Monday, December 17, 2007

WAMC declares war on fellow public radio station

Adirondack Almanack has a good essay on the burgeoning war between this area's two main National Public Radio affiliates: WAMC (based in Albany, NY) and North Country Public Radio (based in Canton, NY).

WAMC wants to take over the 91.7 frequency in Lake Placid, which has been run by NCPR for 20 years. I've been a member of both stations at various times but this is a terrible decision by WAMC.

WAMC's news coverage is decent but cursory. It's a mile wide and an inch deep. This isn't surprising because WAMC's gargantuan coverage area means it must provide local news for people in central and southern Vermont, the Berkshires (western Massachussetts), northern Connecticut, the Hudson Valley (southeastern NY), the Mohawk Valley (Central NY) and New York's Capital District.. WAMC also reports on state politics for those four states.

By contrasy, NCPR is focused almost exclusively on the region in and around the Adirondacks. The station often runs stories that are 5-9 minutes in length and thus offer significantly more depth than WAMC's typically brief pieces.

WAMC almost never reports on issues in Glens Falls or the Adirondacks, simply because there's not enough time. NCPR had extensive coverage of the 2001 Finch Pruyn strike in Glens Falls, even though the station's main headquarters is three times more distant than WAMC's.

WAMC's news department must attempt to be everything to everyone. NCPR's can focus on the Adirondacks. WAMC's president-for-life Alan Chartock piously claims that he's only doing this to offer choice to people in Lake Placid. This is the same Chartock who regularly bemoans increasingly consolidation in the commercial media.

Personally, I fail to see how people in Lake Placid are greatly served by knowing more about local politics in Litchfield County, CT or Massachussetts' state affairs but nothing additional about their own region.

As Almanack pointed out:

WAMC is obviously attempting to take the economic resources from our region to their offices in Albany without returning services to our community. In fact, they will be reducing local news coverage in Lake Placid. They've already done this in Plattsburgh and Ticonderoga. Search for Ticonderoga on the WAMC website - in all of 2007 they've reported just twice about Ticonderoga -both stories about International Paper. Take a look at their events calendar - not a single event in either Plattsburgh or Ticonderoga, or anywhere in the Adirondacks for that matter. Now take a look at NCPR's events calendar.

But Almanack's essay raises an aspect that I hadn't considered but makes complete sense.

WAMC has a much more upscale audience than NCPR. Because of its huge and well-off listening area, WAMC rakes in at least $700,000 during their quarterly pledge drives; I believe their last one brought in over $800,000. NCPR's typical pledge drive take is a much more modest $200,000.

WAMC News focuses primarily on the relatively prosperous Hudson Valley and on the well-off communities in the Berkshires, like Chartock's home of Great Barrington. Lake Placid is the second home for many rich folks in other parts of the state. Is it a coincidence that the only Adirondacks' frequency targeted by WAMC weren't the the ones in modest communities like Blue Mountain Lake or North Creek, but the one in the most monied town inside the Blue Line?

When you listen to NCPR, you know you are listening to a station about the Adirondacks, for Adirondackers. WAMC has become this giant broadcast empire that caters primarily to a few small parts while only paying lip service to the rest. It is based in Albany, but if it were based in Kingston, NY or Springfield, MA or Rutland, VT, you couldn't tell the difference.

I used to be a member of WAMC but am not anymore. I simply found that WAMC just didn't cover news stories that were relevant to my community or nearby ones. When NCPR added transmitters in Glens Falls and Lake George, I found a station that did. I now send money to Canton.

And frankly I'm glad I'm not a member of WAMC anymore. I wouldn't want my membership monies to making the media less local and more homogeneous.


Mark said...

Heh, fascinating story. I'll have to make more of an effort of switching in between the two stations to hear the difference when I'm in the area.

Glenn M. Heller, editor, said...

Readers might be interested in knowing where some of WAMC's $7 million annual operating budget ends up.
Not only does Mr. Chartock get paid extremely well by 'his' board of trustees (he hand-picks every one of 'em), but that same board allows Mr. Chartock to receive perquisites - 'perks' - and other financial benefits from the organization that inexplicably go unreported to IRS -- chauffeur, year-round free use of a company car used to commute daily from Great Barrington, a furnished intown pied-a-terre for Alan, and the list goes on.
You can examine for yourself WAMC's IRS Form 990's and read about the monkeyshines that take place at 'not-for-profit,' publicly supported WAMC. Read "Tax Cheat -- How Alan Chartock conspired with WAMC to avoid paying IRS" at

Brian said...

Reminder on anonymous comments...