PITTSFIELD, Mass. — PCTV, WTBR, is a match made in heaven, according to School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon.
"We've been trying to get out of the radio business for quite some time," Yon said. "The collaboration seems to be the proverbial match made in heaven."
Pittsfield Community Television has submitted a plan to take over management of the Taconic High School radio station. The local public access television station is looking to transform the station into a community radio station, providing education opportunities for students, and expand the ability to get local voices seen and heard.
"We're very excited as an organization, PCTV, to have an opportunity to partner with the Pittsfield public schools in preserving this very valued asset in WTBR," PCTV Executive Director Shawn Serre said.
The PCTV Board of Directors submitted a business plan to the school department a few weeks earlier in which it outlined its goals to bring hyper-local content across both the television platform and the radio. It hopes to vastly expand the programming schedule and start to simulcast such things as civic meetings on both television and radio.
"I think we can reserve some day parts on the channel and activities at both schools," Serre told the School Committee on Wednesday about his ideas to still ensure there is a chance for students to learn radio if they want.
The radio station is stationed at Taconic High School but educationally, there hasn't really been much of a program teaching it. The plans for the new school, which is expected to open this fall, does not include the radio station and officials have been seeking partners to take it over.
"It has never really worked the way it was originally conceived to function," said School Committee member William Cameron. "There is a resource here that is being underutilized."
The station was formed in 1973 under the direction of former adviser at Taconic Bob Cooper and hit the airwaves in 1974. Over time, student interest faded and equipment broke down. It was rejuvenated in the 2000s under active and knowledgeable advisers, but in more recent years, participation again waned.
Recently, school officials considered silencing the station altogether. But that didn't sit well with the community. Supporters of the station pushed back on that proposal and ever since then, Superintendent Jason McCandless has been looking to pass on the station to another community partner.
"I do feel like we are uniquely positioned to help make this radio station continue and to prosper," Serre said. "I feel like we can strengthen the offerings."
Serre sees radio as having "a low barrier of entry" for people who would want to get involved. He feels PCTV will be able to not only find the volunteers but train them as well. The organization plans to create "comprehensive rules and procedures" to protect the station's license and make sure all who are on the show follow the regulations.
Not only that, PCTV is willing to put up the money to transform a room at its current office into a new studio and upgrade equipment. The tower will also have to be relocated, though exactly where has yet to be determined. The school will still retain the license for the station but PCTV would be in charge of the management.
Cameron said the radio station has always been a controversial topic. There were always questions about who was responsible for it, whether or not the station was actually fulfilling its mission, and the role community members other than students should play in the programming — questions that led him to ask whether or not a PCTV management is compliant with the FCC license.
McCandless said the license requires a certain amount of community programming and "Good Morning, Pittsfield," a non-school production, is currently the only show credited toward hitting those hours. The superintendent doesn't think that show provides enough hours to be in compliance with the license, so PCTV's proposal to increase community programming brings the station even more in line than it is now.
After being assured with that, and that students would not have to pay to become PCTV members to use the use, he joined in a favorable vote for the school to continue negotiations on the proposal. He said whoever worked out the details of the proposal "deserves a great deal of credit."
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