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Betty Smith Mastaler, seen here in 1978, talked to "Vermont Edition" recently about her first years at VPR and the state of the station.
VPR file

In 1975, a small group of Vermonters got together with a big vision: to create a statewide resource that would connect Vermont’s many communities in order to share ideas and discuss issues that affected us all.

National experts tried to dissuade them, reasoning that Vermont was too mountainous and too rural to support a public radio station. But our community proved them wrong on every count. Today, VPR is thriving as one of the most listened-to public radio stations in the country. That says a lot about Vermonters - that they care about community, value cultural connections and believe an informed public strengthens our democracy.

VPR began broadcasting at 89.5 FM on August 13, 1977, from studios in the historic Windsor House in Windsor, Vermont. The station was the first public, nonprofit, non-commercial radio station in the state. With its tower at the summit of Mount Ascutney, WVPR provided service to the Connecticut River Valley from Bradford in the north to northern Massachusetts in the south.

From the beginning, the goal of Vermont Public Radio was to provide public radio service throughout the state. In October 1980, a second transmitter, WVPS 107.9 FM, signed on the air from Burlington. With a transmitter located on Mount Mansfield and 37,000 watts of power, coverage was extended to the northern half of the state and to northwestern New York and southern Quebec.

It was almost ten years before VPR’s signal was expanded further, when WRVT 88.7 FM began broadcasting from Grandpa’s Knob near Rutland in 1989.

In 1995 a $2-million dollar capital campaign was successfully completed that allowed for the construction of the Public Radio Center at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester. For the first time in its history the station had a permanent home, bringing  VPR’s administration, fundraising and broadcast operations together under one roof. Soon afterwards, VPR’s Norwich studios were constructed in the King Arthur Flour building, providing access to both sides of the state.

In 1999, 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.

Also in 1999, VPR recognized that the only way to expand its signal into Bennington County was to purchase a commercial station. A station became available and the FCC approved the change of license to a public station. The addition of WBTN 94.3 FM helped to fulfill VPR’s mission to cover the state with a clear broadcast signal.

In 2004, VPR Classical, the flagship station of Vermont Public Radio’s classical music network began 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.

In 2005 VPR embarked upon a multi-year $10M endowment campaign to secure the financial future of the station. The campaign was completed in Fall 2008. The campaign focused on raising endowment funds to provide fiscal security and independence, new programming initiatives, and investments in new technologies. The success of the Creating a Sound Future campaign clearly placed Vermont Public Radio in a leadership role in the public broadcasting world.

In 2006, WVPR became the first radio station in the state of Vermont to broadcast in HD (Hybrid Digital). HD radio offers great sound quality as well as the ability to offer multiple channels on one frequency. All of VPR’s stations are now broadcasting in HD.

VPR made its biggest programming change ever on October 1, 2007. After 30 years of broadcasting a mixed program format of news and classical music, VPR split its programming into two distinct services, one for news, information and public affairs, and one for classical music, providing listeners more options for listening.

VPR News now broadcasts news and information programming throughout the day. In 2007, just prior to the program change, VPR launched Vermont Edition, its first-ever daily news magazine, at noon. Vermont Edition is an hour-long program hosted by Jane Lindholm and Bob Kinzel, and features interviews, listener call-ins, audio postcards and other features. The program celebrated its 10th anniversary as a daily show in 2017 and has become appointment listening for thousands of people across the region.

VPR Classical provides listeners with an array of classical music chosen to reflect the cultural and classical music scene in our region. VPR Classical’s signal has gradually expanded to reach more Vermonters, with the addition of a station in Burlington in 2007, stations in Middlebury and Randolph in 2010, a Rutland station in 2011, a Brattleboro station in 2012, a Montpelier station in 2013, and a station serving the Stowe/Waterbury area in 2017. VPR Classical now reaches the majority of the state’s population.

VPR’s digital audience is stronger than ever, many of whom stream VPR News and VPR Classical via and the VPR apps, as well as via iTunes, NPR One, and other streaming services.

In 2017, VPR completed the $10M VPR Next Capital Campaign that made possible the expansion and renovation of VPR’s headquarters as well as a $2M Innovation Fund to launch new initiatives and respond to changes in the media landscape.

We are currently in the midst of transformative changes in technology, media, journalism and communication. VPR embarked on a strategic plan in 2016 that was grounded in the belief that the best ideas can come from anywhere – including listeners, staff, and experts in and out of media. The plan, intended to be dynamic, will continue to evolve through people’s engagement with it. The vision of “exploring the whole Vermont story, together” stretches VPR to reflect the diversity of ideas, experiences, and aspirations – the stories – that shape our community. The plan also provides the guardrails for VPR to strengthen through focus and alignment, balancing our ambitions to provide the best service to our audiences with long-term sustainability and prudence so that we can ensure an exciting, vibrant, and substantial future for VPR in service to our community.