40 Moments That Defined VPR

Aug 13, 2017

Vermont Public Radio's 40 years of public service is made up of many moments - some watershed, others small and incremental. Together, along with the tremendous support of our community, they built VPR into the essential resource it is today. In honor of our 40th anniversary, here are 40 notable moments that defined VPR over the years.

1. 1975: A small group of Vermonters gathers to plan a public radio station for Vermont. National experts tried to dissuade them, saying Vermont was too rural and mountainous a state for a listener-supported public radio station. 

Ray Dilley and Ray Phillips, two of VPR's founders, in 1976.
Credit Archive / VPR

2. August 13, 1977: VPR begins broadcasting from Mount Ascutney at WVPR 89.5 in Windsor. The first program to air on that day was The Goon Show, followed by Saturday Afternoon At The Opera.

VPR's first studio was on the third floor of the Windsor House in Windsor, Vermont.
Credit Archive / VPR

3. December 8-11, 1977: VPR holds its first pledge drive. VPR's first "Fund-Raising Marathon" raised $7,570 from 300 donors, exceeding its goal of $7,500. A note in the January 1978 program guide reads: "Some of the most unusual contributions were received on behalf of two sheep, Sabina and Guinevere, closely followed by pledges from two goats. Silversmith Luella Schroeder offered a silver pendant with chipmunk tracks to the first pledge of $100. A truck driver, known only by his handle "Evil Eye" made a pledge via his CB through another listener who actually phoned it in."

4. 1978: VPR collaborates with NPR in its first national documentary, "Maple Sugar Time." The program looked at the maple sugaring industry from the perspective of the people who tap the trees, boil and can the sap. Crews visited sugarers in Vermont and New Hampshire to talk about what goes into making maple syrup, how much is produced and the cost and time involved in production. Listen to it here.

5. October 1, 1979: Switchboard launches. The call-in public affairs program aired on Mondays from 4-5 p.m. It was first hosted by Jan Slusmon, an editor of the Valley News, and explored issues in the news with notable public figures and with listeners until Vermont Edition became a daily program in 2007.

6. 1980: NPR programs begin being delivered via satellite. This may seem like a small thing, but according to VPR's Sam Sanders, "for the first few years, All Things Considered was delivered to us over a really terrible telephone line, which was the only thing available in Windsor. Syndicated programs were shipped back and forth between public radio stations in Maine and Massachusetts and VPR by bus!"

7. October 1980: VPR begins broadcasting at WVPS 107.9 in Burlington. 

A sign at the Holiday Inn welcomes VPR to the airwaves in Burlington in 1980.
Credit Archive / VPR
Mark Breen and Steve Maleski have been providing listeners with detailed weather reports from Eye On The Sky since 1981.
Credit Archive / VPR

8. December 1, 1981: Eye On The Sky weather reports begin on VPR. Let's face it, no one does weather like Eye On The Sky. Meteorologists Mark Breen and Steve Maleski don't just provide a weather forecast, they tell the story of the weather - front by front, trough by trough, clipper by clipper. Our partners at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury introduced us to many terms and geographical markers, such as "upper level troughs," the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and a burning need to know whether you are north or south of Routes 2 and 4. According to Steve Maleski, the original theme for their forecasts was Mercury, the Winged Messenger from Gustav Holst's "The Planets": "I taped it over the phone from the basement of the museum." Listen to Mitch Wertlieb's interview with Mark Breen in honor of EOTS' 25th anniversary in 2006.

9. 1981: VPR opens offices in Fort Ethan Allen. Our first Fort office was in the lobby of the old Herrouet Theater. With inadequate heat, volunteers had to wear their coats indoors through one winter, remembers Betty Smith, VPR's commentary series producer.

An illustration of the three buildings that comprised the site of WVPS at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester, as it appeared in the November 1981 Program Guide. From left to right: the Old Post Office building contained the offices; the Herrouet Theater; and the old Chapel, which were for studios.
Credit Archive / VPR

10. 1989: VPR begins broadcasting at WRVT in Rutland at 88.7. VPR's third station brought public radio to Rutland County.

11. October 1995: VPR opens its headquarters in the old veterinary clinic at Fort Ethan Allen. In the early 1990s, VPR bought Fort Ethan Allen's old veterinary hospital from the Vermont State Police. Built in 1908, it was used to perform surgery on and care for the 1,800 horses that once lived and worked in the fort. In renovating the building VPR took great care to honor the building’s history, keeping many of the original elements such as the tin ceiling in the front lobby, the shape and materials of Romanesque Revival doorways and the rings mounted into the brick walls in the stable where horses were tied while waiting for treatment.

12. October 1995: Pianist Sally Pinkas gives the first classical recital in VPR's new Performance Studio. She performed Beethoven's monumental Diabelli Variations.

13. 1996: VPR’s Norwich Studios open at King Arthur Flour, providing VPR access to both sides of the state.

The opening of VPR's Upper Valley studios at King Arthur Flour in Norwich.
Credit Archive / VPR

14. 1998: VPR.net  launches. Thanks to the Wayback Machine, you can take a look at what it looked like here. 

15. September 1998: The Switchboard primary debate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate between Jack McMullen and Fred Tuttle garners national attention. In 1998, a down country political newcomer entered the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Retired farmer Fred Tuttle mounted a primary challenge against him. One of the campaign’s most memorable moments took place when the two candidates met in a VPR Switchboard debate. Tuttle exploited his opponent’s lack of farm experience.

(Tuttle) “Jack, this is a milk production question. How many teats does a Holstein have and how many does a Jersey have?”
(McMullen) “How many what, Fred?”
(Tuttle) “Teats, teats, does a cow have?”

Tuttle ended up winning the primary. In the general election, he endorsed his opponent, incumbent Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. You can listen to that debate here.

16. 1999: VPR begins broadcasting at WVPA in Saint Johnsbury at 88.5. After years of waiting, the FCC gave final approval for VPR to construct a new station on top of Burke Mountain near Saint Johnsbury. The addition of WVPA 88.5 FM allowed VPR’s signal to reach into the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont for the first time.

17. 1999: VPR begins broadcasting at WBTN in Bennington at 94.3. VPR recognized that the only way to expand its signal into Bennington County was to purchase a commercial station. The addition of WBTN 94.3 FM helped to fulfill VPR’s mission to cover the state with a clear broadcast signal.

18. 2000: VPR launches live Internet streaming, allowing anyone to hear VPR around the world.

19. 2001: VPR begins to build robust local news department. VPR began investing heavily in local and regional news. John Van Hoesen, former managing editor for the Rutland Herald, was hired in 2001 as the only full time news employee. Within two years, John Dillon was hired, Bob Kinzel and Steve Zind became full time employees, and Commentary Series Producer Betty Smith, Morning Edition Host Steve Delaney and All Things Considered Host Neal Charnoff all became part of VPR News and began producing interviews and stories. Today, VPR News has won more than 100 awards for excellence in journalism.

20.  September 2001: VPR provides continuous live coverage of the 9/11 attacks. VPR's growing local newsroom and its unique partnership with NPR made a wide range of coverage possible, from breaking news in the moment to national and local analysis in the days, weeks and months following the attacks. 

21. March 2002: VPR receives its first $1M gift. Wes and Terry Phillips created an endowment fund for classical music on VPR. 

22. July 20, 2004: VPR Classical begins broadcasting on WNCH 88.1 FM in Norwich. This plan to bring a 24-hour classical music network to the region was 10 years in the making.

23. 2005: Vermont Edition launches as a weekly program. It aired on Wednesdays at noon, hosted by Steve Zind and produced by Patti Daniels.

24. 2006: VPR becomes first station in Vermont to broadcast in HD. Hybrid Digital radio allows VPR to broadcast programs on a high-quality digital signal alongside our existing analog broadcasts. It also allows for "multi-casting," which makes it possible to broadcast multiple program streams via a single frequency. Learn more about HD Radio.

25. August 13, 2007: Vermont Edition becomes a daily program. The program airs weekdays at noon and hosted by Jane Lindholm and Bob Kinzel.

26. October 1, 2007: VPR splits its programming into two distinct services: one for news and one for classical music. The change grew out of many years of listener requests for more news, more music, more public affairs programs and more entertainment. After extensive research and planning VPR determined that the most effective way to serve all our listeners would be to provide two services.

27: 2008: VPR successfully completes the $10M Creating A Sound Future endowment campaign. The campaign established a permanent endowment to provide VPR with financial stability, while allowing us to nurture new programming, pursue innovative technologies, and ensure journalistic independence

28. 2009: VPR joins Facebook and Twitter. Our first tweet:

29. 2010: Report From Afghanistan. Steve Zind traveled to Afghanistan for three weeks, covering some of the 1,500 members of the Vermont National Guard who were deployed there. He provided a close-up view of the Guard's mission and how things are going from their perspective. Explore the series here.

30. 2011: VPR provides essential continuous coverage of Tropical Storm Irene. In the weeks and months after the storm wreaked havoc on much of Vermont, VPR provided its single greatest public service in our history. Never before had our news team been mobilized to this extent. Nearly every reporter and producer was sent to the hardest-hit areas to keep Vermonters informed about the struggles of individuals, communities, entire towns, and the people working to restore roads, communication, and public services. VPR News provided critical information to people in need, including breaking news about washed out roads and bridges, utility outages, and emergency food and shelter resources. We broadcast updates from the state and emergency management offices, inquiries about missing persons, and provided additional resources online for those affected, and for those looking to volunteer.

31. September 2011: VPR’s one-day fundraiser for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund to help victims of Tropical Storm Irene raises $628,000. It was and remains the most VPR has ever raised in a single day and is a testament to the heart and strength of our generous community who helped our neighbors in need. 

32. 2011-2012: VPR launches apps for iPhone and Android.

The home screen of the first VPR iPhone app in 2011.
Credit Archive / VPR

33. September 2012: VPR begins broadcasting at WVBA Brattleboro at 88.9. VPR had long dreamed of securing a station that would serve residents of Windham County with a strong broadcast signal.

34. 2013: VPR's Sustaining Member count surpasses 10,000. Sustaining members support VPR through automatic monthly contributions via a credit card or checking account. Sustainers provide VPR with a steady source of revenue month after month, making it easier for us to budget. Become a Sustainer.

35. October 10-11, 2013: Vermont Edition broadcasts live from NPR. VPR took the show on the road to Washington, D.C. as the first member station to participate in NPR's Station Talk Show Project. Jane Lindholm and Bob Kinzel hosted two special broadcasts, one featuring all three of Vermont's sCongressional delegates, and a reporters' roundtable that focused on the perception of Vermont's delegation in the nation's capital. 

36. April 2015: VPR breaks the news that Bernie Sanders will run for president.

37. 2015-2016: VPR News covers Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, including Becoming Bernie, an hour-long program that looked at the rise and record of Vermont's Independent senator. 

38. October 2016: VPR moves into its renovated and expanded headquarters. You can take a virtual tour of the facility here.

39. January 20, 2017: Pianist Simone Dinnerstein inaugurates VPR's Studio One. She performed music of Schubert and Glass on our donated Steinway concert grand piano. Dinnerstein was one of the people to travel to New York City to select the piano for VPR. Listen to the performance here.

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein debuts VPR's new donated Steinway Model D concert grand piano before a live audience in Studio One.
Credit Herb Swanson

40. June 29, 2017: VPR completes its $10M VPR Next Capital Campaign. After three years and donations from more than 2,000 supporters, Vermont Public Radio surpassed the $10 million goal for its VPR Next Capital Campaign on June 29. The successful completion of the campaign positioned VPR to embrace the opportunities of a dynamic and changing media landscape, while solidifying its strong foundation built on 40 years of public service. The campaign focused on two important initiatives: $8 million for an expansion and renovation of VPR’s headquarters in Colchester and $2 million to create an Innovation Fund to help launch new programming and news projects.

VPR's renovated and expanded headquarters provides a flexible and collaborative space for VPR to do its best work, as well as a public performance studio.
Credit Jim Westphalen