Media as if people mattered

Asheville deserves a great community radio station, and guess what? Asheville has one! WPVM, The Progressive Voice of the Mountains, was founded in 2003 by the Mountain Area Information Network, led by Executive Director Wally Bowen. Other local media activists weighed in and participated in the creation. This collaborative effort led to the Federal Communications Commission assigning MAIN one of the highly sought-after low-power FM licenses. Since MAIN is a leader in the media-reform movement, WPVM was envisioned as an alternative to the antiseptic, corporate-controlled, top-down media that many of us are resigned to listening to.

Starting with automated programming run from a computer in a closet, we expanded to a modern studio, built with volunteer labor using contributed materials. We now broadcast more than 30 locally produced news and music programs, teamed with the best nationally syndicated shows, including Democracy Now!, Bioneers, Alternative Radio, Le Show and others. WPVM has also been involved in important local issues like last year’s Right to Dissent Forum. In our studios, local volunteers have rubbed elbows and shared the airwaves with such national figures as Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Helen Caldicott and Amy Goodman.

Our music programming is second to none in community radio. WPVM receives CDs from hundreds of independent labels throughout the world because of the station’s reputation for playing music that is underrepresented in other media outlets and for a willingness to stretch beyond commercial interests. In this respect, we reflect the diverse interests of Asheville’s vibrant music scene, which supports a community of musicians, venues and independent record stores that is the envy of cities many times its size. We are one of fewer than 40 stations in the U.S. and Canada selected to contribute charts to Dusted Magazine—a prestigious accomplishment for a small station like WPVM.

Meanwhile, the community has stepped up and supported us—helping us replace a transmitter that was burned out by lightning, and ensuring that we met or exceeded our fund-raising goals time and time again. We currently have almost 40 on-air volunteers producing local programming you can’t hear anywhere else on the airwaves. Some are experienced former radio professionals; some had never set foot inside a radio station until they volunteered at WPVM, working their way up to eventually get behind the microphone. I myself had never worked in radio until Wally asked me to help out with his show, Not the Corporate News. That was four years ago; I wound up engineering that show and went on to become more involved as a volunteer here at the station. I’m writing to you now as spokesperson for the station’s Managerial Board. From complete novice to one of the voices of the station—where else but at a volunteer-run, community radio station in Asheville, North Carolina?

If a unique and vibrant entity like this evolved without growing pains, it would be a miracle. There have been disagreements, highs and lows, personalities, egos, regular human issues—but always great potential. Some of us have disagreed about how to develop that potential. If we all had the same ideas and agreed about everything, there would be no growth, no improvement, no evolution. We’re currently becoming more democratic in our operations, exploring what will be WPVM’s permanent governing structure as a part of MAIN. MAIN’s board of directors recently voted unanimously to distance the post of executive director from operations at WPVM, and to empower the volunteers to propose a new way of running the station. In the coming weeks and months, that effort will dominate the discussion here, and we would love to hear your ideas.

In the interim, WPVM is being managed by the volunteers. We come together regularly to make the small and large decisions that go into creating a new radio station. Last week, we voted to form new volunteer committees to shape our programming, coordinate the ongoing restructuring effort, manage the day-to-day running of the station, and jump-start our Fall Fund Drive, which begins this month. And though MAIN’s board still oversees the station, they’ve made it clear that they trust us to come up with a new idea of the station and to run with it—while continuing, of course, to support the other great work MAIN does.

Does all this sound like something you want to be a part of? It’s your radio station, Asheville: Get involved! Go to and volunteer, listen online, give us feedback, or offer your financial support. Tune in to 103.5 FM and hear the sounds that a great town can make.

[Barry Summers produces and co-hosts WPVM’s Making Progress: News for a Change, which airs Mondays at 7 p.m. and Tuesdays at 1 p.m. He’s also one of five volunteers elected to WPVM’s newly created Managerial Board.]

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One thought on “Media as if people mattered

  1. Stephen Snow

    Low-power radio is truly radio of the people, by the people and for the people. Ashevilel has a wonderful asset in its low-power radio station that is worth supporting!! MAIN itself is a resource unique in the state; it is amazing to me that people overlook PERSONAL media. In an era of homogenized, corporate-driven media that segments and markets and trivializes, we need more of what MAIN has to offer!

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