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Bedford seeks radio station

Union Leader Correspondent

September 20. 2013 8:05PM

BEDFORD — During the ice storm of 2008, Town Councilor Bill Dermody was using his battery-operated radio to get emergency information during the power blackout. He came across a frequency run by the Londonderry School District, and asked BCTV station Manager Bill Jennings, "Why don't we have one of those?"

A group of residents, including Jennings, Joe Biedrzycki and Steve Brady, the town's emergency communications coordinator, are actively pursuing a Federal Communications Commission application to bring a low-power FM radio broadcasting station to town.

"Bedford Community Radio has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" said Jennings, referring to the proposed name.

Low-power FM radio has been in service since 2000, but in 2011 the FCC opened the opportunity for towns and cities to start radio systems in their communities. For the past few years, ice and severe snowstorms and hurricanes have shut down power, leaving many residents in the dark about emergency information, potential dangers, evacuations and locations of shelters.

A low-power FM radio station could be a solution to emergency management communication, as well as a venue for entertainment and information for the community, Jennings said.

The group held an informal forum on Sept. 19, explaining the process and seeking volunteers.

"The focus is on safety," he said. "This is going to be general programming provided by students and resident volunteers."

The projected costs will be presented to the Town Council on Wednesday. Jennings said no taxpayer money will be used to build the station, produce or broadcast programs, or for maintenance. The money will come from franchise-related fees paid by Comcast cable subscribers, and there is no application fee for a license.

"The Town Council doesn't want to handle the day-to-day operations, but at the same time they want to see community involvement. The council has faith in the community."

The station would be located in the BCTV studios' annex on Meetinghouse Road, which once housed the old fire station and BCTV's first broadcasting center.

Jennings said the station would become a communications media center, and would be separate from the BCTV studios. The radio station would be overseen by a board of directors, with a programming director and volunteer program producers.

"This is a citizen-run station, even though we're applying through the town of Bedford," he said.

Biedrzycki said programming will be educational and entertaining, much like the eclectic combination of college and public radio stations. The group is seeking volunteers who want to get involved and produce programming.

"The door to programming is wide open as long as it's in good taste," said Biedrzycki, who has more than 40 years of broadcast experience.

Low-power radio FM stations are available to noncommercial educational, public safety and transportation organizations, but are not available to individuals or commercial operations. There are very few local radio bands available.

The FCC application window is Oct. 15-29, and the group is hoping to be among the applicants to be granted a license. The FCC awards points on an organization's presence in the community for at least two years, a commitment to broadcast at least 12 hours per day, and a commitment to provide at least eight hours of locally originated programming each day.

The applicant with the most points will be awarded the construction permit. If granted a license, the town would have 18 months to construct a station and begin broadcasting.

Residents are encouraged to attend the Town Council's meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the BCTV Studios, 10 Meetinghouse Road to show support.

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