WHAV Expects FM Testing This Week

Steven Barbrick of Barbrick Tower & Contracting, Merrimac, inspects WHAV’s Silver Hill tower.

Steve Barbrick conducts an analysis inside the venerable Silver Hill transmitter building.

Steve Barbrick conducts an analysis inside the venerable Silver Hill transmitter building.

The biggest investment in local news in more than 50 years takes final form this week as WHAV expects to begin testing its new FM station at 97.9.

WHAV—already the most powerful and influential force in Greater Haverhill news reporting with its hyperlocal news website and online and cable television streams—is making final preparations at its historic Silver Hill transmitter and tower site. While the radio station will still deliver classic rock and roll music, President and General Manager Tim Coco said local news will be the centerpiece of the effort, as it has been for him during the last 38 years.

“In September, 1978, my first assignment at WHAV was cleaning the election chalk board in preparation for the highly anticipated gubernatorial race between incumbent Michael S. Dukakis and challenger Edward J. King.” It was an upset with King winning the Democratic nomination and going on to become governor, but it wouldn’t be the first upset Coco reported. “No one knew it at the time, but the 1978 election would also be the last win for Haverhill Rep. Francis J. Bevilacqua. His on-air commercials that year featured former WHAV announcer Arthur Flynn touting Bevilacqua’s ‘He gets things done’ mantra,” Coco remembers.

Late WHAV News Director Edwin V. Johnson.

Late WHAV News Director Edwin V. Johnson.

Working under acclaimed News Director Edwin V. Johnson and reporter Ralph Hall, Coco learned the news business covering Haverhill issues. In 1980, Coco went to work for the Haverhill Gazette, eventually becoming City Hall reporter, mentored by such luminaries as Bernard J. “Barney” Gallagher, Tom Vartabedian, Jim Lenane, Bob Gablosky and Dorothy Patten.

“Politicians couldn’t get away with anything in those days because there was always a snooping reporter who would tell all,” Coco said. “With consolidation of the media and then the internet’s assault on what remained, newsrooms became smaller and complacent. Local democracy suffered as some ne’er–do–wells got the upper hand, unfettered by investigative journalism.” With WHAV’s return to the stage, Coco said, local news reporting is improving.

Bernard J. “Barney” Gallagher  in the former Haverhill Gazette newsroom.

Bernard J. “Barney” Gallagher in the former Haverhill Gazette newsroom.

“Even those who haven’t listened to WHAV or read news on its website have benefitted from the only Haverhill-based news source. Original stories first reported by WHAV have been picked up by Boston and other regional media. Just about every local story of consequence—whether originating in a police report, at a government meeting or stemming from a WHAV investigation—was first reported by WHAV. If it weren’t for the news organization, many of today’s critical local issues never would have been exposed to the light of day,” he explained.

A $1 Million Investment Brings WHAV Back to the Air

WHAV’s transmitter building and tower work this week is the result of more than a dozen years of behind-the-scenes efforts. It began in 2004 when WHAV pioneered local streaming audio at WHAV.net 24-hours-a-day, constructed modern Ward Hill studios during 2005 and 2006, dedicated the Edwin V. Johnson Newsroom in 2009, submitted its FM application during a rare federal license “window” in 2013 and built an expansive local news website in 2014—all in expectation of the future FM station. When all is said and done, WHAV will have pumped nearly $1 million into the economy.

Along the way, WHAV has overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles from competitors seeking its place on the dial to having to negotiate the return of the WHAV call letters from a radio station on an oil barge that had been assigned the heritage call by the U.S. Coast Guard.

It won’t be the first time WHAV will be heard over the FM band—that happened in 1948 and again in 1959. As a non-profit, however, today’s WHAV is more resistant to the for-profit economic forces that took the station from Haverhill.

Sponsors Step Up to Show Faith in WHAV

This week’s milestone would not have been possible absent the support and pledges from a number of community servants. These include Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, which has been eyeing a primary care location in Haverhill; Haverhill Bank, which has remained steadfast in its support of local causes since 1877; Anna Jaques Hospital, independent since 1884 and making major new investments in Haverhill; and Giovanni’s Roast Beef and Pizza, a family-operated local business with a continually expanding number of locations.

Additional support has come from Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council, Northern Essex Community College, Andy DiPietro’s Climate Zone, Law Offices of Joseph C. Edwards, Greater Haverhill Foundation and Pentucket Bank.

The cost of maintaining state-of-the-art studios in Ward Hill and transmitter operations atop Silver Hill, however, are a continuing expense. Listeners who value public radio and consume news for the benefit of democracy and their pocket books now are being asked to demonstrate their support.

Pay for the News Now and Continually Save

Make_Waves_Bergeron_230x230There has been a national debate over the future of news—particularly who will pay for news. So far, despite protestations to the contrary, major foundations and other journalism interests have seemingly focused on saving newspapers rather than saving news.

Placing ink on dead trees and distributing the result long after electronic news sources, such as WHAV, have issued reports is no longer a sustainable model. While many publications offer websites, stories are often late and incomplete, and paywalls limit access.

The debate now shifts home as residents are asked to support WHAV—the only Haverhill-based news source that’s always free. WHAV has proven local news can grow, prosper and support local interests and democracy. It remains to be seen whether residents will again risk not having trained and watchful eyes on their leaders. Public scrutiny, as can only happen through exposure to news reports, goes a long way toward containing taxpayer expenses. In a very real sense, supporting the news pays for itself.

Help make the case for local news and support the only 100 percent locally owned public media by chipping in $25, $100 or more today. Help limit on-air fundraising interruptions once WHAV 97.9 goes on the air by stepping up now. Make a one-time donation here, buy a recurring membership here or contribute to the “Make Waves” campaign, headed by honorary Chair Tom Bergeron, here.

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