The archaeology of community

The Tahawus mine site, from Tom Helms' plane. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The Tahawus mine site, from Tom Helms’ plane. By the way, check out Andy Flynn’s story on the history of Tahawus. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Driving to work early one morning this week, I was thinking about our fundraiser and what magical thing I could say to finally convince every non-contributing listener to kick in some money.

Well, instead of coming up with the abracadabra of fundraising, I started thinking about the relative resilience of communities vs. communes. Then I started to think about how communities emerge, work on common goals, respond to the ups and downs of whatever the natural and human-made environments deliver, and adapt to change and innovate or fade away.

Our theme this week is dig deeper. If we could bring in an archaeologist to do a virtual dig on the history of North Country Public Radio, it would look something like this (very very very abbreviated version):

> Sign on in 1968 as WSLU with one 3,500 watt transmitter reaching some of St. Lawrence County with a few hours of music and a short newscast every evening. A St. Lawrence University faculty member and staff member oversee a few student volunteers. SLU pays all of the cost of the running the station.

> In 1971, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides funding to stations capable of broadcasting for 19 hours a day and paying five full-time people. WSLU steps up to the challenge and also becomes a member of the brand new National Public Radio, debuting All Things Considered. Funding is now split between SLU and CPB.

> In 1978, WSLU holds its first on air fundraiser with no specific goal. About $2,000 is raised. There are now seven full-time employees and a lot of part-time student announcers.

> In 1979, Morning Edition debuts, the public radio satellite is launched, replacing phone line distribution of national programs. The fall fundraiser sets a goal of $4,000 and reaches it.

> 1980 sees a successful fall fundraiser with a $7,000 goal, which still represents a tiny percentage of the station’s $200,000 annual budget.

A view of some of our coverage area: lots of trees, not many people. You are needed. You make the difference. Photo: Ellen Rocco

A view of some of our coverage area: lots of trees, not many people. You are needed. You really do make the difference when it comes to telling NCPR’s story. Photo: Ellen Rocco

> DRUM ROLL…In 1983, on the occasion of the station’s 15th anniversary, we raise about $30,000 and install a new 40,300 watt transmitter. We have an official news department.

> 1984 marks the beginning of the build out to communities beyond St. Lawrence County. We sign on in Saranac Lake and start imagining a network of transmitters to reach the entire Adirondack North Country.

> In 1986, we raised $40,000 during our fall fundraiser and we get serious about shifting more of the financial responsibility from SLU and CPB to our listeners and regional businesses. This is the turning point the archaeologists will underscore: the decision to orient the station–now North Country Public Radio–toward the community.

> FAST FORWARD…through the building of our transmitter network (34 facilities today), the creation of an Adirondack News Bureau led by Brian Mann, being recognized with dozens and dozens of awards from state and national organizations for our news and production work, and investing in one of the most robust and important digital services in the public radio system.

Today, 85% of the station’s approximate $2 million annual funding comes from listeners, local businesses/organizations, and other local sources, including about 5% from SLU; CPB provides about 10% and the NYS Education Department about 2%.

NCPR is a success story. A community success story.

We succeed because members of the community have invested in the station. Year after year.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you this week. You’re the magic--the abracadabra– in our history and our future.

Thank you.

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