Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Imperialist Radio Follow-Up

Here is an update on the ongoing attempt by WAMC (an Albany NPR Station) to take over North Country Public Radio’s frequency in Lake Placid which the Adirondack Almanack blogged about over the weekend.

There will be two community forums this Thursday:

Saranac Lake at 3:30 (Adirondack Artists Guild)

Lake Placid at 5:30 (Adirondack Community Church)

This morning there was an on air Question and Answer session – you can listen to the audio here.

NCPR’s website on the conflict now also includes a link to provide NCPR with your e-mail address in order for them to contact you if and when they need more and/or louder voices.

Dale Hobson, NCPR’s tech guy who blogs at Brain Clouds reports in a post on Monday that the station is being very careful how they cover the story (WAMC isn’t covering it at all):

The news was first aired in the region this morning on Saranac Lake station WNBZ, in a feature story by Chris Knight who, in addition to his duties at WNBZ, is a frequent freelance reporter for NCPR on Adirondack issues. While NCPR is committed to retaining the frequency on which it has served Lake Placid for over twenty years, we needed to find a way to cover the story in a fair and balanced way that would place the public interest ahead of the institutional interests of the station. Toward that end, the station manager and the news director sought advice from the Poynter Institute, an organization that provides training in journalistic ethics. They recommended that we use an outside editor with no connection to either of the parties to the dispute to oversee NCPR’s coverage. Suzanna Capelouto, news director of Georgia Public Broadcasting, agreed to fill that role. The reporting by Chris Knight that you will hear on NCPR tonight and tomorrow was edited by her.

An Albany Business Review story picked up by the Boston Business Journal noted that NCPR is not alone in being bullied by WAMC – apparently Vermont Public Radio (VPR) is also being driven from a frequency in its own region. All total WAMC is trying to supplant locally originated radio in eight communities:

The eight communities are Brewster; Cooperstown; Lake Placid; Norwich and Stamford in New York; Vergennes, Vt.; Manchester, Conn., and West Swanzey, N.H. There are rivals for all but the Stamford and West Swanzey frequencies.

WAMC will face its toughest battle in Vergennes. St. Lawrence also wants to serve that city, as do Vermont Public Radio and a company called Wilbur Gospel Communications.

[Alan] Chartock said the FCC will award licenses to the applicant whose signal would reach the most people, based on such factors as the location and height of the proposed tower.

“So it comes down to whose engineer did the best job,” he said. “This will take months or even years to work out.”

Apparently, according to Chartock, that’s good enough for us – it’s a single engineer who gets to decide whether we have a locally originated station or we get homogenized radio.

WAMC’s Wikipedia page notes that the current conflict is part of an ongoing assult on local radio stations:

Though the original expansion of the WAMC network starting in the mid 1980s was done to serve areas that had previously lacked NPR service, many of the station’s expansions since then have been into areas that either had service from a WAMC signal or where an established NPR network was already on the air. Two examples of this were WAMC’s purchase of WAMQ (then WBBS), a signal whose coverage area is near enveloped by other WAMC signals, and in 1992 WAMC outbid SUNY Plattsburgh for the then-WCFE-FM in 1995 to serve an area with two established NPR stations.

A number of local bloggers have stepped up with their own comments including Adirondack Musing whose post title WAMC – The North Country Doesn’t Need You, pretty much says it all.

Brian over at MoFYC calls the whole affair a “terrible decision by WAMC.” He also takes the Albany station to task for their existing deeper problem in attempting to cover such an enormous area with such disparate interests:

WAMC’s news coverage is decent but cursory. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. This isn’t surprising because WAMC’s gargantuan coverage area means it must provide local news for people in central and southern Vermont, the Berkshires (western Massachussetts), northern Connecticut, the Hudson Valley (southeastern NY), the Mohawk Valley (Central NY) and New York’s Capital District.. WAMC also reports on state politics for those four states.

By contrast, NCPR is focused almost exclusively on the region in and around the Adirondacks. The station often runs stories that are 5-9 minutes in length and thus offer significantly more depth than WAMC’s typically brief pieces.

WAMC almost never reports on issues in Glens Falls or the Adirondacks, simply because there’s not enough time. NCPR had extensive coverage of the 2001 Finch Pruyn strike in Glens Falls, even though the station’s main headquarters is three times more distant than WAMC’s.

There’s a lot more to what Brian has to say (including a follow-up to his original post) but he concludes with:

I used to be a member of WAMC but am not anymore. I simply found that WAMC just didn’t cover news stories that were relevant to my community or nearby ones. When NCPR added transmitters in Glens Falls and Lake George, I found a station that did. I now send money to Canton.

And frankly I’m glad I’m not a member of WAMC anymore. I wouldn’t want my membership monies to making the media less local and more homogeneous.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise called it “dirty pool” and said:

Chartock suggested that NCPR just move to a different frequency so both stations can serve Lake Placid. That’s like demanding someone’s house and suggesting they camp out in the woods out back. Sure, we’d like to have the option of listening to WAMC, but not at a better, more local station’s expense.

We hope the FCC recognizes this injustice and puts a stop to it.

So do we.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




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