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Michael Putnam shows some of the new equipment for the NBCTV's radio station, including a record player he had.
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The station is seeking community members interested in doing radio shows; training will be provided on the new equipment.

Community Radio Station Powering Up in North Adams

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A new low-power public FM station in the city will sport a well-known set of call letters: WMNB.

Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp. has added WMNB-lp (for "low power") on 107.1-FM to its public access lineup. The station is expected to debut in early February.

NBCTV board President Michael Putnam said the impetus for adding the radio station is "providing local information for people, not just music ... anybody can play music.

"We're hoping to have people come in and do live shows maybe call-ins or request music."

The station had planned to be operating much earlier but NBCTV's relocation to Union Street — caused by plans to redevelop Western Gateway Heritage State Park — delayed its launch.

The low power means the station can't broadcast far beyond North Adams: it reaches north over the line into Stamford, Vt., to the borders of Williamstown and Adams and barely into Florida.

"We went to Billmont's (in Stamford) and sat in the parking lot and listened to it," said Putnam. Another section to the tower is going to be installed that could slightly further the reach.

Low-power frequencies are used by non-commercial entities, including for education or public safety. Application availability through the Federal Communications Commission comes up every few years. Putnam said the last rounds were in 2003 and in 2009, when NBCTV applied.

More than 30 low-power stations were approved or renewed across the state in the last round, including one for Franklin Community Access Television, the Nantucket Police Department and the city of Boston.

The station commits to eight to 10 hours of original, local daily programming and has to renew its license every three to five years. NBCTV's new location will have two radio studios and a third performance studio that can be used by both the radio and television station. Some of the local TV shows may also be broadcast in audio format.

Putnam sees the radio station as an opportunity for community members who may be reticent to do a television show on cable access.

"A lot of people aren't comfortable in front of a TV camera.They're more likely to do this ... because nobody cares what you look like," he joked.

Anyone interested in doing a radio show can pick up a form to fill out at the studio offices at Heritage State Park or check the radio station's Facebook page.

The station will move to its new quarters in the next couple weeks in the former car dealership at Union and Canal streets. It's hoped the central, easy-to-find location will spur more interest in the station and act as a gathering place for the community.

"When you move to a new place, and you get new equipment, you get new ideas, you get new people involved and that's what we're looking for," said Putnam.

WMNB-lp will center on North Adams.

Putnam said the idea for the radio station was initially broached by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, who's been involved with NBCTV for years. But Putnam, a founding member of NBCTV, has a long history with radio and already has a show lined up.

"I started in radio in grammar school doing the rosary on Sunday night on the radio at WMNB. The churches would take turns doing the rosary at 10," he said. "That's where I got the bug."

He went to school in Boston and then spent three years in the Army as the radio voice of Ford Devens.

"That was a great privilege being 19 years old and having a lot of pull," Putnam said. "Having people calling me and asking me for stories."

After a stint in the Fitchburg area, he returned to North Adams as the "overnight guy" at what was then WMNB, running a "Live 25" show that "had a huge audience of middle school kids."

The commercial radio station has different owners now and changed the call letters to WNAW some years ago. Putnam knew the WMNB call letters were available and made sure to apply for them.

"The letters belong here," he said. "They don't belong to any other part of the country because they stand for Western Mass Northern Berkshire."

Tags: NBCTV,   public television,   radio,   

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