WOON explores the science of getting small


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Facility Showcase, Oct 2009

The new home of WOON

WOON-AM, serving Woonsocket, RI, near the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border, is focused on serving its local market. As part of its community presence, the station leased 2,000 square feet of office space on the first floor of an office building with big store-front windows. It occupied this space for almost 20 years. While the space was nice, it was not inexpensive, and parking was sometimes a problem. The building also changed hands between three landlords in two years, and with that came a 255 percent rent increase accompanied by new fees and assessments.

It was time to move.

The basement is utilized as the equipment room, which made for short cable runs.

The basement is utilized as the equipment room, which made for short cable runs.

I was lucky enough to see a cute little house on a corner lot of one of the busiest streets in town. What's more, there was already a two-room office in it with 14 parking spaces and a residential apartment upstairs. All we had to do was expand the commercial use to the whole first floor and a portion of the basement, make a four-room apartment into new studios, move in and start broadcasting from there. We needed to do it in 12 weeks and this would not be a turnkey operation. Business was off in the summer of 2008, cash was tight (and about to get tighter across the nation, though we didn't know it yet), so we'd be moving the same equipment we were using every day to the new location.

Our goal was to stay on the air with zero down time. No trouble. The difficult part? Squeezing the radio, TV and Internet operations and offices into less than 1,200 square feet on two levels without moving any load bearing walls.

A good neighbor

The upstairs portion of the house used to be an apartment. The kitchen was gutted for the main studio.

The upstairs portion of the house used to be an apartment. The kitchen was gutted for the main studio.

The new location required us to expand the commercial zoning use. When working with zoning issues, I cannot over emphasize the care that should be taken to communicate in a plain and honest way with your new neighbors. Most neighborhoods have one or two key residents who are very active and will ask a lot of questions. Give them all the time they want to help them feel good about your plans. Time invested here in engaging their support will reap dividends down the road as they talk to the other neighbors.

During construction, walls were built, as seen from this view from the former kitchen into the living room.

During construction, walls were built, as seen from this view from the former kitchen into the living room.

We have all heard and read about ugly NIMBY (not in my back yard) fights over the years. When we went to the zoning meeting, I had a plan that the residents were comfortable with because I answered every question before the meeting. As it turned out, only two attended and only one spoke. And that one spoke in favor or our proposal.

This method also served us well in a previous zoning issue when we moved our transmitter and tower into a neighborhood which never had one. While we sweated on the process, we put the time and care into each resident's concerns and addressed them all so well in both cases that we saved time and money in the long run. Trust and honesty are key in these situations. If they ask, “Will there be any interference on my phone, TV or radio?” Tell them the truth, that there may be, but follow up quickly with, “But government regulations require me to address every complaint of interference promptly and to install filters at my own expense if they are required.”

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