I started the program, Good Morning Pittsfield, more than a decade ago as a favor to a friend who was desperately trying to save a community radio station from losing its FCC license. Since the station, buried in an old storage closet of a public high school, relied heavily on students and student advisors for it to operate, there was a natural ebb and flow of programming. Even when there was great interest and involvement, students do graduate and move on, and staff also turns over throughout the years. In 2006, the signal of 89.7 FM in the central Berkshire (Massachusetts) region was mostly filled by dead air. Simultaneously, a Christian radio conglomerate wanted to purchase the signal and use it for a repeater for its content.
This was unacceptable.
Fortunately, at that time, an interested group of radio enthusiasts also caught wind of this little station that could and poured their hearts and souls into it. At the top of the list was longtime radio newsman (in his true heart a rock n’ roll DJ) Larry Kratka. I had worked with Larry as a colleague for three years during my days with the former Berkshire Broadcasting Network, where I served as the news director and talk show host for WNAW-AM/WMNB-FM in North Adams. Larry worked at our sister station WUPE-FM in Pittsfield, where he spent much of his some 30+ years in the industry. He had agreed to become the program director at WTBR, which meant drumming interest among students and getting a list of programs going again.
What it also meant was that he had some immediate action to take to simply ensure that WTBR kept its license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There are minimum standards for the amount of local programming needed to maintain the license. This is when he turned to me to give him some of those hours.
At the time I had recently left the radio industry, last working as a bureau chief for WAMC-Northeast Public Radio. I had transitioned to a position in government working for Pittsfield Mayor Jim Ruberto. While I had left the profession, radio is something that can just stay in your blood. Well, at least that was the case for me. I told Larry I could give him a half-hour of programming a day (2.5 hours a week). He countered with “how about an hour a day?”
For the past 10 years, Good Morning Pittsfield has established itself as the radio program of record in Pittsfield and there is no way I could have done it alone. I have had about a dozen different hosts filling the chair so this volunteer operation could continue uninterrupted each weekday. Our partnership with Pittsfield Community Television, and the technical wizardry of PCTV’s Shawn Serre, made GMP the only live, simulcast program in the Berkshires in early 2007. Today, We are still the only daily, live radio/TV simulcast program in the Berkshires. Shawn also happened to be one of our most polished hosts over the years. As an elected official, I have chosen to remove myself from hosting duties during campaign seasons. This means we have had to coordinate for hosts to cover several months of daily shows. Sometimes I look back and wonder how we actually did it!
Today, as the Krol household has three children ages 4, 2 and 1 who need quite a bit of attention each morning, I have reduced my hosting to two days a week. Bill Sturgeon, a gem in our community, has done a tremendous job hosting three days per week.
I was so thrilled to see Berkshire Magazine highlight the role of GMP, WTBR and other community stations in the Berkshires. As the world of corporate media has shown its major flaws, it is essential that we continue to give a platform for independent voices. Community radio is truly one of those platforms.