February 28, 2006 - Issue: Vol. 152, No. 23 — Daily Edition109th Congress (2005 - 2006) - 2nd Session
WDEV: SOUNDS LIKE HOME; Congressional Record Vol. 152, No. 23
(Senate - February 28, 2006)
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[Pages S1532-S1533] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] WDEV: SOUNDS LIKE HOME Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, 2006 marks the 75th anniversary of a true Vermont treasure. Locally owned and operated, WDEV of Waterbury, VT, first came to the airwaves on July 16, 1931. Its continuing and expanded presence in Central Vermont and the Champlain Valley ever since then is a rare and stellar example these days of the invaluable resources that independent, community-based media can offer. WDEV station owner and President Ken Squier took the reins of WDEV from his parents, Guila and Lloyd, who first operated the station at the same time my own parents were operating a small Waterbury newspaper nearby, and his parents and mine were friends. If things had gone differently Ken and I might have had a media conglomerate in the making. Growing up in the station's studios, Ken's life was steeped in the culture and the craft of community radio. He understood WDEV's role in community life, and when he assumed operation of the station, his approach to community-based programming became the foundation of the station's lineup. Today the residents of Waterbury and its surrounding communities turn the dial to WDEV to find everything from a trading post to buy and sell their goods and treasures, to such off-beat program offerings as ``Music to Go to the Dump By.'' WDEV is the place to go for everything from local news to high school sports to school closings. It has become a vital source of news, information and entertainment to its devoted audience. WDEV is an authentic piece of the Vermont that we cherish. Under Ken's guidance and initiative, WDEV has broadened its scope, becoming the anchor for the Radio Vermont Group, which now operates stations devoted to classical and country music, as well as news, sports and community events. It has taken to the web, where WDEV now streams two of its most popular morning news programs, ``The Morning News Service'' and ``The Mark Johnson Show.'' Ken has shepherded WDEV through the years with his acute sensitivity to the local perspective. I have always enjoyed stopping in to the station for a quick chat, or greeting Ken and the station's longtime personalities at local events, from parades to political rallies. I look forward to chatting with Eric Michaels, Radio Vermont's general manager and vice-president, every month during his daily morning show. The connection that WDEV and the voices it carries have to the community is as distinctive and unique as Vermont is to our country. Vermont Life recently published a well-crafted piece, ``Community Radio Speaks,'' featuring the history and highlights of WDEV's 75 years on the air. I join my fellow Vermonters in congratulating Ken, Eric, and all the people who, in 75 successful years, have made WDEV a station with a true touch for its Vermont audience. I ask unanimous consent the article be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From Vermont Life, Spring 2006] Community Radio Speaks (By Marialisa Calta) ``Rural radio is important to people,'' intones Eric Michaels in his mellifluous radio-announcer's voice. He is taking a break from his duties as on-the-road producer of WDEV's ``Music to Go to the Dump By,'' broadcasting, on this particular Saturday in September, from the Tunbridge World's Fair. ``We feel that if we are out in the community, working hard, people will know us and respect us. We take our work very seriously.'' A cow in a nearby 4-H exhibit moos loudly, and Michaels, fiddling with his equipment, sends a song over the airwaves, a country-western tune called ``I Don't Look Good Naked Anymore.'' There, in a nutshell, is the contradiction--and the strength--of WDEV, which celebrates 75 years of broadcasting from Stowe Street in Waterbury this July. Smart local commentary is mixed with ridiculous tunes. Conservative local pundit Laurie Morrow's show, ``True North,'' broadcasting an hour or two before nationally known liberal icon Amy Goodman's ``Democracy Now.'' Patsy Kline, the Texas Tuba Band, stock car racing from Barre's Thunder Road and Harwood Union High School boy's basketball share airspace with Miles Davis, Red Sox baseball, state legislative reports and Mozart. It's the place on the dial (550 AM, 96.1 FM and 96.5 FM) where a Vermonter can tune in for the Dow Jones average of the milk prices. Where the Associated Press delivers news from the world, and Bethany Dunbar, an editor at The Barton Chronicle, delivers the news from the Northeast Kingdom. A listener whose normal fare comes from ``dedicated'' channels--all-sports, all-talk, all-country-music, all-jazz-- and who accidentally tuned in to WDEV might find the station bewildering, if not downright schizophrenic. But, as Middlebury College professor and author Bill McKibben points out, the hodgepodge of views, opinion, musical styles, reports (sports, business, agriculture, politics, news) pretty much reflects the hodgepodge of views, opinion, musical tastes and interests that make up the average Vermont community. McKibben, who included WDEV in a story about the virtues of a life lived on a small scale that he wrote for Harper's Magazine two years ago, said that when you listen to the station ``you hear . . . things that other people are interested in. Which is pretty much the definition of community.'' You also hear--and this may be WDEV's genius--the actual voices of the community. It is nearly impossible for anyone who has lived in WDEV's broadcast area (which extends south to Route 4 and north nearly to the Canadian border) to listen to the station for even a few hours without hearing the voice of someone the listener knows. It might be Dan DiLena reading his menu from the Red Kettle in Northfield or Ben Koenig of the Country Bookshop in Plainfield singing about his store in a hokey Caribbean accent. It might be Ed from Morrisville, phoning in to ``The Trading Post'' at 6:30 a.m. to sell an old-fashioned grinding wheel and a prickly pear cactus. It might be a birthday wish going out to someone the listener works with. Or a caller to any one of the talk shows: ``The Mark Johnson Show,'' Morrow's ``True North'' or progressive activist Anthony Pollina's ``Equal Time.'' If you listen to WDEV long enough you will get a sense of what your neighbors are doing and thinking. Which is a pretty good way to not only define community but to keep it alive and well. At the heart of this rich local stew is the station owner and president, Kenley Dean Squier, who, at 70, has made a national name for himself (and was part of two Emmy-award winning broadcast teams) as a television broadcaster covering stock-car racing and other sports for CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN, Fox, Turner Broadcasting and the Speed Channel, among others. Squier is a walking conundrum, a serious fan of jazz and classical music with a deep background in the auto racing world of NASCAR. He is a man equally at home interviewing, say, Governor Jim Douglas about fuel shortages or health care or hosting ``Music to Go to the Dump By,'' and reading advertising copy (including, full disclosure, an ad for this magazine, a sponsor). He employs an enormous--by corporately held radio standards--staff of more than 30 yet he is famously cheap; Bryan Pfeiffer, who cohosts ``For the Birds,'' (a show about birding), loves to joke about the single light bulb that Squier allows, the bulb that all the broadcasters purportedly have to share, unscrewing it from one broadcast booth and taking it to another. It is not unusual for Squier, in a single broadcast, to support the death penalty, criticize the Bush administration and fulminate about the rise of corporate monopolies. His station may broadcast conservative Ann Coulter and independent Congressman Bernie Sanders in the same morning. ``It's as if Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken shared a brain,'' wrote McKibben. ``His watchword is `relevant,' '' says Mark Johnson, who has been hosting a two-hour weekday call-in show on the station since 1998. ``It's all about what's meaningful to the community.'' And you can describe ``meaningful'' in different ways. The All Men's Moscow Marching Transistor Radio Band, for example, depends on WDEV to provide music for its parade up the main street of the village of Moscow every July 4th. Farmers depend on weatherman Roger Hill's forecasts for haying. Kids tune in on snowy mornings to hear about school closings. Representative Sanders recalls that once, when he was on the air, a station newscaster interrupted him to inform listeners about an accident on Main Street in Waterbury. Squier was born to radio; for Christmas 1935, his parents Guila and Lloyd Squier (then the program director) sent out a holiday card depicting the infant Ken in front of a set of building blocks spelling out the call letters WDEV. The station itself was only four years old, having been started in 1931 by the visionary Harry Whitehill, owner and operator of the Waterbury Record and the Stowe Journal. Whitehill was a man of many trades; he sold stationary, pens and ink, party gods and wrapping paper from his [[Page S1533]] newspaper headquarters at 9 Stowe Street in Waterbury. He was also Vermont's Collector of Customs, an active post during Prohibition and a job that brought him frequently to St. Albans. In 1929, Whitehill heard Vermont's first commercial radio station, WDQM, there, and, reasoning that ``more people can hear than can read,'' he returned to his newspaper to proclaim: ``We need a radio station.'' ``Radio was big city . . . worldly stuff,'' writes Squier, who chronicled the birth of the station in an unpublished history of WDEV. On July 16, 1931, the dulcet tones of Miss Kate Lyons of Waterbury Center singing ``The Rose in the Garden'' were sent over the airwaves, marking the station's official launch. The antenna was a copper wire strung from the newspaper office to a nearby funeral parlor. It was a glorious venture, an opportunity, as U.S. Senator Warren R. Austin put it, ``to sell a cow or an idea, quickly to a great number of people.'' The engineer for that first broadcast was 28-year-old Lloyd Squier, the son of the Whitehills'' housekeeper. The young Squier (now known as ``The Old Squier'' and frequently heard on the station via old recordings) soon moved up to program director responsible for an entire hour of airtime a day. Fred Somers & Sons Hardware (still on Main Street in Montpelier) was an early sponsor. Within a year, the station was broadcasting local sports, legislative hearings and other events of note. By 1936, the WDEV offices were a ``mini-media Mecca'' according to Ken Squier, complete with Western Union, New England Telephone and Telegraph Co., the radio station and the newspapers all under the same roof. ``Because of radio, people can live among the most beautiful hills on earth, our own Vermont hills, and yet in an instant feel the pulse of world affairs by simply turning a switch,'' said then-Lieutenant Governor George Aiken in dedicating a new tower and transmitter that year. Nowadays, what makes WDEV stand out is not that it brings us world news, but that--unlike the huge networks of radio stations fed formatted shows from a remote central location-- it brings us the local happenings. The staff, on any given day, might be broadcasting from a State House hearing, the opening of the Farm Show or a county fair, a race at Thunder Road (which Ken Squier co-owns), a high school hockey game, a ribbon-cutting at a local lumber store or from a phone booth in downtown Montpelier, as Michaels did during the flood of 1992. (Michael's phoned-in report--replete with operator's request for additional coins--aired on the morning of the flood when the rising waters prevented him from getting through the city). Events like the flood, in fact, underscore the station's importance; Squier enlisted every employee-- from the news staff to the sales reps--as reporters that day. The payoff came when then-Governor Howard Dean, asked at a press conference how he was keeping abreast of flood news, answered that he had been listening to WDEV. Another of the station's strengths is the number of unforgettable radio personalities who have taken on larger- than-life characteristics in listeners' minds: Buster the Wonder Dog (Squier's own border collie); the station's country band, the Radio Rangers; Farmer Dave; the Old Squier; Ma Ferguson; Glen Plaid; Seymour Clearly and Spike the Cat. Past and current broadcasters--the late ``Cousin Harold'' Grout (who hosted ``The Trading Post'' for at least 30 years), the late Rusty Parker (who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1982 while broadcasting the morning news) and many more--seem like old friends to regular listeners. In addition to sports of local interest--70 local high school basketball and hockey games, Norwich University hockey, local motor sports events, Red Sox games and Mountaineers baseball--WDEV has pioneered ``sporting events'' that have become community institutions: the Winter Croquet Tournament, Opening Day at the ABCD Deer Camp, Opening Day at Perch Camp (an ice-fishing extravaganza), the State Agency of Transportation Snow Plow Championships and the Joe's Pond Ice Out competition, to name a few. There is no doubt in this era of corporately owned radio stations that a locally owned station like WDEV and its Radio Vermont affiliates (WLVB-FM in Morrisville, a country station, and WCVT-FM, a classical music station in Stowe) are anomalies. An analogy can be made, in fact, between the physical landscape and the aural landscape of Vermont. Think of corporate-owned stations--what Mark Johnson calls ``electronic jukeboxes''--as sprawl. Public radio is analogous to state parks and land in conservation trusts. WDEV is analogous to the working landscape. Like tractors and manure pits, it's not always pretty. But it's real. And it's distinctive. ``It's a station that understands the community and understands what the real issues are,'' says Congressman Sanders. He has held hearings on the recent trends in communication law that enable large media conglomerates to own large numbers of stations. ``Local ownership of media is increasingly important and increasingly rare,'' he said in a telephone interview. ``When it goes, something valuable is lost.'' Loyal listeners would say that ``something'' is a piece of Vermont. ____________________