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60 years ago, on September 23rd, WBTN, 1370 on the AM dial, began broadcasting radio from a swampy area at the bottom of Harwood Hill.
Like many small stations, WBTN developed local announcers who quickly became major personalities in the community. Chief among these was Robert “Bob” Harrington, who served as reporter, announcer, ad salesman and general manager of the station from 1956 until 1999. He reported on town government and school board meetings, store openings, downtown fires, winter storms and virtually everything of local interest. Another was John Page, the agricultural extension agent, who ended his early morning show with, “Don’t forget to drink your milk today.”
“Live and local” was the type of broadcasting that WBTN provided and that Bennington audiences wanted. Two visionaries, Robert and Cora May Howe, in the late 1990’s, and the Shires Media Partnership, in 2008, have enabled the station to remain a community resource, while programming at other stations has become more homogenized. The vision may be many years old, but the relatively new staff at WBTN is totally committed to a “live and local” format. Spencer Sweet has been the General Manager at WBTN since June, 2012. Hired because of his management experience and local connections, he is also a sound enthusiast who has his own recording studio and who serves as sound advisor for Mount Anthony Union High School music and drama productions and Oldcastle Theatre. He is a native Benningtonian, having listened to WBTN since he can remember. “I just felt that if I could be a part of the continuing success, it would be exciting.” After being here only a few months, Spencer realized, “I was living my hobby and loving it.” He still says that frequently.
Ted Hollo, officially Director of Sales, has been at WBTN for three years. He has an extensive background in sales, especially in the radio business. He is also WBTN’s example of the maxim, “If you need something done, find a busy person to do it.” Contractor, mechanic, interior director, commercial producer, events planner – he can and will do them all. He has also found a new outlet for some of his opinions; Friday, if you tune into the noon news, you will hear “Ted’s Tirade”.
WBTN’s Production Manager/Audio Engineer is Aaron Sawyer, who joined the team last fall. His background includes electronics training in the Navy. Recently he has become host of the noon news, which includes managing an enthusiastic group of volunteers. He clearly enjoys being an “on-air personality”, although he says, “I wouldn’t trade in any of my hats.”
Spencer, Ted and Aaron all say that what REALLY makes WBTN “live and local” are the talented and dedicated show hosts who prepare material and coordinate guests for their weekly programs. Experts in their fields and busy professionals or even busier retired locals, they volunteer their efforts to provide the wide range of shows being broadcast. “Bygone Bennington” with Joe Hall, “Music Makers” and “Monday Morning Music” with Ida Faiella, “Theatre Talk” with Bob and Sally Sugarman, “Kids ‘R Reading” with Sally Sugarman, “News and Views” with Robert Ebert, “Books, Yarns and Tales” with Lesley Nase, “Nature Notes” with Marshal Case, “Outdoor Secrets Unwrapped” with Chris Bates and Stephanie Calabro, “Songs You Might Not Know” with Stefano Donati, “From My Corner” with Susan Coons, “Tech Talk” with Spencer Sweet and Dave Lively, “SVSU – The View” with Catherine McClure, “Lightline” with Lisa Verschoor, “Voice on Sports”, with Rob Raffone, Chuck Seddon and Dennis Dell’Angelo, “Politics of Food” with Alan Baker, “Animal Tales”, with Doug Radziewicz and Dare Meunier, “Talking Autism” with Dave Ballou, “Bennington Agriculture” with Frank Lamb, “Horsing Around” with Valerie Gray-Shemeth, “Room for Improvement” with Patrice Schneider, “Hemmings Motor News Radio Show” with Dave Nutter, “Good Medicine” with Fidel Moreno and Susan Jameson, “Health Law Trends” with Mary Gerisch and Bob Howe, “Game Boyz” with Luke Gelheiser and Seth Bartholdi, and last – but certainly not least – “The Morning Show” with Dave Lively. Not only is there something for everyone, listeners can probably all expand their horizons listening to different programs.
Ultimately it is you – Chamber members and area residents – who have made these last 60 years possible and who will continue to support this “live and local” gem for years to come!