project. A group of radio activists standing for media democracy by creating a network of non-commercial, community-based low power FM (LPFM) radio stations.

Current VFR member Bob Gardner, who is a co-host of Occupy the Airwaves recounted, “Prometheus Radio Project believed in small democratic community radio. At one time there was no avenue for adding new legal stations before the establishment of LPFM stations and the Local Community Radio Act, so Prometheus supported pirate stations.”
The group wrote an application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a low-power FM license. After three years, their application was processed and Valley Free Radio received its construction permit in March of 2004. It was widely publicized and hundreds of local residents joined the effort, one of them being Bob Gardner. He had heard about VFR through his involvement with local media and activist groups. Bob Gardner was a part of the station’s original steering committee and has been with VFR for more than 15 years. In the early days of WXOJ-LP, he was on the Board of Directors, chair of the fundraising committee, treasurer and station bookkeeper. He briefly had the role of station manager and board co-president. 

Presently, Gardner serves as member of the station’s programming committee, automation group and underwriting team. “We had 18 months to raise money, build an organizational structure and find a physical space,” Gardner continued. “We had to construct a studio, figure out transmission (radio tower) and decide on initial programming. Not easy, not smooth, but dynamic, passionate and eventful. Bottom line is that we succeeded.” The Prometheus Radio Project had a barn raising for VFR in 2005. A three-day event where community radio advocates came to help them build the station, along with having workshops on topics related to programming.

After that, Valley Free Radio began to branch out.

Continue reading Volume 2 of the Valley Free Radio Chronicles.