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Who Says Radio Is Dead? In Pawling, WPWL Is Just Getting Started

Bill Bonecutter of Pawling Public Radio, left, with Mike Bergquist. Photo Credit: Submitted
Somers resident Jacque Roche, left, with Bill Bonecutter of Pawling Public Radio. Photo Credit: Submitted
Bill Bonecutter of Pawling Public Radio, left, with Mike Bergquist. Photo Credit: Submitted

PAWLING, N.Y. -- Pawling Public Radio (WPWL) is celebrating its 10th year and, despite what folks say about radio and its demise, this 501(c) 3 company is going strong.

Think -- thanks to streaming -- more than 8,000 website hits a month.

Chairman of the Board Bill Bonecutter whose "day job" is as a licensed real estate salesperson in Millbrook, explained that, as the station grows -- and there are lots of new ventures in the works -- they anticipate the numbers of volunteers and contributors to increase.

"The growth and diversity of our programming exemplifies the eagerness members of our community have to participate by hosting shows or helping with our internal day to day operations," he said.

"Our motto has been 'Building Community One Voice at a Time' and that continues 10 years later."

Fundraising, of course, is always important --and a big part of what the station does. In November WPWL hosted “Pawling’s Got Talent!" which was performed at Pawling High School and had a near sell-out audience with Grammy winner Aaron Neville as one of the judges.

In December they held a re-enactment of Dickens “A Christmas Carol” staged -- at the high school again --  as a 1940’s style radio play from the original Orson Welles broadcast.

And then there' s the programming where local talent is front and center. Once a month, Somers resident Jacque Roche does a live broadcast on Friday nights featuring Hudson Valley bands, singers and performers complete with a studio audience. The event has gotten so big that it recently moved to the Reverie Caffé in Patterson to handle the larger crowds.

Engaging millennials is another recent initiative. Engineer (and 20-something) Mike Bergquist created a block of programming that includes the voices of today’s young men and women discussing -- without filter -- a broad range of topics exploring music, video game review, all things nerdy (like comic books) and the horror genre as well as current events and pop culture.

In the last three years, WPWL has also introduced live music programs and reviews including Local Heroes, Beatles and Friends, Bill’s Big Band Show, Melaphobia, Vinyl and New Arrivals, Diner Jukebox, Progressive Plus and Pop Luck.

Interview and educational themed shows include The Time Tunnel, Accidental Locavore, Intermission, Community Focus, Grumpy’s Place, Pawling All Pets, The Tina Show, The Current, Cleric’s Corner, Voices of Trinity Pawling, Back Office Talk, Unframed Art Chat and Hitchin’ Up.

And there's sports like Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Bob’s Bullpen, and Squeeze Play.

This spring, WPWL will host its 6th annual “Voices of Pawling!," a celebratory brunch in honor of community members that have exhibited above and beyond exemplary volunteerism in the community.

All of this, despite being a non-profit, self-supporting organization funded entirely by community contributions, sponsorships, memberships and grants.

Stressed Bonecutter: "We are a volunteer organization with the exception of professional broadcast and production engineers."

It should be noted, too, that WPWL is one of only 1,500 FCC sanctioned LPFM Community Radio Stations designated over the last 15 years throughout the entire U.S.

Likewise, the station has secured an agreement to lease space at the FCC designated site in the town of Dover and build its own tower and antennae in anticipation of broadening its radio listenership by upwards of 60,000.

After a year-long process, the station finally broke ground at the area once occupied by the Nextel Monopole. Said Bonecutter: "We hope to be fully operational sometime in the spring at which time our broadcasting will reach the lower Harlem Valley."

Thanks to streaming, WPWL already has listeners from all across the country. And a few from as far away as Ireland, England, Singapore and Germany. Those who actively participate, however, mostly come from Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester Counties.

Another surprising fact: WPWL has a collection of antique radios that they hope to continue to gather to be used as an interactive display and learning tool for area students.

And, the station is the recipient of a 12,000 45 record collection that had previously been owned by a DJ and are examples of 1960 through 1980s music on record demo’s that have rarely been played more that once. The collection includes some rare examples of promotional material from top artists never heard beyond their original broadcast.

Lastly, the station boasts hundreds of radio cards (8 track cassettes) that were once played at NBC Radio in NYC. It's all, said Broadcutter, "another fun example of our archive we use to educate students and community alike."

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