WRSI first went on the air in 1981 as a small, locally owned radio station in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The station has experienced many changes over the years, including a move to Northampton in 2001, but through all the ups and downs one thing hasn’t changed: the music they play and their commitment to the community they serve.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: WRSI first went on the air in 1981 as a small, locally-owned radio station in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
The station has experienced many changes over the years, including a move to Northampton in 2001. But, through all the ups and downs, one thing hasn’t changed: the music they play and their commitment to the community they serve.
To celebrate 40 years of WRSI, producer Dave Fraser talked with some of the people responsible for the Western Mass radio station’s success over the years.
Joan Holliday, WRSI Host: That’s the Felice Brothers on the River. I’m Joan Holliday.
I came here 11 years ago.
Monte Belmonte, WRSI Host: Coming up in 10 minutes, we’ll play Get the Connection…
I started here in 2002, I was basically a glorified intern and sometimes lucky sidekick to the Morning Show host at the time, who happened to be Rachel Maddow.
Jim Olsen, Former WRSI Program/Music Director: I was mostly, as I recall, the midday host and I was the music and program director.
John Reily, Former WRSI Host: My name is John Reily and I’m known as Johnny Memphis, because that’s the radio name I took when I started working at WRSI in 1986.
Ed Skutnik: It was a loan for $60,000 to build the tower, $20,000 for operating costs. And I said, “What’s operating costs?”
And the guy at the bank says, “That’s so you could operate for at least three months until your cash starts coming in.” “Oh, that’s a great idea.”
So, there it was. Got on the air at noon, July 26, 1981, and our first disc, jockey Phil Drumheller, Phil D did the first broadcast.
Jim Olsen: Ed started the station, literally himself, built the equipment in the studio himself. When I got there, the music that was programed was Ed’s record collection, literally.
Ed Skutnik: We’re running reel-to-reel tape machines, because there was no digital back then. We ran records and tapes.
John Reily: This goes out to Dennis down in Hadley. He wanted to hear some Fats Waller.
We played like jazz, blues, reggae, pop, country, folk, singer-songwriter. It was really quite a wide mix.
I had a lot of shows, but I did eventually really end up in the afternoon. Which was really the best place for me because for one thing, I got to interview all these amazing musicians who were coming to the area who would play live in the studio.
We’ve got Joe Ely and John Hyatt in the studio. Joe, what you have for breakfast this morning?
Joe Ely: Quiche and caviar.
People like Taj Mahal, who of course, is from Springfield, and Dan Hicks, and, you know, B.B. King. I interviewed B.B. King on his road bus, actually, next to the Calvin. You know, hundreds of people that I got a chance to meet and have fun with.
Jim Olsen: Radio was so different back then, because this is the pre-internet era, even pre digital music era. We were playing LPs to start with. CDs were just coming in at that point.
Back then, we all worked a lot of hours and we had fun. You know, it was really a fun kind of Wild West Place back then.
Monte Belmonte: I was in the periphery of the Buddy Rubbish era, too, and he’s one of the big legends of WRSI.
There was a legendary story where the beaches at Puffers Pond were going to be closed, because they couldn’t afford to keep them clean or something. And Buddy was like, “I’m not going to have it!”
So he said, “I’m going to broadcast from a raft in the middle of Puffers Pond until we raise enough money to open the beaches up again.”
And so, a lot of the dumb things that I’ve done over the years, are based on that kind of notion. So, like being stranded in the middle of downtown Northampton, in the campsite, in the cold to raise money for the Cancer Connection is a direct analog to that Buddy Rubbish on a raft in the middle of Puffers Pond.
Joan Holliday: Coming up, we’ll have Bird Songs today, we’ll talk….
Oh, I do bird songs with Dan Zomick, because everybody loves Bird Songs. It’s sort of a it’s a hallmark of my show now, which I never thought would happen. But if I miss a day, people freak out.
Announcer: Different is Good. Mornings with Monte on the River.
Monte Belmonte: This was another Facebook sing along Thursday…
Ed Skutnik: It’s unique, it’s live, and I think there’s more diversity in this area. Then you’re going to find in the big cities.
John Reily: It was allowed to kind of flourish in this way, in this soil of the Pioneer Valley, and become this thing that’s very unique, like the Pioneer Valley is unique, in a way that’s not so predetermined that you know, you can flow with it a little bit, flow with the river, as it were.