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.

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