2010-03-18 / Front Page

Radio Station Turnover:


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Classical Coming; Country Is Here

By Sandy Vondrasek

"Real Country" is back in Randolph—as of last Friday—and VPR Classical will arrive on local radio waves by early summer.

Vermont-based Vox AM/FM, LLC, which purchased several Vermont stations from media giant Clear Channel in August, 2008, is in the process of selling off its two Randolph radio stations—WCVR-FM and WTSJ-AM.

The AM station (1320 kHz), plus the Route 66 land, radio station, and small tower, are being purchased by Koor Communications, which already owns and operates four "small market" stations in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Although Federal Communications Commission approval of the license transfer is still about 90 days away, Koor started broadcasting this past weekend, thanks to an interim agreement, according to Ken Barlow, one of Vox’s owners.

Vermont Public Radio is buying WCVR-FM (102.1 MHz), and plans to broadcast its classical programming on the frequency, VPR President Robin Turnau told The Herald this week.

"We’re tremendously excited about the idea of adding WCVR to VPR Classical’s line-up," Turnau said. "A wide swath of the Central Vermont area has been without classical programming from VPR for about two-and-a-half years," she noted.

That is when Vermont Public Radio began broadcasting two, simultaneous programs, one with mostly news and talk shows, along with some jazz and folk music programs, and another that focuses exclusively on classical music programming.

The WCVR signal is "pretty strong," Turnau noted, and "reaches from Barre to Woodstock and from the spine of the Green Mountains to the Connecticut River Valley.

"It really sews in a whole area not served by VPR Classical, but that is well-served by VPR," Turnau said.

VPR will wait until FCC approval before broadcasting at 102.1, Turnau said, and will probably keep the WCVR call letters.

VPR will pay $435,000 to buy the FM station, plus antenna space on the Rand Road tower in Randolph Center, and a signal-boosting "translator" in Hanover, N.H., according to Vox’s Ken Barlow.

Barlow noted that 102.1 FM has been intermittently off the air, in recent weeks, due to transmitter problems. Vox will continue to broadcast "Classic Rock," as able, until the VPR takeover of the station, he said.

Barlow noted that Vox, which operates "Star 92.9," "Champ 101.3," and two other stations, never intended to keep the Randolph stations, when it bought a cluster of stations from Clear Channel for $11-million in August, 2008.

Great Eastern Radio had signed a purchase agreement with Vox to buy both the Randolph AM and FM stations in September, 2008. However, Great Eastern, which had been running the station via an interim agreement since then, "never closed" the deal, Barlow said.

"We had to take them back," he said of the Randolph stations. Koor is buying the AM frequency and Randolph property for $77,000, Barlow said.

Local Programming

Barlow said he believes that Koor Communications—which has successfully brought small-market" radio to Springfield, Vt., Sunapee, N.H., and other towns, "will be much better for the (Randolph) station."

Radio veteran and Koor partner Ray Kimball, who is now managing WTSJ, hit the ground running last Friday, when Koor started broadcasting on 1320 on the AM dial.

Kimball told The Herald this week that he and his wife turned around Springfield’s AM station, which was "in the same exact situation" as the Randolph AM station, when Koor took it on, just three years ago.

The Springfield station—once local—had languished after being taken over by a larger company that "just had programming plugged in from out of the area—it was like a jukebox or a robot, with no local flair at all," he said.

Bringing back a local focus brought the station back to life, Kimball said.

He plans a similar strategy for WTSJ, which will intersperse local news and interviews into its syndicated "Real Country" music programming. "Real Country" is a 24-hour format produced by Citadel Media that emphasizes classic country—Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and the like.

Kimball, an eighth-generation Vermonter "from around Berlin Pond," said he remembers listening to Real Country on WCVR, when he was a kid, visiting his grandfather, Burton Spooner, in Randolph Center.

Kimball himself will run his own morning talk show weekdays, 6-9 a.m. on "Randolph Real Country 1320."

"What it is all about is community," Kimball said of his programming plans.

Is Vermont seeing a resurgence of local radio?

"People didn’t kill the idea of listening to AM radio," Kimball said. "The industry killed it; big corporations killed it.

"If you give listeners something to listen to and it’s local—they’ll do it," Kimball said. "They do it in Springfield."

And, Kimball promised, listeners will always find, 24 hours a day, a real person at the Randolph Real Country 1320 little radio station on Route 66.


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