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WERU celebrating 25 years of community radio

ORLAND/BLUE HILL In May, WERU (89.8 Blue Hill and 99.9 in Bangor) officially began celebrating its 25th anniversary. They will be continuing that celebration with the Farm Fresh Live Radio Auction on June from 6 to 8:30 p.m. - more on that later.

Free to be me, what it means to be a community radio

Community. It's a word that calls to mind town square gatherings, picnics, backyard barbecues and bike rides. It's marketplaces and concerts on the green. Neighbors looking after neighbors. 

Community radio is all of those things. It may sound strange, but that is exactly what WERU does: it finds different pockets of people and pulls them together. Local news, local musicians and local personalities can all be found on WERU, a station that for a quarter of a century has been operating mostly with volunteers and a small, dedicated core of employees.

So how does a community radio come about? Well, in a chicken coop. Where else?

'It started out as Noel Paul Stookey thought about having a radio station and people started getting involved. They started fund raising and applying for a license from the FCC and on May 1, 1988, the station went on the air,' said Matt Murphy , the WERU station manager. 'A bunch of volunteers were present at the building. That station was in use from '88 to '97 it was a converted chicken coop the Hen House.' After a number of years it ended up moving here [to Orland], in the dead center of the listening area and we started getting more volunteers from different areas.'

Murphy said that just as the radio station was first slated to go on the air, there was a moment of panic. Though it had been in the works for some time, they still hadn't received the printed license, which needed to be on the premises in order to operate legally. They had already invested in advertising the broadcast debut.

'The attorney got it in time from the FCC, flew up and drove to the station 20 minutes before we were supposed to go on the air with the printed license,' he said.

In the course of their time on the air, there are been upwards of 1,500 volunteers at the station, doing all manner of things from DJing to building shelves for their extensive CD collection, cleaning the building or serving on committees and outreach. 

'It's impossible to count the guests we've had, either musical or on panel discussion,' said Murphy.

Those guests have been extensive and memorable. He recalls the panel on domestic violence, which was in turns heart-wrenching and hopeful. Another story involved adults who had been adopted locating their birth families.

There have also been a number of student interns who came in to learn the radio and left with an incredible amount of experience under their belt.

'There was an intern from Bangor who came in as a freshman in high school and hosted a show called Over the Rainbow.' She got a master's degree in communications and has worked for Story Corps and Public Broadcasting and with kids in Vietnam helping them tell stories through media radio and video,' said Murphy. 'Another from Belfast had a dad who had a jazz program. She became an electrical engineer and consults with the Prometheus Radio Project, which helps community radio stations get started.'

Local flavor

Anyone who has listened to WERU knows what a wonderful eclectic mix of talent they feature. Though some of that talent is national and international, the station also helps promote local talent.

'We recorded the regional Jazz Competition in Blue Hill, [and] there is the Wicked Good Music Hour' it features all-Maine and local music. We broadcast from the Folk Festival,' said Murphy. 'The big thing about the music is that not a lot of it is heard on stations locally. Back in the beginning you couldn't get a lot of stuff. Now you can find some on online services, but what you don't get [on the internet] is the local flavor behind it. [With WERU] you have the ability to call in requests or even come in to the station. It's all part of participating in part of the community.'

And sometimes WERU brings about some pretty incredible happenings. Classically trained pianist Masanobu Ikemiya happened to pass by the radio station and began listening to the jazz show. Sister Lucia McDonald was speaking in between the music about how they were trying to work with people to raise food and funds for the homeless shelter as Thanksgiving was coming up. When Masanobu Ikemiya heard this, he decided to help and offered to do a benefit concert. He's been involved with the annual benefit ever since.

Of air waves and famers markets

So, what do you get when you combine a local radio station with a farmers' market? A Farm Fresh Radio Auction, of course. What, did you think this was a joke?

Farmers have always been a large part of WERU's audience. The radio station has long been a supporter of local agriculture and farmers' markets, so it only made sense that they incorporate that into their 25th celebration. The Farm Fresh Live Radio Auction will be taking place on Jun 6 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Listeners are invited to call 1-800-643-6273 to bid on various local food items that have been donated by area farms, farmers markets, fishermen and food producers in the 38 towns within WERU's broadcast area that spans from Dover-Foxcroft to Port Clyde and Gouldsboro to Waterville. The auction is sponsored by Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion.

Some of the items that have been donated include certificates that allow the winners to shop at any farm stall at a farmers' market in Ellsworth, Blue Hill, Brooklin, Stonington, Orono, Brewer and Bangor. Likewise, there are farm-specific certificates that allow the winners to shop for their farm food either at a farmers' market or at the farm proper. Several farms gave also offered shares of Community Supported Agriculture up for bid, including the Black Bear Food Guild in Orono who has offered a half share for a full season of weekly produce; Cheryl Wixon's Kitchen has offered a 'kitchen share' monthly from November through April, and other area farms are offering trial shares for a few weeks.

You can check out all of the auction items to date, including locally grown fruits, veggies and flowers, herbs, meats, cheeses, eggs and much, much more.

To Pat Fowler, one of WERU's long-time volunteers, the blending of farm and radio made sense.

'It seemed real natural. We're a community of diverse people. When you look at farmers, they are a community of diverse people with very like concerns,' she said. 'That's one of the things that has been fun about this how many farmers have been enthusiastic about WERU.'

The radio station has done many things on behalf of the local farming community, including supporting programs with the Maine Organic Farmer and Growers Association (MOFGA). 

'Another thing that's fun about the farmers is that some have been around for generations and there are brand new famers coming in,' said Fowler. 'You see these bearded geezers coming in with these bearded youngsters too. It's really fun to the personalities of these people.'

And farmers are not strangers to WERU, either. Murphy said that much of their audience is built up from farmers.

'They are their own bosses and decide what's on the radio,' he said.

'One I love the most was Shannon Lion of Sunkhaze Blueberries. They're off the grid. No land line and [they] listen to WERU and have since sign-on day,' added Fowler.

Visit www.weru.org for links to each farm, fishery, market or food producer, along with full information about how to bid by telephone during the auction on-air Thursday, June 6 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. For more information about the WERU Farm Fresh Live Radio Auction, call the station at (207) 469-6600 or email  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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