WMPF 91.1 River Valley Community Radio station manager Kevin Saisi. Submitted photo

Kevin Saisi is the manager and a voice on WMPF 91.1 River Valley Community Radio in Rumford. The station plays music from the 1950s to the 1980s and it features a daily local weather report, a community events calendar and information on the “Big Dig,” the major road construction project currently happening in downtown Rumford.

Name: Kevin Saisi

Age: 53

Occupation: Direct support professional and station manager for WMPF 91.1 River Valley Community Radio

Hometown: Rumford. My parents are from Rumford and Mexico, but I grew up in Connecticut.

Married/Single: Single

When and why did you create WMPF 91.1? In 2013 the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) opened a filing window for low power FM stations. Seeing an opportunity to use such a vehicle to promote the area, I formed a nonprofit agency and applied for a license.

How is the station set up and where is it located? How do you prepare music and announcements for the day or week? Due to fiscal constraints, we don’t currently have a studio. The computer that controls the content is housed at the transmitter located in my garage. We had received preliminary approval to locate the transmitter at another location, but that fell through. Unfortunately, the low antenna height severely limits our coverage area.

The music is in categories. Those categories are scheduled to play in a certain rotation for each part of the day. Our basic format is ’70s and’ 80s with some ’50s and ’60s dropped in during the day. The morning rotation runs from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., and is intended to help people get moving in the morning. The workday rotation runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a more workplace friendly sound.

The evening rotation runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., stepping up the beat a bit and dropping the oldies. The late evening rotation runs from 8 p.m. to midnight. It includes the more rockin’ tunes from the ’80s. Our overnight rotation runs from midnight to 5 a.m. and is designed to keep workers awake.

How far and wide does your station signal extend to? Which towns receive a signal and can listen in? And can we listen to the station via the internet? Currently, we can be heard clearly throughout the downtown Rumford Falls Village and Mexico. Traveling in a car with a good radio, we can be heard as far as Canton Point Road by the trailer park and sometimes as far as the Canton town line on Route 108.

We can be heard through most of Roxbury Village and toward Byron, but on Route 120, our signal struggles to get past Roxbury Notch. Sadly, due to our location, our signal does not travel well past the Madison Condominiums, though on a good day I have heard it on a road behind Sunday River Ski Resort. Likewise, I sometimes hear it near the Comfort Inn in Wilton. The signal does travel well on the east side of Webb Lake, but not as well on the western shore.

We streamed the station online when we started broadcasting, but then realized that the music licensing fees were $800 per year and that was not within our budget.

How does your work as the station manager at WMPF 91.1 fit in with your other jobs as a caregiver and property manager? I fit in what I can where I can. I have had to cut back on some aspects of the station due to conflicting responsibilities. Typically, I do recordings at night for the following day. However, the Big Dig Update is recorded live at the site every weekday.

I also try to drop in updates on weather and traffic information throughout the day. It is fun looking at the radar and announcing things such as, “There is a row of showers approaching the area. It looks like Roxbury Pond will miss the shower, but downtown Rumford should expect it to arrive within the next five minutes.” Sometimes the shower is so local I can identify which streets will get rain, and which will not. You will not get that level of forecast from any other broadcaster in the area.

I do enjoy personalizing it a bit, such as referencing (Rumford resident) Curtis Rice’s flags when higher winds will be expected; “If you have 16 flags flying over your house, you might want to take them in because the winds will be gusting to 30 miles per hour.”

I am fortunate to have a few volunteers (such as Shaunna Lamontagne, the Weather Girl) who assist with announcements, the calendar and fiscal management.

Who owns the station and do they also help with other aspects of running the station? Shaunna Lamontagne and Stefanie Wilson are the other two board members. Shaunna helps on air and Stefanie is behind the scenes. It is a small board because prior experience taught me that larger boards tend to lead to the board losing the vision for the organization. When there is a vacancy on the board, the remaining members appoint a replacement who shares the vision.

What are some major differences in running a nonprofit radio station compared to a commercial radio station? The most significant difference is money. We operated last year with just under $5,000 in cash donations. Having no salaries nor benefits to pay, we can operate in a very austere manner. That being said, when the bills come in, we need to be careful about how we spend.

Our greatest operating cost is music licensing at about $1,000 per year. Even with no revenue, the agencies need their “fair share” of our “profits.” That is the toughest hurdle to overcome. However, we are fortunate to have some very generous donors.

WMPF 91.1 River Valley Community Radio Station Manager Kevin Saisi receives an update for listeners from a Sargent Corporation construction worker regarding the Big Dig road construction project in Rumford. Submitted photo.

What kinds of announcements and advertising do you have on the station? Due to FCC regulation for non-commercial stations, we are very limited as to what we are allowed to say in a donor acknowledgment on the air. We schedule two announcements per hour; one at the top of the hour and one on the half-hour. Other announcements include shout-outs to people and to businesses who play our station, community announcements, informational spots such as identifying local resources and public service announcements.

During the “Big Dig” in downtown Rumford, we provided the Big Dig Update in which, at times, we needed to tell people how to navigate the huge piles of dirt and deep excavations to access local businesses. There were times when they needed to pass through one business to access a section of Congress Street that was not accessible through any other means.

How has selecting and playing music and announcements changed compared to your college days as a DJ? My personal interest in radio goes back to the 1970s. Back then I believed that the musicians played the songs live at the radio station as we heard them. Eventually, I learned how records worked and began announcing songs using the record player and the microphone on my cassette recorder. In my teens, I had a full “studio” including a mixing board from Radio Shack (still used today at the station).

When I went to college I enjoyed the college radio station. I later transferred to another college where the station was not accessible to students who didn’t fit the vibe of the station. When I started my four-year degree, I was again involved with college radio until my graduation in 1990.

Back then there was no automation in college radio. If you needed to use the restroom, you needed to know what songs played long enough and hope the record didn’t skip. Likewise for grabbing breakfast in the cafeteria. People eventually realized that when “Alice’s Restaurant” was playing on the station, Kevin could be found in the cafeteria having his breakfast.

Back then, the emergency alert system was all manual. If an alert came in, somebody needed to be present at the station to open the envelope and match the authentication code with what was being transmitted by another station. Nowadays, it is all computer automated with alerts and tests being authenticated and forwarded automatically.

Speaking of alerts, our station is set up to permit the local emergency management director to drop in announcements every 15 minutes without contacting anyone at the station. This provides a means of reaching the local citizens for things that may not rise to the level of needing the Emergency Alert System. This could be things such as road closures or safety advisories.

We also have arrangements with a number of local agencies, permitting them to add announcements to the station at will. Trusted staff members have access to a folder that is automatically included in our schedule. We had hoped to have more participation, but some people are busy and others don’t want their voices on the air.

Speaking of voices on the air, we have a phone line (536-9110) where people can call in a shout-out, announcement, or other information to be played on the air. It has had limited use, but it is nice to hear a variety of voices on the radio.

How has COVID-19 affected the station? During the shutdown, we had a tougher time gathering information on what was happening and how it was happening. Due to the tight economy, we didn’t ask any of the businesses who donate to us for additional contributions but we did leave their acknowledgment announcements on the air.  We actually gained a few new donors during that period, which helped carry us through. Also, when they could, some businesses doubled their donations.

Though we are non-commercial, during the lockdown, as a public service, we announced what businesses were open and how they were doing business (takeout, curbside, delivery). We received no payment for any of it and we worked to include everyone equally.

What community programming have you done? We attempt to provide some coverage of events in the region. We do “remote broadcasts” from events such as Pumpkinfest and the Christmas in The Valley Craft Fair, we announced clues for the River Valley Chamber of Commerce Easter Egg Hunt and this year we carried Mountain Valley High School graduation live. We are learning how to use technology to better serve the community. We cannot afford the fancy toys used by commercial stations.

What do you think about the local commercial radio station WOXO-FM (WRMO-FM 100.7 in Mexico) returning to the airwaves? I am glad that Stan Bennett purchased the Gleason Radio Group stations. Local commercial radio is SO important to a community. When Dick Gleason’s stations went dark (off the air) many people asked if we would be trying to fill the void by providing high school sports and programs like Country Corner, but those are beyond our function, license and capabilities as a small non-commercial station. Likewise, we cannot promote the specials at the local corner store. A commercial station with a local focus is essential to smaller communities and evolving economies such as ours.

What are your most immediate needs as a station? Thankfully the voters supported our initiated article request to the town of Rumford, which will provide us with a new transmitter and audio processor so that we can remain on the air. Our current transmitter has been running at full power since we started and it wasn’t the best quality option, but it was what we could afford. The audio processor was a used piece of equipment, and it has lost one channel giving our station a bad case of mono (as opposed to stereo). The next step is looking to relocate the tower to a higher location. However, due to our license, we cannot go too high without the FCC reducing our power. I have identified some options, but negotiations take time and our budget cannot handle additional costs, which is very limiting.

We really appreciate the participation we have had, and we hope to see more. There is so much potential for information sharing. We are currently working on relocating our transmission tower to a higher altitude to provide better coverage throughout the River Valley.

As time permits, we are working to expand community access to the airwaves and provide more information about the area over that station for visitors to the valley. My personal goal is to engage others in the operations so that I can take a back seat without losing the focus and purpose of the station.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: