Editorial: WHMP a gem of community radio

  • Bob Flaherty is co-host with Denise Vozella of the morning show at Northampton radio station WHMP. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Friday, October 14, 2016

Time was, towns across America had one or more radio stations to call their own, staffed by local news reporters, anchors and disc jockeys.

With voices (and often faces) made for radio, these characters would fan out through their communities to pick up scraps of news and musical tastes, huddle before microphones in concrete block studios and send a stream of genuinely local information and entertainment across the airwaves.

Those days are, for the most part, gone. Conglomerates have scooped up many of the local stations, filling their broadcast hours with canned music, one-size-fits-all news and talk that amounts to an earful of blah-blah-blah.

We’re happy to report, however, that the Pioneer Valley is a happy exception. Local radio is alive here — in no small part due to WHMP.

The Northampton-based station is marking its 65th year, and there is much to celebrate. Begun in 1950 as Hampshire County’s first radio station, WHMP for many years broadcast a mixture of music, news and talk.

Longtime residents will remember getting their news from such personalities as “Early Bird of the Dawn Patrol” Bob Balise in the 1950s, Ron Hall, starting in the 1960s until 2003, and current TV anchor Dave Madsen in the 1970s.

Dave Musante, the station’s current general manager, grew up with the radio while his father (who shares his name) was Northampton mayor from 1980 to 1991. “Who the heck is he talking to?” Musante remembered wondering when he’d awake at 5 a.m. to hear his father talking on the phone. “The guy he was talking to every day was legendary WHMP newsman Ron Hall,” Musante recalls. “My dad relied on Ron and WHMP to get word out about important issues facing the city.”

Fast forward to 2016 and listeners still tune in to WHMP to get the pulse.

The station has shed most musical offerings, but weekdays still begin and end with local news shows featuring Bob Flaherty and Denise Vozella, followed by local personalities joining Bill Newman and Monte Belmonte to spitball news and views back and forth.

The weekends bring a rich mix of hosts exploring topics from birds to cars, improving health to probing the stories behind the stories.

In between regular programming, the station teams up with local organizations (including this newspaper) to sponsor community forums on everything from legalizing marijuana, to choosing a mayor, to avoiding Lyme disease. WHMP and its personalities also regularly sound the call for people to contribute to causes that ease the burdens of our less fortunate neighbors.

The station’s efforts — broadcast on 1400 AM in Northampton, 1240 AM in Greenfield and 1600 AM in Longmeadow, along with 96.9 FM in Hampshire County and 107.5 FM in Franklin County — help weave a sense of connection. At a recent open house at the station to mark the anniversary year, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz read a proclamation that declared, “WHMP stands by the belief that local media is an essential local ingredient to an engaged populace.”

We couldn’t agree more. The station, its owners and staff deserve the appreciation and support for the good work they do, the questions they raise, the causes they champion. For proof that they’re always looking for ways to serve, look no further than their recent rescue of the “Polka Carousel” show, which had been orphaned during a period of turmoil at the student-run WMUA station at UMass Amherst.

Polka fans can now enjoy a full four hours of music every Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon. Somehow, we doubt that’s a programming move a remote-control conglomerate would have made.

Keep the voices coming, WHMP. We can’t wait to hear what you have to say.