Pittsfield School Department Ponders Silencing WTBR
|The Taconic High radio station could be dead air soon.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless says the math may no longer make sense for the school department to continue to run the 40-year-old WTBR radio station.
WTBR 89.7 FM, aka "The Brave FM," is an FCC-licensed nonprofit educational broadcasting service that has hosted a range of student and adult-run programs over the years. It has an annual budget of $6,000 for equipment, fees and other expenses, but McCandless is concerned its management could amount to much more liability for the district in its current state of operation.
"If we can't find a way to do this the right way, I think we really need to consider not doing it at all," McCandless told the School Committee on Wednesday.
According to its mission statement, WTBR "is dedicated to providing an opportunity for local students to produce their own music programs, local sporting events and special radio programs to benefit the entire listening area. WTBR provides hands-on training in radio broadcasting. Station sponsors provide the public with current information on student events and involvement while broadcasting a variety of music and community produced programs."
Since the retirement of longtime adviser and radio newsman Larry Kratka, student interest in the radio station has ebbed, and McCandless said the number of students participating last year had dwindled to five, though 12 students have currently expressed interest in the newly begun school year.
In his report of observations to the School Committee, the superintendent expressed several concerns about the potential liabilities to the School Department in operating an FCC-licensed broadcasting company on such a shoestring and a loosely supervised basis. He outlined three potential options for addressing these concerns: the department could invest more into WTBR to develop a more professional broadcasting program; it could partner with an existing local media company to operate the station; or it could look to sell the FCC license altogether.
McCandless argued against the first option as unjustifiable given the level of student interest, and expressed skepticism of the second.
"I would struggle to see what the economic model there could be," McCandless told the committee.
The humble radio station has been a focus of concern before, and a source of periodic complaints from residents, particularly surrounding its viewpoint-driven morning show, "Good Morning, Pittsfield," and other opinion-oriented adult-run shows, including a talk show by local media personality William Sturgeon that was shelved amidst controversy in 2012.
Most recently, the show drew fire from former School Committee member Terry Kinnas for featuring discussion of an upcoming charity beer event. Earlier this year, Mayor Daniel Bianchi issued a new media policy, under which City Hall employees are not allowed to appear on the show, which is hosted primarily by City Councilor John Krol.
"I really haven't seen it used as an instructional tool," said Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon.
McCandless estimated that the license could go for us much as $100,000 if they decide to sell it.
Committee member Cynthia Taylor asked if the proceeds of that sale would go into the school budget, but Deputy Superintendent Kristin Behnke said funds from the sale of any School Department property goes by default to city of Pittsfield accounts, and allocation to the school budget would have to be taken up with the mayor, who was not present at Wednesday's committee meeting.
The department is researching more information on all of the suggested options, and the School Committee will take up the matter of WTBR again at its next meeting in two weeks.
Tags: FCC, pittsfield schools, radio, Taconic High, WTBR,