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.

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