New England Public Radio breaks ground on new facility in Springfield

By Patrick Hoff

Wikimedia/John Phelan

New England Public Radio formally broke ground on its new facility in Springfield on Monday, ushering in the next chapter in the history of the radio station.

Located in downtown Springfield at the corner of Main and Bridge streets, the multi-million dollar space will serve as a productions and operations facility complete with four radio production suites, a technical operations center, music library and office space for about 25 staff members.

“The choice to move to the heart of downtown Springfield was a very deliberate one for New England Public Radio,” CEO and general manager Martin Miller said in a press release. “The station wanted to play a key role in the UMass Amherst/Springfield Partnership to revitalize the city. We also recognized that the opportunity to occupy a first-floor space in the pedestrian center of the city would fundamentally change the profile of our organization. We will now occupy a very public space – inviting a new level of community engagement.”

In addition to Miller, the groundbreaking ceremony was attended by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Elizabeth Cardona, director of Governor Deval Patrick’s Springfield office and John Kennedy, vice chancellor of student relations at the University of Massachusetts. UMass has held WFCR’s broadcasting license since 1967.

Through its 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign, NEPR raised more than $5.5 million. With that money, the broadcasting station purchased the first floor and part of the basement of the historic Fuller Block Building on Springfield’s Main Street. The first floor is to be completely gutted and rebuilt, incorporating the basement area into the renovations. Completion of the project is set for spring 2014.

“The fact that New England Public Radio will be opening a state-of-the-art broadcast facility on Main Street is another indication that downtown Springfield is being revitalized block by block,” Neal said in the release. “By choosing the iconic Fuller Building, the station preserves a part of the city’s history, and makes an important investment in our future.”

He added, “NEPR should be congratulated for this bold initiative.”

The capital campaign still must raise $1.4 million to completely fund the building project. Once that goal is reached, the campaign will shift to raising money for other initiatives such as local programming, new technologies and an endowment for classical and jazz programming, according to the release.

NEPR will continue to use the state-of-the-art Peggy and David Starr Broadcast Center in Springfield, which opened in 2009 and houses a production room, studio and office space for two reporters and interns. The station’s other facility, the Five Colleges Studio at UMass Amherst in Hampshire House, will be shrunk down and upgraded as part of the capital campaign to serve primarily as grounds for news production, recording interviews and intern training.

The Fuller Block Building was built around 1887 and originally held housing, a bank and an express shipping company. Between the 1930s and 1960s, the building was home to the Springfield National Bank as well as multiple retail businesses. In the 1970s, it was renamed the Valley Bank Building and was occupied by the Valley Bank and Trust and other commercial occupants. Most recently, the Peking Duck Restaurant and various retail businesses existed in the Fuller Block.

WFCR, originally Four College Radio before Hampshire College joined, began broadcasting in 1961 from a 10-watt transmitting site under a license held by WGBH Boston. Initial broadcasts were from noon to midnight six days a week, with less than one hour a week of locally produced material. In 1964, airtime increased to 17 hours a day, and in 1966, Hampshire College became part of the consortium, making it Five College Radio. In 1996, WFCR was the first public radio station in the nation to broadcast public radio content on a commercial station, 1430AM/WTTT, later renamed WPNI. WFCR became a 24/7 station for the first time in 1997. In 2010, the WFCR Foundation purchased AM640 in Westfield and 91.7FM WNNZ in Deerfield.

WFCR can be heard on 88.5FM, and WNNZ, an all news station, can be heard on 91.7FM.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected]