Capital City politicians can now plug into "Switchboard." Just in time for the legislative session, Vermont Public Radio recently boosted its Montpelier signal - the one that broadcasts the station's hour-long call-in show Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. A new low-power frequency, or "translator," has dramatically improved reception of VPR in Montpelier at 94.1.
But State Street listeners ought not get too attached to VPR's current lineup. By summer, "Switchboard" will likely be replaced by a news show called "Vermont Edition" that will air daily at noon. Numerous other programming changes are part of VPR's long-term plan to serve the state with two parallel public radio stations: one broadcasting classical music exclusively; the other devoted to news, talk and information.
The empire building is well underway: VPR Classical launched two years ago when it started broadcasting from Mount Ascutney. The signal can now be heard in Norwich, Bennington, Hanover, Manchester, Newbury, Woodstock and - the latest addition - Middlebury. DJ Walter Parker, who hosts classical music all morning on VPR, is slowly moving over to VPR Classical; he's on air there an hour a day.
"Eventually he'll be heard more hours on that network," says VPR President Mark Vogelzang. "Our plan is to have three full-time hosts, which is a huge commitment in people, experience and programming know-how that will be on from morning through the evening drive."
Meanwhile, on the soon-to-be VPR News and Information station, "I know BBC World Service will play a bigger role," Vogelzang notes. It's now on from 5 to 6 a.m. He also mentions the Los Angeles-based radio newsmagazine "Day to Day" and "Talk of the Nation." All the jazz and other locally produced non-classical music shows will stay put, including Joel Najman's "My Place" and Robert Resnik's "All the Traditions." But the station is currently advertising for two producers and a host to staff the locally produced "Vermont Edition."
When does Vermont Public Radio plan to throw the switch? When VPR Classical is available in more places - in particular, Chittenden County. The station has so far been unsuccessful in locating a frequency in the Burlington area, and the Federal Communications Commission is not accepting license applications at this time.
Nonetheless, Vogelzang expects the "transition" will take place over the course of the year. By summer, the daily news program should be up and running, with VPR Classical in the Burlington area to follow. "I think we're saying 12 to 18 months for the main channel to become a news and information service," Vogelzang says.
Of course technology may dramatically alter that timeline. Both "services" are currently streaming online, and in July VPR started broadcasting programs digitally on HD Radio. The format allows broadcasters to offer multiple programming services on a single frequency.
Vogelzang adds, "The web may surpass this transmission system that we run - FCC towers and licenses. Eventually it might all migrate online. But you can't afford to say, 'Oh, we won't be a radio broadcaster.' The challenge is for us to remain relevant with really good content in as many places as we can be."