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Back to the Future:
Allegheny Mountain Radio
in West Virginia Community Radio
Associate Professor, Acting Dean
P.I. Reed School of Journalism
Ralph E. Hanson, Ph.D
P.I. Reed School of Journalism
Submitted to the Community Journalism Interest Group.
West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV 26505
304-293-3505, ext. 5412
[log in to unmask]
Title: Back to the Future: Allegheny Mountain Radio and Localism in
West Virginia Community Radio
Community radio is a form of non-commercial broadcasting designed to
serve a specific geographic area. In recent years, community radio
has become a viable alternative to both commercial and public radio,
which produce nationally oriented programming designed for mass
audiences. The value and impact of community radio can be seen
through the work of Allegheny Mountain Radio, a three-station network
serving a rural and geographically isolated region of southern West
Virginia and Virginia.
Title: Back to the Future: Allegheny Mountain Radio and Localism in
West Virginia Community Radio
In the beginning, radio was produced by a broadcaster for his or her
audience; it was a hobby, with a broadcaster sending out a message
to a limited community. It then grew into network radio that sent
programming out on a national level to local stations. But in the
late 1940s, a transformation started taking place in radio – radio
went from being a primary to a secondary medium, and at that point it
had to redefine what it would be. From the 1950s until the present
day, radio has served as a niche medium targeting narrow, specific
audiences, increasingly with nationally provided programming. But
the old idea of a radio station that serves the informational needs
of the community still lives on in the form of community radio.
Community radio is a form of non-commercial broadcast radio designed
to be responsive to the needs of the local community. The majority
of programming is locally produced and should reflect the diversity
views and values of the community. The community should have a voice
in what programs are produced and aired, and often members of the
community volunteer as programmers, journalists and on-air personalities.
The need for community radio is growing, as the airwaves have become
dominated by corporate-owned conglomerates, such as Clear Channel and
Viacom. Corporate-owned radio stations tend to produce and broadcast
nationally oriented music and public affairs programming, and do very
little (if any) local programming.
The value and impact of community radio can be seen through the work
of Allegheny Mountain Radio in rural West Virginia and Virginia. The
three-station network serves smaller geographically isolated
communities that are not reached by commercial stations, and where
radio is an important lifeline, particularly in times of emergency.
Commercial, Public and Community Radio
American commercial radio has been licensed by the federal government
since the Communications Act of 1934, which also established limits
on the number of stations a single corporation or individual could
own. By 1995, ownership limits were 36 radio stations in the country
and four in a single market.
By the 1990s, cable television, direct-mail, and the Internet had cut
into radio's advertising revenue, and Congress responded with the
Telecommunications Act of 1996. Although most of the law dealt with
the cable television and telephone industries, the law lifted the
restrictions on overall ownership. A single company could now own
unlimited numbers of radio stations with up to eight stations in a
single market. Clear Channel used the change to buy up $30 billion
worth of stations nationwide going from owning 42 stations in 1995,
to more than 1,200 stations by 2003.
The 1960s brought institutionalized public radio as an alternative to
commercial radio. Public radio was authorized by the 1967 Public
Broadcasting Act, which was primarily designed to create educational
television. The act allocated stations at the lower end of the FM
dial for non-commercial broadcasting, and most of the station
licenses went to colleges and universities. In 1971, National Public
Radio went on the air as a network serving these stations with its
first program, the evening news magazine All Things Considered.
Public radio remained relatively small until two major developments
took place. The first was the growth of satellite delivery of
network programming which brought programming to all stations no
matter how remote. The second development was that cars started
having FM radios installed. Since public radio was almost
exclusively on the FM band, the coming of FM car radios made it
possible to reach people with both the interest and time to pay
attention. Not surprisingly, NPR's biggest audiences are in cities
with long commutes. By 1997, there were 560 NPR stations that
covered 90 percent of the U.S. population.
NPR has become as significant of a force as commercial radio. For
example, in 1999 its morning news magazine, Morning Edition, drew
nearly 9 million daily listeners. This compares to 4.9 million
viewers of NBC's Today show and 3.6 million for ABC's Good Morning America.
Approximately 16 percent of the public radio budget comes from the
federal government. The biggest chunk of the budget comes from the
listeners, or friends, of public radio, who contribute approximately
60 percent. The rest comes from states, the institutions that host
the stations, and corporate underwriters. These underwriters get
mentions during the programs they help support. These announcements
used to be simply mentions of who gave money. Now they are likely to
contain some kind of message promoting the company providing the
grant, sometimes evolving into what seems like a 10-second long
commercial.[Buzenberg, 1997 #5]
Community radio has its roots in the post World War II period. Some
were urban stations not connected to a network that sold blocks of
time to ethnic broadcasters programming in German, Italian, Polish,
Yiddish or Russian. Another element was African American
broadcasting, which grew as programming left radio for television,
and radio stations started looking for new niches. Some of the
stations were even purchased by black broadcasters.
Many sources point to the creation of Pacifica Radio and KPFA as the
real start of community radio.
Pacifica got its start in Berkley, California in 1949 in the form of
radio station KPFA, founded through the efforts of pacifist Lew
Hill. KPFA was not trying to find some kind of mythical balance.
Instead it was to be an activist channel, working "to encourage
'peace, social justice, promotion of the labor movement, and support
of the arts' through a programme format that included news and public
affairs, academic lectures and debates, drama and literature,
children's shows, classical and international folk music." It was,
as Barlow writes, an attempt "to combine a highbrow cultural format
with an emphasis on social activism and community involvement."
In 1959, KPFA went network, with KPFK going on the air in Los
Angeles. And in 1961, the New York City station WBAI was donated to Pacifica.
In the 1960s Pacifica Radio started evolving from the ideals of the
founding liberal pacifists to match the values of the civil rights
and student movements. Music went from the highbrow classical and
folk programming of KPFA to what would be known as free form
programming with everything thrown into the mix at the discretion of
the host, his or her guests, and the audience. Music now
incorporated jazz and rock, along with the classical and folk. (In
many ways, the Pacifica stations were following the evolution of FM
radio in the 1960s and 70s.) Although this was not a radical shift in
ideology, it does show that there has long been a notion of change
within the community radio movement.
Community radio continued with vocal opposition to the Vietnam War in
the late 60s and early 70s, as did the "underground" and
"progressive" FM stations.
As the Pacifica stations opposed the war, complaints were filed with
the FCC about indecency, obscenity, and the George Carlin "seven
dirty words" routine.
By 1977, Pacifica had five stations.
The second big group of community stations were founded by Lorenzo
Milam who started KRAB out of Seattle which became the flagship of a
series of stations which came to be known as the KRAB Nebula.
In 1975, 25 community stations came together to form the National
Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB). The goal of this group
was to provide a clearing house of information on how to operate and
fund community-based radio.
According to an early NFCB pamphlet, community radio should be devoted to:
[An approach] that emphasizes localism and community needs; radio as
an activist resource for community development and social justice;
creative freedom; experimentation and diversity in music, cultural
and informational programming; involvement of people traditionally
excluded from the mass media (emphasis added); and community
participation through accessible station governance…
The NFCB currently has about 200 member stations with an average
budget of $300,000 a year. But some stations have budgets under
$100,000 with only one or two staff members.
William Barlow of Howard University writes that community radio is in
"the forefront of a larger movement to democratize accessible
segments of American mass media by heightening the level of citizen
participation in their operations, and broadening the range of
viewpoints in their programme formats."
Community radio can be the only media voice in some areas. For
example, Corporation for Public Broadcasting spokesman Michael
Schoenfeld notes that there are 25 Native American stations, many of
which are the only broadcast media available on the reservation.
(Though, of course, satellite continues to provide national media a
reach into formerly remote locations.) WVMR, an Allegheny Mountain
Radio station, is the only daily news source in Pocahontas County,
with the local paper publishing only once a week.
Andrew Jay Schartzman and Harold J. Feld of the Media Access Project,
discussed the following in testimony before the Federal
Radio is a powerful local medium, which can connect listeners through
music, discourse and culture, and it therefore needs to be responsive
to the needs of the community it serves. Citizens, businesses,
organizations and emergency services providers can use radio to
communicate vital information to the community. Many broadcasters,
however, are moving away from their public service obligations and
seeking only to maximize their profits…Localism is the best way to
ensure broadcast owners are responsive to local needs.
NFCB believes market forces have failed to sufficiently encourage
stations to meet the needs of the local communities, as often
community radio stations are the only radio broadcasters meeting
those needs. NFCB members, as non-commercial stations are not the
most responsive to market forces, but are the most pro-active in
terms of serving underserved audiences.
The Communications Act ordered the Commission to grant licenses in
the public interest, and the FCC has long held that there is a strong
public interest in localism. Local radio broadcasting has the
ability to link communities, strengthen cultures and provide
livesaving information. Today many commercial broadcasters are
ignoring their commitments to service the communities in which they
are located, and are looking only to maximize their
profits. Consequently, many local programs and community discussions
are abandoned in favor of programming designed to attract advertising
target audiences. Communities suffer when broadcasters do not meet
their needs for local, news political discussion and diverse
How do Community, Commercial and Public Radio Differ?
Howley points out several major differences between commercial,
public and community radio:
• Community radio often relies on donated second-hand equipment
rather than new, professional quality gear.
• Commercial radio exists to make a profit for its owners. It is
there to serve the needs of its owners, generally the corporate
elite. It does not exist to supply programming to audiences, it
exists to provide audiences to advertisers. Public radio depends on
federal appropriations and grants from corporate underwriters. As
such, it needs to avoid controversy and attract listeners. Howley
also notes that the rhetoric of public radio fund raising can be
remarkably similar to that of commercial radio. Community radio views
audience members as the client whose needs need to be met. Community
radio typically targets audiences who are underserved by commercial
radio by virtue of the fact that they are not seen as desirable by
advertisers or underwriters.
• Community radio views communication as an essential element in
supporting the local democratic process. It is a way of sharing
information in the community rather than delivering audiences to an
• Community radio has a devotion to local issues and a duty to
represent all groups in the community, not just one. Traditionally
community radio, especially the Pacifica stations, have been
associated with the political left. But they cannot ignore the
interests of conservatives and other political groups.
• Community radio can differ from public broadcasting that tends to
have a very desirable, upper-income, well-educated demographic that
is capable of providing financial support and as a result can attract
corporate underwriters who want to reach members of this
demographic. Community stations that target the urban poor or rural
populations are less attractive to underwriters.
Given all these factors, community radio faces a range of
challenges. First among these is financing, since community stations
receive no revenue from commercial advertising. Another is how to
produce programming that both reflects the diversity of a community
along with the values and interests of the majority of
listeners. Community radio depends to a large degree on listener
support, so stations face pressure to produce programming that
appeals to a majority, not a minority audience. Carol Pierson,
president and CEO of the National Federal of Community Broadcasters
notes: "One of the challenges these organizations face is that
they're trying to service people not served by the other media. It
puts more responsibility of community station that are trying to
serve a lot of people. It's a lot harder than if other stations were
taking that responsibility. Each station has to cover a number of bases."
Community radio stations also struggle with technical issues because
again, they lack the finances to buy and maintain equipment, and they
are sometimes located in isolated, rural areas that lack reliable
phone service and electric power. Another challenge from a news
perspective is that it can be difficult for reporters to cover
negative stories about the community and individuals, since everyone
knows everyone else.
Loss of the Community Voice
One of the great challenges of community radio is to provide a voice
to those who are voiceless, a group that has been growing for a
number of institutional factors, most notably the virtual elimination
of low-powered radio and the loss of local control of radio stations
following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Low power (Class D) licenses were first created in 1948 as stations
broadcasting with 10 watt of power or less. The equipment was
inexpensive, and the technical standards were low. They were located
on the almost unused (at the time) FM band where there were few
commercial or non-commercial stations. By 1967, just over one third
of the 300+ educational stations were Class D licenses. At this
point, the higher powered educational stations started pressuring the
FCC to more strictly regulate the Class D stations and force them to
upgrade to 100 watts, so they wouldn't interfere with the more
conventional established stations. (Upgrading to 100 watts of power
would force the stations to comply with the regular broadcast
standards.) But it wasn't until 1978 that the FCC finally decided
that existing Class D stations would either have to upgrade to the
Class A minimum of at least 100 watts or shut down. (One of this
paper's authors worked at such a station in the late 1970s/early 80s
during which the station went through the upgrade.)
From 1978 until 2000 low-power radio only existed as "pirate"
stations, or "microbroadcasters," as they prefer to be called.
In January of 2000, the FCC released a report creating the LPFM
low-power FM radio service to license stations in the 10-100 watt
range. Full-power stations operate in the 100 to 100,000 watt
range. These stations are designed to reach a very limited local community.
Although the comparison is not generally made, most public radio
stations are affiliated with National Public Radio. And although the
local affiliates create a significant amount of local content, they
nevertheless get a majority of their national programming from a
One of the objectives of LPFM was to bring the unlicensed, or
"pirate", broadcast stations under FCC regulation. Because the FCC
would not license stations under 100 watts, pirate broadcasters felt
they had no alternative but to transmit illegally. Microbroadcaster
Stephen Dunifer claims to have sold more than 300 low-powered
transmitter kits and estimated that there were about one thousand
micro stations broadcasting in the U.S. prior to the LPFM rules. As
of 2005, there were about 550 licensed low-power stations, and
commercial and public broadcasting stations continue to be concerned
that the low-power stations will interfere with their broadcasts.
Riismandel argues that LPFM is important because it is virtually the
only source of non-professional broadcast voices on the air:
One only has to listen across the radio dial fo an hour or so to
realize that there is a dearth of unprofessional voices on the
air. And, rather disturbingly, listening to the radio in cities as
diverse as New York, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, and even Champaign,
Illinois, reveals a near total lack of regional accents and dialects
too. Everyone speaks the same way, because they were all trained to
speak that way. If an unprofessional voice does make it onto the
air, it's usually because that person is an interview subject o a
caller to a talk show, who may be cut off or taken off the air at the
Riismadel's writes that Internet radio is a possible alternative to
community radio, but notes the significant costs involved. This may
now be changing as Internet connections become more common and as
webcasting and podcasting become pervasive. (Podcasting is
downloading mp3-based programs to a computer, and then transferring
them to to an iPod or other MP3 player for listening to on the
go. In early 2005, podcasting got significant media coverage with
the prominent involvement of former MTV VeeJay Adam Curry in the
phenomenon. It is, however, way too early to know what significance
podcasting or webcasting will have on the idea of community radio.)
Allegheny Mountain Radio
In testimony before the FCC, the NFCB called for the FCC to continue
to consider the importance of localism in broadcasting to make sure
community needs are met rather than those of advertisers wanting to
reach designated target audiences: "Local programming is instrumental
in delivering local news, bulletins, and emergency information and
has the ability to bring communities together." The NCFB called on
the Commission to consider the level of local programming provided in
providing renewal of broadcast licenses.
Allegheny Mountain Radio (AMR) offers an example of a successful
community radio operation that emphasizes localism in its
programming. AMR is a community-radio network consisting of three
stations that reach rural counties in southeastern West Virginia and
southwestern Virginia: WVMR-AM Radio in Frost, WV (Pocahontas
County); WVLS-FM in Monterey VA (Highland County); and WCHG-FM in Hot
Springs, VA (Bath County). The stations are owned and operated by
the Pocahontas Communications Cooperative, a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization.
WVMR, the founding station, went on the air in July of 1981, as
5000-watt station that serves 9000 people in a geographic area,
roughly 90 miles long and 30 miles wide. (WVMR stands for "West
Virginia Mountain Radio.")
WVMR is part of a three-station network. WVLS-FM Monterey went on the
air in 1995, and WCHG-FM went on the air in 1996. The three stations
are linked together through an elaborate patchwork system of
microwave technology, phone lines and radio signals. All together,
the three stations serve 16,000 people.
Today, the network operates with WVMR providing programming during
the day for all-three stations. In the evenings, after WVMR signs
off, WVLS and WCHG provide their own programming to their respective
audiences. WVMR is the primary station, which employs the most
people and produces the most programming.
The three stations are located in a rugged and geographically
isolated region in the Allegheny Mountains. Pocahontas County, at 943
square miles, is one of the largest counties in West Virginia and one
of the least populated. It has little industry, and the residents
are poor. The median income is $26,777 — 35 percent below the
Because of the higher elevations, the region can experience severe
weather. In Pocahontas County, the mean snowfall ranges from 50 to
120 inches a year. The area is also susceptible to flooding.
Described as "The Birthplace of the Rivers," Pocahontas County is
home to the headwaters of 8 waterways.
WVMR is an AM station that broadcasts from sunrise to sundown 7 days
a week. It operates in a National Radio Quiet Zone, established by
the FCC in 1958 to protect the activity of the National Radio
Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in nearby Greenbank, WV. NARO has
sensitive radio telescopes that would be overwhelmed by local FM
transmitter, and WVMR is only allowed to broadcast on the relatively
low frequencies of the AM Dial.
According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, WVMR and its
sister station WVLS are considered to be "sole service" providers,
meaning each is the only station — radio or TV — to provide broadcast
service to the area. There are only about a dozen sole-service
providers in the country, and most of them are located in Alaska.
Vincent Curren, recently named CPB Senior Vice President of Radio,
confirmed WVMR's status as a sole-service provider: "When I first
came to the CPB, I thought that's impossible, it's West Virginia. We
had an engineer plot other broadcast signals that theoretically
should have reached that area. So I got in my car and went down
myself to investigate, and I tuned up and down the radio dial, and to
my amazement, I realized there's nothing there besides that radio
station. So I came away convinced."
The three AMR stations operate on a lean budget, totaling $250,000 a
year. Founder Gibbs Kinderman says 72 percent of the budget is spent
on operations and 28% on programming, including original programming
and syndicated material. The stations receive financial support from
three sources: personal donations, underwriting from local businesses
and the CPB. Three years ago, the CPB increased its contribution from
$100,000 to $200,000, now providing most of the stations' funding.
The stations employs approximately 7 people and 20 volunteers who
appear on-air regularly. Other volunteers help out by stuffing
envelopes, and doing construction and odd jobs around the station.
Most of the staff and volunteers come from the surrounding community.
They include a postmaster, a preacher, local musicians, a retired
teacher, and even high school students.
The founding "father" of AMR is Gibbs Kinderman, a wiry, grey-bearded
man in his late 50s, who moved to WV from Portland Oregon in the
1960s as an Appalachian Volunteer. A precursor to Vista, The
Appalachian Volunteer Program placed young volunteers in rural
communities to help fight the war on poverty. After his stint as a
volunteer, Kinderman stayed in West Virginia to organize community
health programs and clinics.
The idea for creating a community radio station in Pocahontas County
grew out of local concern for poor communications across the sparsely
populated area. In the late 1970s, while monitoring a project for
the West Virginia Humanities Council, Kindermen attended a town
meeting at the Dunmore WV Community Center. At that meeting, people
said what they really needed was a radio station to link them to the
outside world. Gibbs had no background in radio, but "I always
thought radio could be a wonderful way to build community."
Gibbs, his wife and two young children moved from Raleigh County to
Pocahontas County in 1978. It took several years to get the radio
station started. A local committee — spearheaded by Kinderman,
Betty Rae Weiford, a WVU Cooperative Extension Service agent and Omar
Bowyer, an NRAO employee with a radio background, raised money —
formed a Board of Directors, found engineering talent, and
successfully applied for a license from the F.C.C. The radio
station (barely) went on the air on July 9, 1981 during a live
broadcast from Pioneer Days in Marlinton, the county seat. The
station went on the air to the song, "Green Rolling Hills of WV," by
Emmy Lou Harris. The broadcast was interrupted within the first hour
when the cheap transmitter the station purchased blew up.
Today, Kinderman continues to serve in an advisory role, as Director
of Special Projects for the Pocahontas Communications Cooperative.
His wife Cheryl Kinderman is the General Manager of AMR.
The WVMR station is located in a small building in Frost, WV, built
into the mountainside adjacent to the Monongahela National and Seneca
The station is far removed from big-city glamour. From the inside,
it looks like a concrete bunker. The floors are covered with a thin
layer of burnt orange indoor/outdoor carpet. Maps of the region and
posters of blue grass musicians are tacked to the walls. And a
folded metal cot sits in the corner, in case bad weather forces one
of the staff members to stay overnight.
This afternoon, host Shaun Harvey (also the station's
programming/music director) fills in for Norris Long whose popular
show, "TGIF Bluegrass," plays traditional standards. Harvey likes to
shake things up by playing a more modern form of bluegrass. Wearing
jeans, blue t-shirt and a khaki green-ball cap, Harvey nods his head
and moves his arms vigorously to the sounds of Tim O'Brien covering
the Bob Dylan tune When I paint my masterpiece.
CDs are lined up in an old wooden box, color-coded by genre. Blue
and white striping on the spine stand for "bluegrass." Harvey's
playlist for today includes Zacchaeus by Jim Lauderdale, Ralph
Stanley and the Blue Clinch Mountain Boys, Atlanta by Allison Krause
and Tin Roof Shack by Peter Rowen and Tony Rice.
In between songs, Harvey gives the weather report, and he announces a
call to the community to donate items to a family who lost their
belongings in a fire:
"We have some folks in Bath County who need your assistance. Time
for neighbors helping neighbors to step up to the plate. Some
assistance is needed for some folks in the Millboro area, whose home
was destroyed by fire. Their furniture needs have been taken care
of. But the following items… can be dropped off at the Emergency
Committee center at Route 39, West of Warm Springs. They need
clothing: pants size 38 and shirts size large; sweatsuits sized
extra, extra large, and ladies clothing size small and medium… Canned
goods can be dropped off at the Bath County Courthouse to Mary Susan
Blankenship in the Treasurer's Office. Any questions, call
839-2227. So if you can help some folks out that would be greatly
Back to the future programming
The programming produced at WVMR and its sister stations is almost
entirely homegrown, what the broadcast industry refers to as
"hyper-local." The station uses a limited amount of pre-recorded or
syndicated programming, including ABC news briefs at the top of the
hour, West Virginia Metro News briefs at the bottom of the hour and
some entertainment shows such as "Into the Music," a program of music
biographies. "Our goal is back to the future. We want to be like a
small town radio station in 1952," says Kinderman.
The station's 1981 Purpose Statement emphasized AMR's commitment to
producing programs that serve the local community:
ALLEGHENY MOUNTAIN RADIO EXISTS FOR THE FOLLOWING PURPOSES:
• To provide timely and accurate reports of local and state events,
including weather, news and community happenings,
• To provide a forum open to all residents of the area for the
discussion of public issues,
• To provide music and entertainment for our audience,
• To promote the economic development and general well being of the area,
• To train local residents to use the medium of radio to express
their thoughts, feelings and talents.
(Statement of Purpose adopted by the Board of Directors of the
Pocahontas Communications Cooperative, August 3, 1981)
Unlike corporate-owned radio stations, the three AMR stations don't
follow a standardized format, and the program schedule is somewhat
eclectic. But most of the programs have a distinctly old-time
Appalachian flavor. AMR's slogan is "Unique by Nature, Traditional by
Choice." Monday through Friday, AMR features bluegrass, country, and
gospel music. On the weekend, the programming branches out to
include blues, rock-and-roll, and even cowboy music.
Public affairs programming is a major part of the station's
identity. Throughout the week, DJ's give weather and road condition
reports and announce funerals, hospital admissions, items for sale
and missing pets. The stations broadcast high school football games
live and in their entirety, as well as public school board and county
Another popular show is called, "Let's Dish." Velma Waddell records
local residents reading their favorite recipes out loud. One time a
caller gave her a recipe for salt-rising bread, and explained her
trick of putting the pan under a heating pad. "It also helps when
the moon is full," said the woman.
AMR also produces nearly two hours of news local news programming a
day, with some of the reporting done by Vista (Americorps)
volunteers. The young reporters cover breaking news when it
happens. But they mostly cover meetings, festivals and other
community events, like the annual "Road Kill Cook-off."
Like many community radio stations, programming decisions at WVMR and
its sister stations are made by consensus and influenced by community
A nine-member Board of Directors - consisting of members of the
community — provides oversight to the stations. The Board of
Directors hires the General Manager, sets policies, and determines
and monitors the budget. All communication between the board and
staff goes through the General Manager, who administers all three
stations and hires/fires all other personnel. In addition, the
individual stations have community advisory committees that give
feedback on programming and policies.
Staff members and volunteers submit program proposals to the
individual stations. Each station coordinator then forwards that
proposal to the AMR General Manager and the Programming
Director. They decide which of the programs will be produced and
aired, based on general philosophy of AMR, and the timeslots
available between established programs. Harvey explains that the
programs "have to fit the sound of that particular time period." For
example, if someone proposes a hard-rock program, it would not fit
AMR's weekday programming which is mostly acoustic, bluegrass or country.
The AMR Programming Director decides which syndicated programming to
purchase, based on price, availability and, again, how the program
fits with the station's general format.
These decisions are also influenced by the views of other staff
members and volunteers. For example, AMR used to carry the show
"Focus on the Family," by Christian commentator Dr. James
Dobson. Harvey says that AMR decided to drop the show in 2002,
primarily because the station was trying to develop more consistency
in its programming, and the 1/2 hour talk show — which ran one day a
week — didn't fit into that format. However, Harvey also admits
there were some grumblings among staff members that the show was
becoming more of a "divider of the community and not a uniter," and
veering "too far right" of the political spectrum. And since the
station didn't offer a show on the "left" to balance that viewpoint,
Harvey and Cheryl Kinderman ultimately decided to drop the show. (AMR
Stations continue to follow the Fairness Doctrine, even through the
FCC eliminated enforcement of the regulation in 1985.)
To appease those who wanted more religious programming, the station
developed a more consistent schedule for airing the "Gospel Hour," a
program of gospel music that begins with a 2-3 minute daily devotion
from local pastors. According to Harvey, there was no huge outcry
over dropping the program. "Being a non-commercial station, there
are lots of gates and barriers. We have to make sure we're not
moving over those gates and stepping on those fences." Harvey said.
Allegheny Mountain Radio claims not to promote a particular political
ideology or an activist agenda. "We don't carry political
programming, but we do cover local political issues including
elections, and we provide a forum to local candidates," said Harvey.
This makes AMR different from many of its counterparts across the
country that follow the Pacifica model and tend to promote a liberal
political and social agenda.
NFCB President Carol Pierson says, "Community radio has a commitment
to free speech and providing diverse points of view, and some
stations are more ideologically narrow."
Curren says that many community stations, particularly those in
larger markets, appeal to the typical public radio audience, which is
affluent and highly educated.
"If you think about the role their service plays in the community,
their role is very different than that of your typical public radio
station," said Curren. "In Washington DC, we have three public radio
stations that serve very targeted audiences… In Gibbs' area, he
literally needs to be all things to all people. So that affects who
programs the material, what material they program, and their role in
working with community organizations… And he fills this role with a
lean operation, a relatively small budget, and a whole host of
community volunteers. So his station really has become a grassroots
Curren says as a result of AMR's responsiveness to the community, it
has gained a large audience and dedicated following, "They are one of
the more successful community radio operations, and sole-service
operations in the country."
Community Radio in Time of Crisis
One issue that has come out of concentrated ownership of commercial
radio is whether nationally owned stations are responsive to local
emergencies. Clear Channel was criticized in 2002 when its six radio
stations in Minot, N.D. failed to warn the public about a dangerous
fertilizer spill from an early morning train derailment. Programming
at the stations was provided through a satellite link, and police
were unable to reach anyone at the stations by phone.
In 2003, the FCC considered further deregulation of station
ownership, which faced harsh criticism from listeners, and from
political-interest groups on the left and right. Denver resident
Doug Crane, in a letter to the FCC, wrote: "[Clear Channel] has not
provided breaking news events concerning fires and weather warnings
in a timely fashion. Their 50 [kilowatt] outlet [KOA] in Denver was
very slow in providing information as ash and smoke were blanketing
the Denver area" during extensive wildfires in 2002. Clear Channel
owns eight stations in the Denver area."
Community radio network Allegheny Mountain Radio, on the other hand,
really established its following during its coverage of one of the
worst natural disasters the region has ever faced. In 1985, a
500-year flood devastated the area, killing 47 people in the state,
causing millions of dollars of damage and leaving thousands homeless.
In Pocahontas County alone, four people died and hundreds of people
lost their homes. Marlinton, Cass and other areas of the county were
inundated with water, roads and bridges were destroyed, and almost
everyone was without running water and electricity.
WVMR, the only AMR station at the time, stayed on the air for 72
hours continuously, providing county residents with the latest
information about the disaster, including where to get help and how
to find loved ones. WVMR was given special dispensation to stay on
the air because the region had been declared a disaster area.
Wanting to help, volunteer Pat Keller and her husband Bob Keller,
then President of the Board of Directors, moved their family to the
radio station in Frost. The station is located on a slight hill,
which didn't get flooded and didn't lose its power. "It was almost
like a fluke, maybe a miracle, " said Keller.
The station provided the latest news, told residents where to pick up
supplies and federal deliveries of canned water, provided information
about people offering services and help, and played music designed to
lift the spirits. "We were very careful about our music selection,"
Keller recalled. "We wanted to be encouraging, but we couldn't play
any song that mentioned anything about water."
After the flood, "One lady stopped by and told Bob, 'You saved my
life. I was ready to kill myself, because everything was gone.'"
Another important role the station played was to help residents
locate missing family members and friends. Some of the roads were
open, and people drove to the station and dropped off messages to be
read on the air. The station built a database of information about
missing people and messages people wanted sent out.
"We were really the center of communications for the county, "said Keller.
People were so desperate to get access to the station's signal, that
one man in Durbin made a giant antenna out of aluminum foil, so he
could pick up the radio station.
Station volunteers reported good news and bad. Keller says the worst
story she had to report was about a 5-year-old boy who killed in the
flood. "His grandmother and her friend were driving with the boy,
when their car was sucked in by the water and all three drowned."
Keller also recalls a more humorous incident. "The Mayor of Marlinton
came on the air, and said anybody who came to town to gawk would be
arrested or given a shovel," she laughs.
Without Allegheny Mountain Radio, Keller says, "People would have
gotten through on their own… but it made life easier for a lot of
people. It was the coming of age of the radio station. It became
Before the flood, Keller says there was some resistance to the radio
station, particularly among the political establishment. Gibbs
Kinderman was considered an outsider — a hippy who came to the area
to stir up change and cause problems. Political leaders worried
that news coverage could lead their actions to be misinterpreted or questioned.
In addition, in the early years, the radio station hadn't clearly
defined its public mission. "The first Board of Directors had wanted
to play music, and many in the public didn't see the stations'
potential to disseminate information," Keller said.
After the flood of 1985, Keller says everything changed. The station
had won over the skeptics, and "financial support increased
tremendously." Businesses began to underwrite programs, and personal
donations increased. Politicians and local leaders who had avoided
WVMR began to cooperate with reporters and even consented to be interviewed.
When the flood of 1996 struck the area, people expected the AMR
stations to provide the community with the latest news and
information. "It had become more of an entrenched part of the
community, it had become accepted."
"The only voice"
Shaun Harvey's own evolution from volunteer disc jockey to
Programming Director reflects the change in attitudes about AMR's
role in the community.
A graduate of Highland High School, Harvey came back to the area
after a two-years stint at James Madison University in Harrisonburg,
VA. Harvey started out hosting a late-night music show on WVLS-FM
called, the "Cellar."
Harvey says his love of music is initially what attracted him to the
stations. But he has seen his role and responsibility as a community
radio broadcaster evolve over time to something more serious:
"I get people who call all the time, and say I don't know what I'd do
without this radio station. In counties that are isolated as this,
with no regular daily newspaper, no TV stations, sometimes we're
their only lifeline…It's sort of like the whole idea of neighbors
helping neighbors, Allegany Mountain Radio is sort of like the
same. Everybody here is a neighbor to somebody.
We're the only place left around where local voices are truly represented. "