NCPR celebrates 50 years

North Country Public Radio Station Manager Ellen Rocco and reporter David Sommerstein pose at the station’s 50th anniversary festival at Asgaard Farm & Dairy in AuSable Forks Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

AuSABLE FORKS — The celebration was a treat for folks who hear their voices every day on the radio but have never seen their faces.

Brian Mann directed traffic, David Sommerstein checked IDs for the beer vendors, and Lauren Rosenthal handed out raffle tickets. It was as if an FM veil had been lifted.

“I tell people, ‘Don’t believe what you see,'” said Ellen Rocco, North Country Public Radio station manager. “I really am 20 years old, blonde and absolutely gorgeous.”

NCPR celebrated its 50th anniversary Saturday with a festival at Asgaard Farm & Dairy. There were North Country artisans and food vendors, games such as Cornhole and Kan Jam, local India pale ales and hefeweizens, and live music from the Gibson Brothers and other bluegrass groups.

When asked what 50 years meant, Rocco let out a laugh and thought back to all the progress NCPR has made since forming at St. Lawrence University in 1968.

Homegrown bluegrass band the Gibson Brothers, originally from Ellenburg Depot, play for a crowd of people at the North Country Public Radio’s 50th anniversary festival at Asgaard Farm & Dairy in AuSable Forks Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

“It means we’ve come from being one single little station reaching barely all of St. Lawrence County to being a network of 34 transmitters reaching a third of New York state, plus parts of northwest Vermont and parts of southeastern Ontario,” she said. “We run an award-winning news department. We have projects like North Country at Work that are getting national attention and support. We’ve really put a kind of footprint on the place, and it’s been an incredible honor to bring the voices of this community to each other and to the world.

“It’s like every time you get up to the microphone, it’s like a leap of faith,” she said. “You could just be talking to yourself. So coming to an event like this is, like, ‘Oh wait, no, we actually are part of a group of people who are not just listeners but engaged as we are in the life of the community.'”

Jackie Sauter is the director of content at NCPR, so pretty much anything you hear on the radio or read on their website, she gave it the OK. She’s worked for the station since the early ’70s, and at that time, Sauter said, local radio was that big.

“We were one of the charter member stations for National Public Radio,” she said, “and so in the early years, a lot of it was educating people about what public radio is. That it’s non-commercial, that it doesn’t editorialize, that it’s not biased, that it’s fact-based journalism and that we are accessible and responsive to people who live in our community. We’ve always tried to emphasize the regional connection in everything we do whether that’s celebrating local events in all of our communities or our emphasis on regional news stories or including local music in all of our celebrations as well as on air. It’s all about where we live.”

Sauter continued, saying 50 years is a big milestone for the station.

“We wanted to have a party to celebrate and say thank you to all of our listeners and supporters,” she said. “I think one of the nicest things about this event is the beautiful location here at Asgaard Farm, and all of the vendors and food suppliers are local in one way or another. So we’re celebrating all things local today including local public radio.”

Sommerstein has been a reporter with NCPR for 18 years. Despite being a member of a successful radio station, he admits there are some difficulties facing the world of journalism today, yet remains optimistic toward the next generation of reporters, writers, investigators and DJs.

“Local news is getting less and less frequent,” he said. “You know, journalism at all levels is really struggling to keep people in city council and town council meetings, keep people going to county legislatures to keep people at the courts and holding government accountable, holding politicians accountable. By us having this news department and other great news outlets like the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Glens Falls Post-Star, Watertown Daily Times that we work with, we’re able to take this rural area that does not get a lot of attention and bring that fourth estate accountability in New York [City] or D.C., but we can bring those issues and quality of journalism to this region and then bring those ideas to the national audiences.”