PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth Community Radio is seeking a new broadcasting location due to a lack of heat and other building health and safety issues at its Islington Street station.
106.1 WSCA, the nonprofit, volunteer city radio station on the airwaves since 2004, is in the midst of discussing with a few city property owners a possible permanent relocation.
Nicole Seaward, WSCA’s president and the chairperson of its board of trustees, said the building has been without heat and central air since August, recently forcing one disc jockey to quit and a number of programs to postpone shows because of the cold. However, the principal of the company which owns the 909 Islington Street building that houses the station, says heating fixes could soon be on their way and that he hopes WSCA will stay.
“It’s unacceptable working conditions,” said Seaward, who noted the property manager has repeatedly said a heating system is coming. “It’s easy to shut us down because we’re a nonprofit. Maybe they don’t think we have the ability to do anything about it but I think they’ve taken that for granted too long, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re ready to go. We don’t want to shame anybody but we are dying on the branch, if you will.”
'What's not to like?': 'Greg & The Morning Buzz' moving after years in Portsmouth
Owned by 909 Islington Street LLC, Seaward says the building’s property manager, not the direct owner, has communicated with her over the last several months about tending to various building issues, which include mold, ceiling tiles and insulation falling through and vermin feces, but the problems have not been solved.
She also claimed there is no hot running water in the building and that the water is unsafe to drink because it’s yellow, resulting in volunteers consuming only bottled water. She reported furthermore that there is very little water pressure, adding that toilets can’t be flushed and are clogging easily.
A 15-year veteran of the station, Seaward adamantly stated that Portsmouth Community Radio will not shut down despite the position it finds itself in. It may just be time for a move.
“We’re not going to shut down. I’m just too passionate about it to let it stop and I’m sure that we will make it through this challenge if we have a lot of dedicated, passionate people in our corner,” she said.
WSCA DJ and board of trustee: 'We can't afford for this to happen'
There are 23 programs listed on WSCA’s website but with some calling out due to the chilly temperatures inside, an automatic, 24-hour deejay is sometimes used to fill in the gaps. On-air programs range from rock n’ roll, indie rock, jazz, blues, folk and metal, as well as local and regional news, talk shows, comedy and more.
Courtney Daniel, host of WSCA’s “Soul Sessions” show and a board of trustees member, said she was layering in a coat, hat and gloves inside the studio for her program until she recently decided to stop going in because of the “unbearable” lack of heat.
At WSCA, because of the conditions and the pandemic, live shows on the station’s small stage, movie screenings, podcast productions and other “revenue generators” are on hold, which already limits money coming in.
“We have thousands of dollars worth of equipment which has to be maintained at a certain temperature or else it could run the risk of being damaged. We can’t afford for this to happen,” Daniel stated.
"Each week I look forward to chatting with listeners, playing great music and connecting with the community," she continued. "We’re all volunteers and when our working space has been compromised by vermin, mold, little to no water pressure to use the restroom and burning hot or freezing (temperatures), you have to make a (decision). We shouldn’t have to choose."
Utilizing a handful of space heaters, some program hosts have continued broadcasting despite the recently frigid temperatures, though others are calling out. This week, Seaward said that a deal between WSCA and a client contracted to record a ten-episode podcast inside of the station fell through because of the chilly interior.
'Evolving new city': Massive development to transform Portsmouth's North End
Seaward said a city building inspection of the space took place last Thursday, Jan. 13 and the interior temperature was roughly 45 degrees.
When she stepped into the building earlier last week from an outside temperature of around 20 degrees, Seaward said the inside of WSCA felt no warmer.
“I’m super grateful that our deejays have continued to show up,” she said.
Building owner principal says heating is on its way, wants WSCA to stay
King Weinstein, the principal of 909 Islington Street LLC and broker with King Real Estate, said that a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system could be shipped this week or next “at the latest” but would require a crane system to put it in place on the building’s rooftop.
The cross-country search to find an HVAC system was elongated because of the pandemic, staffing shortages and a lack of metal. Weinstein said the vendor supplying the system told him that right now there are six-month wait periods for HVACs.
“We finally located it and we have to get a huge crane,” Weinstein said.
Public property records kept by the city show that 909 Islington Street, last assessed at $2.645 million, was sold to Weinstein’s company in July 2004 for $1.3 million. The one-story brick building, which spans 36,370 square feet in its entirety, was built in 1910.
Though it also has an office on Brewery Lane, King Real Estate’s Old Orchard Beach office is the same address listed as the Islington Street building LLC’s location.
Seaward said all interactions that she's had with King Real Estate about the property are through a property manager and have not directly been with Weinstein.
Portsmouth Community Radio’s rent, Seaward said, is $1,500 a month for approximately 1,500 square feet of space. While acknowledging that the cleanliness of the space and some interior upkeep are up to the station's volunteers, she said the issues that impact WSCA's operations fall squarely on the property's owner.
“Every answer that we’ve gotten is, ‘We’ll fix it,’ and then it never gets done,” she said of her interactions with the property manager. “I’m kind of at a loss. I don’t want people to have to keep coming in like this.”
With the exception of reports of vermin in the building, which he said an exterminator was called in for, Weinstein said other maintenance issues were not brought to his attention. Countering Seaward, he said other issues within the interior of the WSCA station space are up to its inhabitants to oversee.
“We’re doing the best we can but we’re dealing with people out, COVID all over, trying to get equipment,” he said.
Weinstein added that WSCA’s work is “definitely a great public service.”
“We’d love for them to stay. They’ve been our tenant,” he said. “We’ve helped support (WSCA), we helped start it, we support them every month by subsidized rent.”
Before COVID-19 came into the picture, Seaward said WSCA was airing over 40 programs, a number that has dwindled as the pandemic has worn on. While she and other volunteers would like to see the station continue its life on the airwaves at its current location and are saddened by the building’s current state, Seaward said WSCA has come to the point where its life would best be extended at a new home.
“It’s not right,” she said of the building issues. “It’s black and white not right.”
WSCA's board of trustees will discuss the possibility of a permanent relocation at its meeting this week.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Portsmouth 106.1 WSCA radio seeks new broadcasting location