A new era for New England Public Radio began March 4 as the station formally broke ground on a new, multi-million dollar production and operations facility at the corner of Main and Bridge streets in downtown Springfield.
The CEO and general manager of NEPR, Martin Miller, was joined at the ceremony by Congressman Richard Neal, Mayor Domenic Sarno, Elizabeth Cardona of the governor’s Springfield office and John Kennedy, vice chancellor for University Relations.
“The choice to move to the heart of downtown Springfield was a very deliberate one for New England Public Radio,” said Miller. “The station wanted to play a key role in the UMass Amherst/Springfield Partnership to revitalize the city. We also recognized that the opportunity to occupy a first-floor space in the pedestrian center of the city would fundamentally change the profile of our organization. We will now occupy a very public space—inviting a new level of community engagement.”
“The fact that New England Public Radio will be opening a state-of-the-art broadcast facility on Main Street is another indication that downtown Springfield is being revitalized block by block,” said Neal. “By choosing the iconic Fuller Building, the station preserves a part of the city’s history, and makes an important investment in our future. I believe this exciting project is a game-changer for the central business district. NEPR should be congratulated for this bold initiative.”
With more than $5.5 million raised through the 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign, the NEPR Foundation purchased as a condominium the first floor and part of the basement of the historic Fuller Block Building at 1525 Main St. The first floor will be gutted and completely rebuilt, with the basement area incorporated into the design. When completed in the spring of 2014, the 17,000-square-foot space will house four radio production suites, a technical operations center and music library and office space for about 25 programming, operations, engineering, development and administrative staff. The Main Street site is being designed by Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst.
NEPR will continue to use the Peggy and David Starr Studio, a state-of-the-art facility located at the nearby WGBY-TV building. A smaller version of the station’s current facility – the Five Colleges Studios in Hampshire House, will be upgraded as part of the capital campaign and used primarily for news production, recording interviews and intern training.
The station’s 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign passed the $5 million mark last month. With about $4 million designated for facilities, just $1.4 million still needs to be raised to fully fund the building project. Once the building fund goal is reached, the campaign will shift to raising money for local programming initiatives on WFCR and all-news WNNZ, a facilities endowment, new technologies and an endowment for classical and jazz programming.
Built around 1887, the Fuller Block in its earliest days housed stores, a bank and an express shipping company. Between the 1930s and the 1960s, the building was occupied by the Springfield National Bank and several retail businesses. In the 1970s, it was called the Valley Bank Building and housed the Valley Bank and Trust and commercial tenants. More recently, it was the site of the Peking Duck Restaurant and various retail businesses.
WFCR (then Four College Radio) began broadcasting on May 6, 1961 with a 10-watt transmitting site at Springfield Trade High School, under a license held by WGBH Boston. Operating from noon to midnight, six days a week, the station aired less than one hour a week of locally produced material. The station began broadcasting from Hampshire House at UMass Amherst in 1967. In 1996, WFCR became the first public radio station in the nation to broadcast public radio content on a commercial station with the lease of WTTT 1430 AM, later named WPNI. In 2007, programming moved to WNNZ 640 AM, a 50,000-watt station that covers a much larger listening area. The Peggy and David Starr Studio opened in Springfield in 2009 and a year later the NEPR Foundation purchased WNNZ and also acquired 91.7 FM in Deerfield. WFCR can also be heard in the Berkshires at the following frequencies: 101.1 FM (Adams/North Adams); 98.7 FM (Great Barrington); 98.3 FM (Lee); 106.1 FM (Pittsfield), and 96.3 FM (Williamstown).
Images: Architect's rendering of lobby of planned NEPR facility in Springfield (top) and Congressman Richard Neal speaks at groundbreaking cermonies on March 4.