Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
March 28, 2023

Radio Catskill 90.5 FM WJFF

Radio Catskill 90.5 FM WJFF
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Radio Catskill hit the airwaves in 1990 and operated out of a hydro-powered station in Jeffersonville. But when a building was recently offered in nearby Liberty, WJFF shed its 30-year skin and relocated to the now fully-renovated, modern production facility. Technological advances aside, this small public radio station is still very much focused on local news and Catskills culture.

Many thanks to our sponsors:

Briars & Brambles Books

The Mountain Eagle

Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway



--- Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/kaatscast/support


Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via https://otter.ai

Jason Dole  0:01  
It's time for our local news roundup with "The River Reporter." For that, we turn to Liam Mayo with "River Reporter." Welcome back to the show.

Brett Barry  0:08  
This week, we visit WJFF (Radio Catskill) at their new studio in Liberty, New York, just down the road from the original location in Jeffersonville, where WJFF got its name in 1990. If you're a longtime subscriber to local media and have a superhuman memory, you might remember an article I wrote for the Catskill Mountain News when WJFF was still new to the airwaves. I remember listening to a new Cranberries CD on the drive to that interview, so that puts us at 1995? Well, yes, thanks to an old file of clippings. I dug out of the attic. I can confirm the publication of that article on August 16, 1995. If you saved your old Catskill Mountain News subscription, check out section B...front page, baby. 28 years later, my CDs don't get much play time anymore. The Catskill Mountain News is just a memory, although it's then editor Diane Galusha remains a good friend and Radio Catskill...well, it's still going strong in the Catskills, Sullivan County, so don't touch that dial.

And if you're looking for a local paper that's printing in 2023, might we suggest the Mountain Eagle. Covering Delaware, Greene, and Schoharie counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham Weekly, Schoharie News, and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email: mountaineaglenews@gmail.com. Kaatscast is supported by Briars & Brambles Books. The go to independent book and gift store in the Catskills, located in Windham, New York, right next to the pharmacy, just steps away from the Windham Path. Open daily. For more information, visit briarsandbramblesbooks.com or call 518-750-8599, and by the 52-mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway; following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the Central Catskills. For maps, itineraries, and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations, visit sceniccatskills.com.

When I wrote about WJFF in 1995, it was the nation's only hydropowered radio station, using electricity generated by turbines in station founder, Malcom Brown's Lake Jefferson home.

Jason Dole  2:47  
Malcom Brown, educated man came from Academia, specializing in philosophy and in Greek like the language. So that gives you an idea of where his mind was at. The other thing that could tell you where his mind was at is, I remember the first times I was meeting him and talking to him, and somebody that knew him longer said, you know, you have a good conversation with Malcom, Malcom Brown. I said, yeah, and he said, "You know, you won't see him for another couple years, and when you do, he'll pick that conversation back up right where you left off," and they were totally right. It was the same thing like you might not see Malcom for six months, you might not see him for a couple years, but when he did, he just picked right up where he left off. So, very sharp guy, also a charismatic character...and he...what...around the time of our 25th anniversary, I look at the history of the station and I learned that it was his kind of charisma and ability to get people moving and doing things and work with different types of folks. That is what led the community to really build this community radio station, and he did it to me when I first joined to. I'm Jason Dole, and I'm the program director here at Radio Catskill. I'm also the host of the daily local news talk program that we call "The Local Edition." Four nights a week. I'm on that. Yeah. Welcome to "The Local Edition." News and information keeping you connected in the Catskills, Northeast Pennsylvania.

I'm your host, Jason Dole. It's changed a lot over the entire history of the station when the station first went on air, which was before my time. They in the very first few weeks, the station actually would go off air after "All Things Considered" in the evening and then sign off...and then the folks down in D.C. in the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) heard that say no...no...no...no, you...you have to be on until at least midnight. So a lot of folks started new shows real quick in those first few weeks and that did lay a template for a while that there was this mix of national news and local music programs, local talk programs. When I was hired in 2014, I was given the director to increase the amount of local content specifically local talk programming, local news and information...and so we've been working hard on that. I'm trying to do what I could to increase the diversity of the folks who are making the programming, whether that's a racial or gender diversity. We were working on that...and you know, the station was around for 30 years before we got any kind of a daily talk show and we're now at the point where we have local news on seven days a week between the headlines that "The River Reporter" produces for us on the weekend...and the Saturday morning talk show, "Radio Chatskill," and five nights a week here. During the week, we've got "The Local Edition" with Patricio and myself, so that's...that's a hugely forward. News and information...we're keeping you connected in the Catskills, Northeast Pennsylvania only here on Radio Catskill. Listen local, on-air, online at wjffradio.org on your smartphone or your smart device.

Tim Bruno  5:48  
I'm Tim Bruno, I'm the general manager of Radio Catskill, here in Liberty, New York.

You know, manage the day-to-day and strategy and also do a lot of other things as general manager at a small radio station in Upstate New York. I think that over the years, we had been a station that had tried to be everything to everybody...and that was fine...and now with the onslaught of technology and internet, you can get anything you want anywhere. So what's our differentiator for our listener and the one thing that we realize how we can be different and what can be the value proposition to use the corporate speak is that we're local and we're, you know, we were covering local news and we're trying to cover hyperlocal news, you know, the...just got off the phone with some folks at the Central Catskills Collaborative and they're talking about their Scenic Byway in Margaretville...and, you know, we also, you know, cover off with our local representatives and sort of the political side of things and so we really tried to focus on things that are just very, very local in terms of local news, but then also like local music and other programming that you're not going to find anywhere else...and, you know, someone said once to me like, oh, we can get this stuff anywhere and like...well, yeah, you could get "Morning Edition" somewhere else and you could get "All Things Considered" somewhere else, but you can't get these original produced music shows and you can't get our local reporting and so that makes us different and the way to grow.

Rosie Starr  7:13  
This is Rosie Starr for Radio Catskill. Welcome to "Farm and Country," locally produced radio about rural life in the Catskills and the Delaware River Valley. On today's show...

Jason Dole  7:27  
The local talk shows I like all of our local talk hosts people that have conversations. "Farm and Country" is phenomenal Catskill character, which is kind of personal profiles and conversations...things like that. What we do with "The Local Edition" and "Radio Chatskill," and then for like the local music shows, I mean, we've got some like longtime and legendary hosts like John Gordon and "Ramble Tamble," who isn't just a DJ, he's a storyteller. It's just like this old time one of a kind thing you can't get anywhere else and I have to also shout out to Kusar Grace. Mr. Kusar Grace and "Music Emporium," he was similarly tell stories, and also spins a mix of music that when you can't describe what the mix is, that's when you know, it's good. That's when it beats like any algorithm from any app that you could find this guy comes in. Is he playing jazz? Is he playing rock? Is he playing fusion? Yeah, yeah, he's played all that. It's great. So, yeah, those are some of my favorites. Of course, there's...there's lots of...lots of great producers and lots of great volunteers here doing great shows. "Rare Pear Radio," eight o'clock on Fridays is phenomenal as well.

Patricio Robayo  8:33  
My name is Patricio Robayo. I'm the multimedia content producer for Radio Catskill.

I was born and raised in the Bronx. I was it for 35 years used to go up to the Catskills every weekend. My father had a country house up here. It's where actually moved to why I shall live now. I got married and we used to come up here on the weekends and we talked about the fantasy of...hey, we should...we should move to the country one day. That was a big change of not everything's close. Everything's 15 minutes and a half hour away...and you really secluded and that really took a while to get...get used to, but I love it...have family here now I have my daughter here. So she's going to be raised here in the country. It's a different pace and I've never heard of Radio Catskill. I just moved up from the city and I was like, wow, this is cool. There's a radio station up here...and as a public radio station up here, I remember getting into the car and driving and something was telling me that, you know, I should volunteer. I can tell my wife so to tell me, I should volunteer something...you should tell me, I should volunteer...and she goes do it. So I started volunteering my time as far as social media helping out with some posts getting this desktop ready...and then when I decided to leave my job in the city, I was in real estate and freelance photojournalist. I got a job here at the station in Jeffersonville, helping you out in the office part time. I eventually got a job at the Sullivan County Democrat as a staff reporter and photographers. I worked there for a couple of years, but I still continued to volunteer...came the pandemic...everything's sort of switched around, and I was asked if I wanted to come on board here at the station as a producer, producing news and public affairs show...and I was like, yeah, and I still continue to do the social media. I help out with the website maintenance, but my main thing is...is producing content for the show, and during the pandemic, the radio station really shifted and changed. We were all home. I remember vividly we were all home. It was scary situation, but it was awesome to turn on the radio and have a familiar voice like Jason on the...on the radio and him make a connection to the community. Here be ensealed a casket, especially where I lived in Mountaindale is very rural, separate, I don't see my neighbors. So you really felt...I really felt like alone. WJFF at that time was still is to me is sort of that beacon of like my connection to the community. Welcome back to "The Local Edition." News and information to keep you connected in the Catskills and Northeast Pennsylvania. I'm your host for this Friday, CCO Robayo.

Tim Bruno  11:03  
We tried to bring guests in or on the phone. Patricio does a great job of being out there locally, the way that we've been trying to cover more local is partnering with those local newspapers. So we have regular appearances by the Sullivan County Democrat and "The River Reporter," those are the two local papers. Every week, they have an appearance on...on air, we have a show called "The Local Edition," which is every weekday at 6:30pm, right after "All Things Considered" to focus on those local stories, so they have a regular spot. We also feature Shawangunk Journal and Times Union (by weekly times), you need to start at a Hudson Valley Bureau, which sort of covers off parts of our region, too. So again, try to partner with those folks to bring that information in when we don't have the bodies necessarily to get out there, but we try to scramble to do as much as we can.

Brett Barry  11:48  
Juggling local news, National Public Radio feeds, and volunteer produced shows is no small task...and I asked program director, Jason Dole, what the job of program directing entails.

Jason Dole  12:02  
You familiar with cats, you ever try hurting them? That's a big part of it. Volunteers we have right now it's a Friday when we have to be talking and I have about three dozen shows I have to make sure get on the radio. Most of those are local shows that we have that, you know, coming from all different sources, we have volunteer producers, people that don't get paid to do this, making their shows at home, coming into the radio station to make them hear everybody has a different set of abilities, a different set of needs requirements...and then anything can happen at any given moment...and that's just working with our own volunteer producers...and there's also working with the national programming...and then there's working with the technological side of it, which is, you know, it's entropy, the universe is continually falling apart. So it's not a question of, if something will go wrong, it's a question of when and then when it does, you got to, you know, wake up at six in the morning, or stay up until two or whatever it is to fix it. So you're on call 24/7...and then when you're actually in the building during regular work time like anything can happen, I could be trying to produce a news piece or I could be training a new volunteer like I could be doing anything at any moment. Small station, big ambitions, very small staff, so we all wear many hats.

Brett Barry  13:20  
And radio these days isn't even just radio, Patricio explains.

Patricio Robayo  13:26  
We're new into TikTok. So we did a TechTok. I converted a new start we did with a doctor from Garnet Health, about the dangers of snowplowing.

Doctor  13:35  
They turn off the machine and think that it's safe to stick their hand in there, but if it's clogged, even if you turn it off, there is built up tension, and when you unclear it, it's going to suddenly move and if your hand is down there, it'll grab it.

Patricio Robayo  13:46  
Losing your arm...having a heart attack, so I put that into a limited package...and while, yeah, it aired. It was great interviews on the podcast is great, but now, we have another adding to get that information out and people respond to that. So I see people are saving it. People are sharing it, and people are responding. So what that happened to my uncle, my own brother and so it's building a whole new audience there, and if you have a show and it's out there sometimes and you have a live...I feel that then it gets lost in the either and how many people were listening live and that's I'm glad we also have a podcast to give that people that option.

Brett Barry  14:16  
Whether you're listening to a WJFF podcast or tuned in live on 90.5 FM or streaming on wjffradio.org...all that content is coming out of WJFF's new studio space in Liberty, New York.

Tim Bruno  14:32  
We were donated this property about six or seven years ago by Barbara Martinsons. It used to be the Catskill Harvest Market. It was like a farmstand, but had other things as well...kind of a bigger than a farmstand...I guess on the roadside farmstand, but more of a kind of country store...and she donated the property to us that include this building and about 14 acres...and the board kind of struggled with what to do with it for a couple of years. Folks in the community were very tied to the location because it was is built by volunteers. It had outrun it's sort of usefulness I guess, and terms of being a 30-year-old structure.

Patricio Robayo  15:09  
While they also do had great character and it was, you know, great history there, it was hydropower at one point, you know, doing your broadcasts, you know, especially on a hot summer day, you want to have the air conditioner on, you can have the air conditioner on in the room. So you have to open up the windows, but then you hear the goats. The person next door is children playing and that sometimes creep on the air, so that, you know, that's...that's the little character to it, but it wasn't a proper radio station...and things were just sort of...sort of falling apart...and when he gave his option of coming here to the studio, and I'm just blown away by what it is we have these beautiful boards now digital boards, a new system that runs our station, we have an actual studio with public radio station. Okay, we have a new studio, let's get to work. You know, they...I feel like excited that...that just the possibilities.

Brett Barry  15:55  
General Manager Tim Bruno showed off the new space, including a community room, soundproof studios, and the brains of the operation...

Tim Bruno  16:04  

Brett Barry  16:05  
The rack room.

Tim Bruno  16:06  
This room, behind lock and key is the brains of the operation. This is the rack room. You were on our location, you said...do you happen to remember where the equipment was? It was in like multiple locations, one of which was under a stairwell in front of a water heater. So it was just sort of jam packed in this building that hadn't been designed specifically for a radio station. This was specifically designed for a radio station, this room was an addition to the existing facility is probably the largest room...out of all of them. It is my engineer's dream because everything is organized and they can walk around and work from the back to repair anything...can see all the digital cables that are going up into the ceiling, there are the satellite receivers for all the information and shows we get via satellite, our servers or their internet phone, we've got comrex units here and my engineer can remote in to fix anything they need...that unit over there, that little cart that's black, is a UPS battery pack. So that will keep us on the air for about two hours should we go off...and this...this Sony receiver, an actual analog receiver, which is taking the off air signal just to make sure we're on the air. So why we're all digital, that's kind of one of the more important pieces of equipment to...to make sure that we're listening and hearing that we're...we're actually on.

You know, by being small, you can be more nimble, and there aren't a lot of layers...and we've got folks that really are invested in the station and the mission, people are more than willing mostly to kind of get out there and get it done. I worked in corporate media for a while. So there's just less layers to go through less approvals less. Is this meeting the...the...the sales needs or the demographic needs versus like, hey, we know this fits our community. Let's do this. Let's get it on the air. You know, I see people that listen to us in the supermarket and they tell me how much they like it. I went to a meeting last night for the Chamber of Commerce in Jeffersonville, and somebody's like, oh, we listened to you all the time. I'm like great. Call me tomorrow, we'll get your...your announcement on the air. It's just there's this sense of community...and, you know, for me, I really enjoyed some of the jobs that I had. But I get more fulfillment out of here because I can see the direct result of it and I'm doing it for somebody like that I know in the grocery store versus for the sales rep or the president or the stakeholder.

Patricio Robayo  18:47  
I love local news, you know, things that happen nationally, but what's happening at the town board, it affects us so much more. Our school taxes, our property taxes, local laws, all these things that do actually affect people...and so my goal is always to get great information to people get the correct information, make sure it's verified...and to be that...that...that show for people that where they can get information for the town.

Jason Dole  19:13  
Got to support local journalism, got to support nonprofit public media. All the nonprofits that make our lives worthwhile up here in the mountains can't do what they do without the support of people, but journalism, especially whether it's commercial or non-commercial, like we all have to stick together to keep a healthy news and information environment for the communities in our area...and so far we're doing it, you know, what? I'm one of the very few people who have been involved with organization on a regular basis, who grew up in the area. There's a lot of folks in Sullivan County and in the Catskills that come from other...other places. I just happen to have grown up here. I have family that goes back generations here. So I grew up in Roscoe, New York, known as Trout Town USA, big on the fishing, getting up into the foothills of the Catskills, bordering Delaware County and it's...it means a lot to me to be able to serve the places and the back roads and back streams and I grew up in by making radio. I love the Catskills and I love that. There are fantastic mysteries hidden among these hills and valleys, both natural and manmade and the people themselves so it's a phenomenal place and I really dig being able to talk about it.

Brett Barry  20:29  
If you're in WJFF's broadcast radius, tune in at 90.5 FM, and if the mountains get in the way of that radio signal, you can always stream live at wjffradio.org. Thanks to everyone who entered our drawing for a bear whistle following our last episode on black bears. Here's our production intern...

Jerome Kazlauskas  20:49  
Jerome Kazlauskas

Brett Barry  20:52  
...to select the winner.

Jerome Kazlauskas  20:53  
And the winner is...Douglas Black!

Brett Barry  21:01  
Thanks J.K. and congratulations to Douglas. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit us anytime at kaatscast.com. I'm Brett Barry. We'll see you next time.