Executive Director Shawn Serre said a lot of people were involved in the project.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It seemed like everywhere Bill Sturgeon went in the last six months he'd get the same question:
"When is WTBR coming back?"
The Brave FM had gone silent in June as the old Taconic High School, which was the radio station's home, began to be torn down.
Pittsfield Community Television had reached a contract with the city schools to take over management and operations of the station and had been building a new studio, relocating the tower, transporting and setting up the equipment, and following through on all of the licenses and engineering required.
Just before noon on Thursday, the longtime radio host Sturgeon walked through the door of the Federico Drive studio, sat behind the desk, and at noon on the dot, he welcomed the listeners back.
"This is WTBR, 89.7 on your FM dial," Sturgeon declared over the airwaves. "My name is Bill Sturgeon and this is the inaugural broadcast of the new, combined efforts of WTBR/PCTV."
PCTV Director Shawn Serre said the journey to getting back on the air had plenty of ups and downs. He said there were plenty of things that went exactly as planned when PCTV first pitched the idea and plenty of things that hadn't.
"We've been in community television for almost 30 years and we have a lot of experience in doing that type of stuff and working with that type of equipment. Bringing a radio station into the fold is a new experience in a lot of ways," Serre said.
"Some things went the way we thought they were going to go and some things took a little longer than we thought."
It wasn't just simply flipping a switch to get back on. There were technical and legal aspects of the project, physically moving and setting up a new station, and relocating the tower and transmitter to the Eagle Building.
In December, all of that had been put into place and WTBR was back on the airwaves on Dec. 15. But, it was on automation and no shows had been broadcasted yet.
"We are taking it step by step. The first thing we wanted to do was make sure we could get back on the air with the regular automation that has been running for a good number of years from Taconic. That gave us a chance to shake that all out, make sure everything worked right," Serre said.
Sturgeon's hour-long program interviewing dozens who had played a part in the move was the first live-broadcast show out of the rebuilt studio inside PCTV's office.
"The next step will be to bring back as many of the original show producers who were creating programs at WTBR," Serre said.
The station was established at the high school in 1973 under the direction of former Taconic adviser Bob Cooper. It took to the airwaves in 1974.
The Brave FM was created as part of the Taconic High curriculum and had a number of student programs. But interest waned over time. Then, in 2006, it saw another resurgence when radio veteran Larry Kratka took a leadership role. The station got new or refurbished equipment and again began to flourish. And then interest waned a bit.
A number of adults had taken on shows, keeping it alive, and it had grown to be cherished by many in the community.
Brad Lorenz and Beverly Gans kept oversight of the station that was tucked deep in the belly of the high school. Radio had been pulled from the curriculum because of a lack of interest and Superintendent Jason McCandless had proposed the idea of shutting the station down.
But McCandless' suggestion was rebuked by many in the community who saw WTBR as an asset to the community and not just a class for students. Taconic held onto the station for a number of years but McCandless always had his eye on moving that away from the school's responsibility.
"As a superintendent looking at what we do in our schools that costs money and is not impacting kids that much, WTBR, to me, is one of those things that kept rising and getting into our sights," McCandless said as one of the first guests to the show.
"In spite on my going to the School Committee and saying this might be better done by someone else other than us, Kathy Yon, Dan Elias, people like Donna Todd Rivers and John Krol and Council President [Peter] Marchetti continuing to remind us that this was and could be a vital communications link for the city of Pittsfield and it was worth treasuring and worth holding on to and figuring out a way forward."
The new Taconic High School doesn't have a radio station and the urgency to find a new home increased as the building of the $120.8 million school began.
At first, United Cerebral Palsy was looking to take it over but that fell through. In February, the public access television organization submitted a proposal to take over.
Marchetti, president of both the City Council and PCTV's board of directors, remembers a meeting some 18 months earlier when the idea was in its infancy and there was uncertainty whether or not the television station could do it.
"It was 18 months of not knowing what was going to happen and whether or not we would see the vision and the dream to reality," Marchetti said.
Serre crafted the business plan. The agreements were reached. PCTV started navigating "everything from engineering to legal to FCC to programming to just raw physical moving on things," Serre said. And along the way, Serre and others were constantly encouraged when they'd get the same question Sturgeon was getting about when it would return.
"It has been a fun ride and a quick ride to this point. We're just happy we are able to continue to provide the service to the community. That is a thing that we learned as the station was off the air for those six months from June until the end of December, we had so many people tell us 'when's the station coming back on? We can't wait to hear it,'" Serre said.
Serre had a lengthy list of thank-yous to read on air when the station's first show was broadcast. He joined Sturgeon, McCandless, Marchetti, and others to say the effort was a collaborative one that needed many hands and minds to complete.
"It goes to show when people work together what can happen. One thing I think this whole group that is responsible for bringing TBR back is everyone left their ego at the door and we made it happen," Sturgeon said.
WTBR now has new life and Serre has his vision on building a very robust set of programs. Many of the former hosts will be returning and Serre said he's received a number of inquiries from new people looking to host shows. The technology is linked with PCTV allowing more simulcasting and broadcast options.
Serre said while Thursday was a day worth celebrating, the real work into building the vision of WTBR now begins.
Since June 89.7 FM has been silent but it is expected to make a lot of noise soon. Because during that time, Pittsfield Community Television has built a new WTBR studio, established new policies and procedures, lining up new shows, and is now waiting just a few more things before the Brave FM returns after these messages.
WTBR goes silent on Monday, temporarily. The Taconic High School radio station is being taken over by Pittsfield Community Television but will return once a new studio is build and licensure is issued later this year.
The School Department is signing off on WTBR in June. But, Pittsfield Community Television will be signing on in the fall. The School Committee approved an agreement Thursday which gives management of the Brave FM to PCTV. The organization will be transforming the station into a hybrid model of a community and educational medium and bolstering the station's offerings.
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 wants to turn WTBR into a community radio station. The local public access television organization has put forth a proposal to take over management of The Brave FM. The radio station is set to take on a new life with the demolition of the current school. For nearly four years school officials have been looking for partners to develop a plan to keep the station alive.
Taconic High School's radio station, WTBR, is expected to be under new management within the next year. The station's license is owned by Pittsfield Public Schools and operates out of Taconic. But the new building does not include space for it and the tower will have to be removed. For years school administrators have been trying to figure out what to do with the state.
The radio station "Brave FM," stationed at Taconic High School, was once under threat of being silenced because of budget and interest. It is now facing the challenge of the new high school project's impacts on the tower location.
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