High School Station Squaring off Against State University Radio
By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, 3/3/2000 17:13

BOSTON (AP) With a teen-age staff and transmitters that squeeze out a mere 10 watts of power, Maynard High School's WAVM wouldn't seem much of a threat to its broadcasting neighbors. But the high school station has found itself fighting for the air waves with a state university-owned station.

UMass-Boston's public radio station WUMB (91.9) has challenged the high school station's FCC application to increase its power to 250 watts, saying WAVM distorts its signal because their frequencies are so close.

It's also filed for control of the station's 91.7 frequency, a move which would leave WAVM without a home on the radio dial, and facing an uphill battle to find one in a tight media market. '

'We could be off the air for good,'' said Joseph Magno, the station's founder and faculty advisor for the Maynard High staff. ''For one educational channel to do this to another makes no sense.''

But UMass-Boston chancellor Kathy Teehan said the station is simply protecting itself and its listeners.

''We're not trying to put Maynard High radio out of business,'' she said. ''We're concerned about the increase in power, as any radio station would be.''

WAVM was founded by Magno in 1973 to give students professional broadcast training. Several dozen WAVM graduates have gone on to broadcasting careers, Magno said. Now, about 165 students work at WAVM.

The station broadcasts eight hours every weekday, and the 10-watt signal covers a five to seven mile radius. Among its offerings: polka music for the area's heavy Polish population, local sports and church broadcasts on weekends.

Last July, the station applied to increase its power to 250 watts, per recommendation of the FCC.

But by FCC rules, the move exposed WAVM by allowing other stations to lay claim to the 91.7 frequency. The station went ahead, figuring none of the new applicants would be located close enough to interfere with its signal, according to the station's technical consultant Ned Roos.

But in January, WUMB filed a petition with the FCC claiming the power increase was illegal because it would interfere with its signal. The station later filed a license application for the 91.7 frequency, with plans for an antenna in Stow, just a few miles from Maynard.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said after a recent court challenge the procedures for determining how non-commercial applicants are awarded a frequency aren't final. They should be complete by spring, he said.

If the WUMB gets the license, WAVM will be kicked off its frequency, Magno said. To him, it's a classic case of the big bully picking on the little guy.

But Teehan said when WUMB filed its petition with the FCC, it tried to talk to WAVM management, and got nowhere.

Teehan said WAVM's 10 watt signal has been strong enough to distort transmissions from a 1,000 watt tower in Worcester, and 250 watts would be worse. The area of interference contains 100 to 150 donors, the lifeblood of the public station, Teehan said. With donors making up an estimated eight to nine percent of an area's total audience, WUMB has an obvious concern about the WAVM's expansion.

''We're interested in protecting listeners, she said.

But WUMB isn't out to kick WAVM off the air, she said. If the high school station did lose its frequency, Teehan said the university would try to work something out with the town of Maynard to save the station.

Either way, Magno is in disbelief over this threat to what he considers his life work, and a boon to local youth.

''This situation is totally amazing to us that it even happened,'' he said. ''It leaves such a bad taste.''

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