Farm-fresh' radio picks up tempo

BRIDPORT — It’s not often that the goings-on at a rural beef farm are broadcast across five counties.

But nestled alongside the barns and fields that make up Wood Creek Farm in Bridport, a low wooden room adjoining a tidy farmhouse is the source of the radio stations WMUD 89.3-FM and Farm Fresh 102.9-FM. The two stations broadcast up to 1,000 songs each day into homes and cars around the Champlain Valley.

It might seem an odd combination, but Chip Morgan, who with his wife, Kathy, runs the two stations, said it makes sense.

“We figured whatever’s fun to listen to and good to eat should go together,” he said.
WMUD’seclectic folk and acoustic format is familiar to many Addison County residents. Though it is a nonprofit station and does not advertise, it has gained word-of-mouth popularity since it first went on air in 2003.

Farm Fresh Radio is WMUD’s younger sibling, having gone on the air in the fall of 2009. The commercial station plays rock, blues and Americana, and has a much broader reach: the 102.9 transmission reaches south to Rutland and north, nearly to Canada.

And it’s expanding — about two weeks ago, 102.5 in New York began broadcasting Farm Fresh Radio as well, reaching further on the western side of the Champlain Valley.

Both stations have very little talk. Their taglines, like “music for happy cows” and “don’t get stuck in the mud,” come on every so often, as do sponsorship announcements on WMUD and a couple of outright advertisements each hour on Farm Fresh Radio, which is a commercial station.

For the most part, though, the stations are all about the music.

“When we talk, unless we’re saying something really good, it’s an interruption to the music. And the music is awesome,” said Morgan.

The stations certainly play a wider range of music than most. Morgan said most music stations have a rotation of 25 to 50 new songs and 500 to 1,000 “gold” songs — radio lingo, he said, for songs over a year old.

By contrast, WMUD and Farm Fresh Radio each have a library of between 200 and 300 new songs and between 6,000 and 10,000 older songs. The focus is on playing variety rather than airtime for the most popular songs — meaning that a new song will be played once every day or two, rather than once every four hours.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to do, because it’s not a good way to make money,” said Morgan.

But that’s not the point.

“It’s just something for people to listen to, something for us to listen to,” said Morgan. “When you’re inan industry for a long time, you just want to give something back.”

And the Morgans have been in the radio industry for a long time. Chip Morgan remembered his earliest forays into the business, way back in elementary school.

“We did things like getting a baby monitor in the next room and doing a radio station on that,” he said.

Morgan soon moved beyond pirate radio, though, and on to a real station in Saratoga, N.Y.
“I was 17at my first station,” he said. “I just went to a local radio station and said, ‘What do I need to do?’”

Chip andKathy Morgan moved to Vermont from San Francisco in 1999, after years of doing national and international consulting.

“We were working where the money was and where the stations were, and we just got tired of the rat race,” Morgan said. “We had a lot of business, but we decided we wanted to get back on the farm.”

So they purchased land in Bridport and started raising cattle for grass-fed beef — which, said Morgan, turned out to be easier said than done.

“We had no experience in the food business, other than eating a lot of it,” he said with a laugh.

But after 12 years, the operation has found its legs — and then some. The Morgans sell their beef wholesale to Burlington Food Services, which then distributes it to area restaurants. And while there were only six animals on the farm last week, Morgan said there are sometimes as many as 40 or 50 cows on the farm, and they are finding that demand is outpacing space on the farm.

“It’s grown to be a pretty good business for us,” Morgan said.

After afew years in the beef business, the couple found an opening for a low-power, nonprofit radio station license and decided to apply for it, noting a lack in eclectic radio stations in the area.

WMUD, sponsored purely by donations, was never supposed to make money — though, Morgan said, if it ever does, all proceeds will be donated to funding music programs in local schools.

And WMUD was also a training ground for Farm Fresh Radio, teaching the Morgans to spend hours searching for and listening to new music, focusing on how well it will fit in with the station’s overall sound.

“Over the years with WMUD, we’ve learned to anticipate what (a song) is going to sound like on the radio,” said Morgan.

“Still,” he added, “we’re surprised sometimes when things work really well or don’t work. It’s like if you write music and go out and play it for the public — you get a feel for what songs work and what songs don’t.”

Morgan said he, his wife and the other station staff — six DJs and five sales representatives, all hired after Farm Fresh Radio started — find music all over. The Internet helps, and the studio also gets many submissions from artists or record labels hoping to get play time on the station.

“We have a reputation for playing new artists and edgy music that’s not getting played anywhere else,” said Morgan.

The future of radio

Radio is one medium that has remained relatively unchanged in the face of a sometimes overwhelming rush of new technology. Despite the growing use of satellite radio and online streaming, many homes and most cars still have a radio.

“Radio is one of the few forms of entertainment that is ubiquitous,” Morgan said. “No other form of communication has that kind of saturation.”

But because of that, he said, radio stations have gone to a corporate structure for maximum efficiency.

“It’s more efficient for radio stations to have really big advertisers with lots of money,” he said. “It’s easier to have a satellite that feeds the same thing to every station.”

This, he said, has weakened the appeal of radio, limiting the variety of music that’s played on a regular basis. Now that a personal iPod can hold every single song in a top 40 station’s rotation, that format needs to change. To Morgan, his stations are where music radio needs to be going.

“I think radio needs to be local,” he said. “It needs to be in contact with the community and have local advertisers, provide more broad entertainment.”

And while it cuts down on profit, Morgan said it also provides a better listening experience — and connects Chip and Kathy Morgan with good people.

“We’re trying to interface with the community, give back. Find people we like to work with, have fun,” Morgan said. “We think the people who like good food and good music tend to be good people to hang out with.”

And of course, it gives them something to listen to in the barn.

Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at andreas@addisonindependent.com.


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