In the summer of his sophomore year of high school, Nate Alberts visited his brother, a rock climber and rock musician in Crested Butte, Colorado. While there, he got a taste of the scene surrounding KBUT, the local community radio station. Something clicked inside him. Back in his junior-year economics class, he did a project on what it would take to start a community radio station in Littleton, the unofficial capital of the “North Country” region of New Hampshire he called home.
After high school, Nate returned to Colorado. This time, he immersed himself in the vibrant life of KBUT. “I loved it. All my friends were DJs. I would sit in on my friends’ shows and volunteer at all the station events.”
Several years later, Nate Alberts returned to Littleton with a mission to bring this culture of music and community home. “Literally the day I got back, I started researching how to start a community radio station.” It took him a couple years, with the help of Prometheus Radio Project, but by 2012, North Country Community Radio was streaming on the Internet and soon after, applying for a low-power license.
Unexpected Twist (or, Lemonade from Lemons)
Nate’s nonprofit group was one of five that was applying for just a couple of low-power spots on the FM dial. But Nate “made the mistake of announcing which frequency I was applying for.” This misstep set in motion what a local newspaper dubbed “The Battle for 103.1”.
What happened? The manager of a local commercial radio station decided to go head-to-head with North Country for that frequency. She accused the group of “pirating”—they had been operating an FCC-approved Part-15 AM transmitter that gave them a mere 200-ft broadcast radius—and having a groundwire that was too long. Her group, which won the contested license, has done nothing with it. “They’re just sitting on it,” says Nate. “It expires in a few months.”
But North Country has lots of friends in the community, and looks back on the “Radio Wars” with humor. Another local entity that won a low-power license in that window was The Colonial Theater in the neighboring town of Bethlehem. They agreed to use 100% of NCCR’s live programming. Better yet, the signal from the theater’s antenna reaches Littleton! As far as Nate’s concerned, it’s all good.
Music is their Mainstay
Music is the station’s passion and its mainstay, with 13 music deejays filling up much of the drive time and evening hours, and the rest music automation. The show titles suggest the energy devoted to tunes: from Airtight Garage to Nocturnal Caravan and Eclectic Plane. The station airs live music, too, including regional musical festivals such as Jerry Jam, founded and produced by the station’s board VP, and the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival.
The station itself has also provided a venue for local bands to perform. Go to NCCR’s website photo album, and you’ll get a sense of the dozens of musicians it has brought to its studio and airwaves. Says Nate, “There’s a lot of talent in this area.” NCCR hosted musicians as often as once a week in its old digs, and it looks forward to bigger shows in its much-larger new digs, the funky basement of an old hospital now owned by an affordable housing agency—offered to the station rent-free.
The Next Level as Pacifica Affiliate
The new space will require some work to fix up. It needs a sound booth, and some soundproofing of the performance space so as not to disturb the social agencies upstairs. But this is work NCCR has done before, when it set up its previous studio. And much of the materials have already been donated.
Moreover, North Country Community Radio just joined the Pacifica Affiliate Network. This means it has access to the wide range of programming on the Audioport platform. This will enable the mostly-music station to add some talk programs of interest to its audience, such as Democracy Now! and Food Sleuth. Nate is in the process of selecting the shows now and finds it “really exciting.”
North Country’s partner at The Colonial Theater, WZNC-LP, will also air this programming, in between “liners”—promos about the theater’s events. These shows will fill the gaps in the DJ schedule.
A DIY Dream Come True
For Nate, age 33, who paints houses for a living, it has been “learn as you go” journey. With no innate interest in technology, he has received help from others with more technical expertise. Nonetheless, he’s not afraid to dive in to learn new systems such as that of the podcast aggregator that will download programs from Audioport for the station’s new schedule.
He also reads the fine print of the FCC regulations, and hopes to benefit from the looser rules governing Internet stations: “A broadcast station can’t share 100% of its programming with another station. But we can. And we can provide content to more than one station.”
Imagine. From age 16 to 33, Nate Alberts has been steadily working toward a vision of bringing community radio to this region, inspiring others to join him along the way. With such young dreamers and doers in our midst, it’s clear: community radio is here to stay.
Welcome to the network, North Country Community Radio!