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Boise Community Radio Gets Set to Go Live From New Digs

BCR builds new basement studios in Boise's Alaska Building

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Maybe they'll throw a switch or possibly connect two cables or push a large "on" button.

"I honestly don't know," said Jeff Abrams, executive director of Boise Community Radio. "I guess we'll have to find out."

Abrams better find out quick. The Federal Communications Commission has ordered BCR to "go live" on 89.9 FM by Monday, April 11.

"We had 36 months from the time the FCC issued us a construction permit," said Abrams.

There's a lot of broadcast techno-speak in Abrams' world. "Construction permit" is part of that jargon. Simply put, a CP is the equivalent of broadcasting live on terrestrial radio without a broadcast license but a license would be required shortly thereafter.

There will be little to no difference between what BCR is streaming live at radioboise.org and what will be heard on April 11­--and for some time after that.

"I'd say that you'll be hearing about 75 percent of what you hear now," said Abrams.

Radio burns brightest in the morning, and a quick look at BCR's morning-drive schedule reveals a heavy emphasis on syndicated news and commentary. The Berkeley, Calif., based "Flashpoints" newsmagazine airs from 7-8 a.m. followed by "Democracy Now," a mix of news, analysis and opinion also broadcast from Berkeley.

Abrams championed "Flashpoints" and "Democracy Now" as flagships for BCR programming but insisted that locally produced broadcasts are on the horizon.

"It's my goal to establish a daily news broadcast as soon as we possibly can," said Abrams. But he conceded that public affairs programming "will be the caboose, following behind the rest of our shows."

Public radio is nothing new to the Treasure Valley. Boise State Public Radio provides programming on three terrestrial stations in the Treasure Valley (one AM and two FM), as well as three HD stations (jazz, eclectic music, alternative talk). BSPR General Manager John Hess doesn't believe Boise's new broadcaster will have a significant impact on his operation.

"Overall, I don't think BCR coming on-line will be a drain on sources of revenue for BSPR," said Hess. "It has been my experience that good public radio and good community radio in any city will just lead to more listeners for both services."

But Abrams and Hess have significantly different impressions on local programming at Boise State Public Radio.

"They're there to provide beautifully crafted programming that is primarily national or global in scope and that's coming from National Public Radio," said Abrams.

Hess was quick to remind listeners that BSPR airs extensive local newscasts inside NPR's magazine shows, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," as well as daily business segments, weekly broadcasts of "Edible Idaho," "Art and Soul" and "Readers' Corner," with Boise State President Bob Kustra.

"We also air 32 weeks of the Boise Philharmonic," said Hess. "We produce broadcasts of the Boise City Club, Story Story Night and the Green Room, a show on the environment and sustainability."

Abrams and Hess agree that the current political climate in the nation's capital casts a dark shadow on public broadcasting. More than one Republican bill before Congress suggests stripping federal funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio.

"It's a very transparent effort to eviscerate the few remaining bread crumbs that this country has for non-commercial access to the media," said Abrams. "Every study I've seen shows--regardless of political leanings--the public believes public broadcasters to be fair and balanced, much more than the commercial media. When you exist to sell soap and automobiles, it's about something different."

In addition to a tense political climate, the worst recession in a generation put the pinch on public radio.

"Underwriting has seen a 20 to 25 percent drop in revenue year over year," said Hess. He added that corporate support seemed to be improving.

But Abrams may be chasing many of the same corporate sponsors as Hess. For now, Boise Community Radio is prepared to operate on a duct tape and bailing wire spending plan.

"Our first year's operating budget will probably be between $50,000-$75,000," said Abrams. "It has to be low. Ideally for us, we should be about $150,000 after one year, and by year five we expect to be in the $300,000-$400,000 range."

Boise Community Radio will be primarily staffed by programmers who won't take any salary. Approximately 35 volunteer programmers are already on board, most preferring to host music programs.

"In late March we're going to bring in a trainer for a programmers' intensive," said Abrams. "Over two solid weekends, we'll make sure those hosts have a technical aptitude for all of our new fancy gear."

The fancy gear is expected to arrive any day now at the under-construction studios in the basement of Boise's Alaska Building on Main Street. Right now, there's a lot more sawdust than broadcast cables, but Abrams remained optimistic.

"All the stars aligned for this project," said Abrams. "It's been eight years since we started. We claimed the last non-commercial frequency available on the FM dial. Everything with this process has moved exactly the way it needed to."

On April 11 Abrams said BCR will be live at 89.9 FM--once they throw the switch, or attach a cable, or push the "on" button.

[Disclosure: George Prentice worked for Boise State Public Radio from 2007-2010.]

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