Air time with Elihu Upham

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

Leaning back in his office chair inside a tranquil space on the third floor of the former Maine Difference, Elihu Upham is reaching out to a worldwide audience.

There is no giant satellite dish or spider-web like antenna perched atop of the Main Street building. Peering out a side window, Upham can see

BEHIND THE MICROPHONE — Elihu Upham airs his unique show, “Keeping Up with Upham,” across the world via Internet radio at www.wuphradio.com. Upham has a studio located on the third floor of the former Maine Difference building on Main Street in Bridgton. The station plays a wide array of music, most of which was created by area musicians. (Rivet Photo)

Highland Lake as he talks about a wide spectrum of topics from “living green” to interviewing authors and national celebrities. As a “registered” talk show host based on his air experience (over 1,500 interviews), Upham has interviewed the likes of Joan Lunden, John Travolta and national motorcycle reviewer Carol King.

Bridgton is home to Upham’s Internet radio station — www.wuphradio.com — which may be a well-kept secret right now, but a project on the cusp of a major promotional effort.

“The station is up, alive and well,” said Upham, who moved the station from the Wales & Hamblen building in January to its new location “at the other end of Main Street.” “We’ve created a very unique platform. We have listeners here to Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and other places across the world.”

Presently, the station draws about 250 listeners per day (as tracked on the station’s web server), but with several promotional events scheduled for 2011, Upham hopes to push that number to the 1,500 range. The station presently offers music and talk shows from 6 a.m. to midnight, but is scheduled to expand to 24 hours within six months. Upham plans to add to the line-up a children’s show featuring local storyteller David Neufeld, as well as two specialty programs focusing on cooking and fine beverages.

“We can do whatever we want on the Internet, but we want to be family-oriented,” Upham said. “The whole idea of the station is to help people. We offer musicians an outlet to get their music out there. If you are looking for good entertainment, no swearing (if some topics could result in the use of certain language, we will tell people ahead of time about the content as a warning) and unique music, this is the station for you.”

On the radio station’s website, Upham says, “WUPH is committed to bringing you the best in talk radio, the best in unique music, and the best in alternative thinking….Left, right or center, it doesn’t matter what their political point of view is. What matters to us is hearing their story the way they want to tell it.”

The station carries a wide range of music provided by local talent, as well as original programming including Upham’s talk show, “Keeping Up with Upham,” which airs daily from 6 to 7:30 a.m. and again from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The host describes his approach as “quirky at times, a little off balance, but it’s fun.”

“I let the cosmos take care of what people want to talk about or hear about,” he said. “People have great ideas, if you listen. We don’t surprise people we interview. We want to hear what they have to say. We don’t ambush people. We don’t ask questions that might embarrass them. We’re not shock radio. We want people — from the common man to celebrities — to tell their stories that move and change our world. Things people aren’t aware of.”

Even his 90-year-old dad is involved. According to the radio station’s website, “the Olda Fella brings his nine decades of wisdom to the show.”

“He is referred to as the ‘Olda Fella,’ and he talks about subjects such as elder abuse and other elderly matters,” Upham said.

Internet radio is music streamed on the World Wide Web. Presently, there are 16,000 Internet radio stations — the first surfacing in November 1994 from Chapel Hill, N.C. Its popularity is growing at a rapid rate. In an Arbitron survey in April 2008, one in seven Americans aged 25-54 reported listening to online radio each week. Media specialists projected the number of people tuning in to Internet radio would grow 200% to 147.5 million by 2010.

Elihu Upham is ready to ride that wave, and see just how far it takes him.

“I’ve always been willing to take chances,” he said.

Upham’s life has been one big adventure. He worked as a builder for 35 years. He spent some time as a fisherman, crabbing off Chesapeake Bay. There was a stint as a welder, working aboard an aircraft carrier and the Nantucket light ship (a ship, which acts as a lighthouse. They are used in waters that are too deep or otherwise unsuitable for lighthouse construction). He even spent time as an embalmer at a Portland funeral home.

Beginning in his teens, Upham traveled the country, living in his Volkswagen van.

“I would stop at a job site and ask, ‘Can you use me?’ Some said yes, and I would work to make money for food, drink and fishing. It was a neat time to grow up. I loved the experience,” he recalled. “Traveling around the country and doing a lot of things, it gave me a chance to become very well-rounded. I also became very comfortable with talking with the ‘low-low’ of society to the so-called ‘very important.’ I don’t get scared or intimidated talking to anyone.”

His ability to speak clearly and distinctly led Upham to WLOB, a talk radio show in Portland. Contemplating a run at a legislative seat, Upham reported from the state house.

“I wanted to know what was going on up there, so I spent a couple of years observing and putting in my two cents worth,” he said. “I found out, it wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I did learn that talking on the radio was something I had an interest in.”

Being a Navy veteran and whose father fought in World War II, Upham was asked to produce a veterans report. He agreed. Since “talk” seemed to be Upham’s forte and he lived in a “green home” in Denmark, the station suggested a different slant — a show about living green. “Keeping Up with Upham” was born.

“It took off,” he said. “It isn’t a political show, but more of a ‘Northern Exposure’ feel to it.”

As time passed, Upham felt the show really didn’t fit WLOB’s mix. He moved on to WJZF, a community radio station in Standish. Again, the fit just wasn’t right.

“I was unable to advertise the way I wanted to because of it being community radio, nonprofit,” he said.

Staring at what appeared to be limited options, Upham was intrigued by an idea posed by his partner and tech specialist, Jeff Thompson.

“Jeff said, ‘Let’s build a station.’ So, last summer (June), we started to build a station — WUPH,” Upham said.

Relying on Thompson’s expertise in developing a computer program to run the station, Upham spent time working on programs, sponsors and finding a location for the radio station. He targeted Bridgton as the radio station’s home because “I do my commerce in Bridgton, so I wanted to do my work here.”

Along with the radio station, Upham also operates a film company, Two Lab Productions (named after his dogs). In the upcoming months, Upham plans to develop a documentary examining the loss of Maine’s industrial base. He also plans to ride his motorcycle across the country and beyond over a six-month period, broadcasting along the way while also charting his adventure on the radio station’s website.

The beauty of Internet radio is that one can take the show on the road and broadcast from anywhere Upham can connect to a Wi-Fi network. This past winter, Upham hosted a “live” broadcast during Christmas in Harrison festivities.

“I simply parked the radio trailer across the street from the library and connected to the library’s Wi-Fi,” he said. “I hope to do more local events. I just need to hear from people that they would like me there.”

Getting the word out is Upham’s biggest challenge. He hopes that a great presence at Lake Region events will put WUPH on the map or, at the very least, create some curiosity amongst residents to search out the station on the Internet. Upham is also developing a Wikipedia page, and hopes to improve the station’s positioning on various Internet search engines.

“People don’t know what we are yet, but in time, they will. We’ve spent a lot of time and money to create something that is mobile, that is state of the art, and something that is one of a kind,” he said. “We have programming that no one else has.”

Now, all Elihu Upham needs to do is to talk a good game, and get the word out — a challenge he looks forward to tackling.

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