Friday, March 21

BENNINGTON — Eight years ago, a North Bennington resident, Robert Howe, purchased Bennington’s only local AM radio station to save it as a community outlet. Last day for proposals

Now, with the station’s local broadcasting in jeopardy once again, a group of community leaders, including Howe, is scheduled to present plans to preserve the station WBTN-AM to Southern Vermont College officials today, the last day the college is accepting proposals.

College trustees directed President Karen Gross to end the station’s losses by May 15 in early February, after the college reported it had lost about $450,000 since it was donated to the college by Howe in 2002. Howe, a college trustee, said he voted against the decision but understands why it happened.

“The college has other things it wants to do,” he said Wednesday. “(College officials) have to make these decisions. I was disappointed, but it was their prerogative, the college has priorities, and that’s okay.”

Howe said that in some ways the decision has been beneficial, as it has gotten the community behind the station. Since the decision, there have been a number of community petitions and letters in local newspapers urging the college to keep the station locally owned and run.

The group made up of town officials, organization directors and media owners and experts is determined to keep the station as a community voice, Howe said. He said he has been impressed with the group’s vision and organization and was confident it would come up with a solution.

“If these people have anything to say about it, it will happen, they’ll make it happen,” he said, “but I don’t know what the college will say.”

When news of the group was first reported, college spokesman David Scribner said it was one of many proposals, but he thought it was great that a local group had come forward. He said a lot of options are still on the table, including an outright purchase, a lease, co-ownership or a minority share for the college.

Although he did not know the specifics of the proposal, Howe said the bottom line is that it would keep the station locally run and operated. He feared an out-of-town buyer would simulcast broadcasting, like Vermont Public Radio did when it bought the AM and FM frequencies from Belva Keyworth, who started the station at the bottom of Harwood Hill in 1952.

Howe said when he bought the AM station from VPR in 2000, he never intended to get into the radio business, he just wanted to give it back to a community that had helped him start and develop Porta Brace, a company that makes cases for media equipment.

“It was a place wherepeople would be able to speak in their own voices to one another,” he said. “… It was to provide the forum for people to speak … to provide a microphone for the people of the Bennington and New York area … It is all about localism and human contact.”

Although he said it would be a challenge, Howe said he could see the addition of even more local programming in the future, including broadcasts of local high school and college sporting events if the group’s proposal is accepted.

In addition to Howe, the group consists of a number of directors of local organizations, including Joann Erenhouse of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, Marshal Case of the American Chestnut Foundation, Lisa Byer of Catamount Access Television Corp., John Shannahan of the Better Bennington Corp. and Banner Publisher Edward Woods.

Other group members include Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd, Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington; North Bennington residents Robert Lowary and Michael Keane, Bennington resident Lindy Lynch and former Advocate publisher, Bill Densmore.