Rewind: NHPR Turns 35!

Aug 4, 2016

In 1979, fifty New Hampshire residents came together to form a committee that would create the state’s own public radio station—Granite State Public Radio. A year after its incorporation, GSPR received $61,000 in planning grants, and filed an application with the Federal Communication Commission.

On August 4, 1981, WEVO- Concord signed on from a small studio on Pleasant Street in Concord, broadcasting on 89.1 FM.

This is what that sounded like:

Over the next 35 years, the station evolved its mission to cater to the needs of a curious and engaged public, and grow its newsroom, which is now one of the most respected in the region.

Before WEVO signed on, many communities in the state were listening to public radio by way of Massachusetts or Vermont. New Hampshire wasn't just behind its neighbors on the airwaves, it was the 48th state to establish a native public radio station. 

Though music (classical, jazz, and folk) made up most of the broadcast day at the time of its founding, WEVO ran both local and national news coverage, and on February 28th, 1984, the station aired its first ever live election coverage with the NH Presidential Primary. 

Not Just Music Anymore...

New Hampshire Daily, the station’s first attempt at a daily New Hampshire news program, debuted in 1985. A news team of two-and-a-half people produced the 30-minute program  five days a week. The show foreshadowed the station’s eventual transition away from music programming toward the news and talk format that would make it a staple on the Granite State's airwaves.

WEVO listeners were as much a part of the station’s early success as its small staff. In 1983, facing a $45,000 budget deficit, the station launched an emergency fund drive. More than 1,000 listeners stepped up to overcome the deficit and keep WEVO on the air.

The quality of the station's programming bore fruit with the rapid growth of its listening audience, which nearly doubled between 1985 and 1990. With that increased audience came an increased responsibility to serve New Hampshire’s residents with quality content. For WEVO to fulfill its mission to create a state-wide resource, new transmitters would have to be installed across the state to better serve the people living outside the Capital region. A larger staff would be needed to maintain that equipment, and produce more local programs. 

WEVO Gets a New Name - And Finds its Voice

NHPR's second headquarters at 207 North Main Street, Concord.

In 1991, WEVO (aka Granite State Public Radio) took on the title of New Hampshire Public Radio, and it made the move from its original studio on Pleasant Street to a new studio at 207 North Main Street.

Shortly after the move, NHPR began production of it's first new local talk show, Perspectives, hosted by Laura Kiernan. The show was in production from 1993-1997 bringing many fascinating stories to the state.

New transmitters came online in 1992 (Dover, Hanover), 1994 (Keene), 2000 (Gorham and Littleton), and 2002 (Jackson and the Mount Washington Valley). The Keene inauguration was notable for two of its guests. One was the Mayor of Keene, Aaron Lipskey, who said a few words of welcome at the event:

Former NHPR General Manager Mark Handley with NPR's Diane Rehm, and NHPR Development Director Cathy Ives.

The other, was Keene native and NPR newscaster, Laura Knoy. Known today as the voice of NHPR’s flagship call-in program The Exchange, Knoy had been sent by NPR to help celebrate NHPR’s expansion because of her local ties.

Mark Handley, General Manager of NHPR at the time, spoke recently about meeting Knoy when she traveled north for the event, and how The Exchange came to find a home on New Hampshire airwaves.

Listen to what he had to say:

Laura Knoy in our new studios.

In a 2016 interview, Knoy spoke about getting the program off the ground with a very short lead time.

She moved back to NH just weeks before the first episode aired on October 9th, 1995.

Listen to her tell that story in her own words:

Taking the New Media Plunge

NHPR's website in 1996.

1996 brought NHPR into the digital era when the station registered the domain NHPR.org,and began to publish its news content. While very fashionable for the mid-90s, that first website was a far cry from today's layout.

NHPR’s content expanded again in 1998, this time to include an environmental segment called Something Wild, a weekly feature created in partnership with the New Hampshire Audubon and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Host Rosemary Conroy reveled in the approach of spring in the first episode that aired on March 7th of that year. Take a listen:

The Day the Music Died

In 2001, NHPR made the decision to phase out of the last few hours of classical music programing that remained on its daily schedule. Though the change was disappointing for some listeners, it allowed NHPR to better focus its resources on one format (news/talk), and helped the station appeal to a broader audience, which was essential to cultivate a more stable foundation of listener support in the years to come. The Folk Show, hosted by Kate McNally, remains on the air today as the last vestige of local music programming on NHPR. The Sunday night staple is NHPR's longest-running music program.

The switch from primarily music programming to news/talk helped to make possible a new locally-produced program called The Front Porch, which featured interviews with New Hampshire people who led interesting lives. Its debut episode featured an interview with New Hampshire’s favorite son and poet, Donald Hall, as well as caretakers of the Old Man of the Mountain, Dave and Deb Nielsen.

Listen:

The once and future site for studios at 2 Pillsbury Street, Concord-- NHPR's current home.

A Big Move

The staff of NHPR continued to increase throughout the first decade of the new millennium, including the addition of more full-time news staff and production teams for The Exchange and The Front Porch

This growth in human resources set into sharp relief the limits of our physical resources. In 2007, with former Governor Walter Peterson as honorary campaign chair, NHPR launched “The Campaign for 21st Century Radio,” tasked with raising $5 million to pay for a new broadcast facility.

Listen to the on-air announcement for that campaign:

Andrew Walsh, co-creator and former producer of Word of Mouth (2008).

The campaign was successful, and resulted in the move of NHPR headquarters from North Main Street to its current location at 2 Pillsbury Street, Concord.

NHPR continued to produce and air news coverage while also expanding its cultural programming, with the advent of Word of Mouth, which debuted in 2008.

Virginia Prescott, another New Hampshire native with national radio credentials, assumed the role of host for the new program.

Today's Mission

The station retained its reputation for hard news, covering local politics and our First In The Nation Presidential Primary. Years of experience covering the quadrennial event has made NHPR's news team “primary experts,” and as a result, the station's live coverage was carried by stations across the country in both 2012 and 2016. 

That commitment to politics coverage continued in 2016 , with the launch of State of Democracy, a newsroom unit dedicated to revealing the impact of politics and policy on the state, as we enhanced election coverage. 2016 saw the creation of a primary-focused app, numerous multimedia stories and videos, live forums with the candidates, and national party convention coverage by Josh Rogers and Casey McDermott.

In addition to politics, NHPR has always had a special place for another subject important to many New Hampshire residents—the great outdoors. Earlier this year, after years of employing a dedicated environmental reporter, NHPR again capitalized on our expertise by launching Outside/In, a program about the natural world and how we use it, hosted by New Hampshire’s Sam Evans-Brown, who began his radio career as an intern in the NHPR newsroom.

The program launched a five-episode season in the spring of 2016, as well as podcast that has been listened to more than 130,000 times.

Credit Greta Rybus for NHPR

The Outside/In podcast joined ranks with another successful podcast, 10 Minute Writers Workshop, which debuted November of 2015, once again marking a turning point in NHPR’s evolution as a media company.

What's Next?

Although NHPR has been up and running for 35 years now, it’s still experiencing its fair share of firsts. As the station continues to expand the content of its coverage and reach new audiences, it still strives to provide listeners with the programming that brought it to where it stands now, as a credible and informative voice in the granite state.

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