High Energy Party For Low-Power Station

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Front Page / Mar. 16, 2017 9:01am EDT

Rayalton Radio Marks Fourth Anniversary
By Dylan Kelley


Sophia Mueller performs alongside father Andy Mueller at Royalton Radio’s birthday celebration on Saturday in Sharon. (Herald / Dylan Kelley) Sophia Mueller performs alongside father Andy Mueller at Royalton Radio’s birthday celebration on Saturday in Sharon. (Herald / Dylan Kelley) More than 50 people gathered at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon on Saturday night to celebrate the fourth birthday of Royalton Radio on Saturday night.

Featuring a musical performance by Grammy Award winner Jim Rooney with backing support from Americana aficionados Turnip Truck, the party brought radio programmers and listeners together for an evening of local radio, music, and beer; the latter of which featured three selections on tap from Brocklebank Brewery, based in Tunbridge.

For station manager Todd Tyson, the evening was a moment to reflect on how far the station had come since its early days in 2013, before WFVR even had its own antenna and operated out of the space currently occupied by BALE on North Windsor Street.

“We were… [online] only for the first two years while we applied for our FCC license,” said Tyson. “I reckon that we started broadcasting at 96.5 in late January of 2015.”


Radio programmers and listeners mingle to the music of Turnip Truck at Royalton Radio’s 4th birthday celebration at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon on Saturday evening. (Herald / Dylan Kelley) Radio programmers and listeners mingle to the music of Turnip Truck at Royalton Radio’s 4th birthday celebration at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon on Saturday evening. (Herald / Dylan Kelley) “It took us a couple of years just to get the signal up and running,” said Rooney, citing a range of technical issues faced by WFVR in the early days.

“If the leaves were on the trees you couldn’t hear us!” laughed Rooney, who has been a long-time supporter and board member at the station. “But those issues are behind us and we’re getting a nice group of DJs who are playing a pretty wide range of music.”

Now the station can be heard both online (at royaltonradio.org) and on the FM band.

100W of Heart and Soul

Most commercial radio stations operate at thousands or tens of thousands of watts, beaming their powerful transmissions from dizzying heights and across vast distances of the United States.

While their reach is expansive, many community media advocates— and a handful of radio pirates— felt that larger commercial stations left ordinary citizens with little access to the airwaves that were originally meant to be leased from the public.

Following years of movement building and political wrangling with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), community radio advocates were, at last, granted licenses to operate small-scale FM stations in the early 2000s , with additional space on the dial becoming available in 2011.

With a transmitter operating at roughly the same wattage as a commercially available light-bulb, WFVR is a “low-power FM” (LPFM) station, whose broadcasting radius of 10-12 miles is ideally suited for reaching up and down the river valley.

Beaming with obvious pride, Tyson couldn’t help but reiterate the importance of community radio to small towns and villages.

“It springs out of the democratic process,” said Tyson who embraces the FCC prohibition of advertising revenue for LPFM stations.

“We’re strictly supported by the community, whether it’s membership like this or underwriting by businesses and individuals.”

Listening in from Hartford, George Turner takes particular pleasure in knowing that a local community member is at the controls, broadcasting freely, without the restrictions of a commercial station.

“I love the idea of independent radio!” he said. “Things like this, in a little way, are reestablishing a local economy and a local mentality that’s a serious alternative to the corporate world.”

Deeper Connections

For Jim Rooney, that local mentality and community dedication is driven by the eclectic band of members and supporters that have kept the station on secure financial footing

“It is our radio station. It’s totally supported by the community.” said Rooney, following a swinging rendition of several Hank Williams tunes.

“In this day and age, I think that’s a really good thing. It gives people just a little stake in their own personal life—that they can be part of something like this.”

A little personal stake goes a long way in a landscape that often feels overlooked by larger media companies.

According to several programmers and board members in attendance on Saturday evening, that landscape—characterized by the mountains and valleys that sculpt WFVR’s intimate broadcast range— also serves to knit listeners and programmers together. This reverence for their broader community is reflected in the deep affection held by Rooney and his radio compatriots.

For Rooney, the radio station “is about this part of the White River watershed. I think that’s important,” he said, “that people are connected by this river… geography has a lot to do with our character, the fact that we have these hills here—they kind of hem us in,” he said. “But we follow the river and it defines us. I think it’s pretty good.”

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