Sunday, December 30, 2007

Small-Town AM Radio lives on


Here's a cool New York Times article about an old-school AM 1000-watt radio station out on the East End of Long Island, WRIV - a station so hip, it doesn't even have it's own home page nor much of any kind of authorized presence on the Web! Whee! I found out about the story via a posting on the ever-lively New York Radio Message Board (the mecca of all Internet radio message boards) about "small-town stations" like this.

The posting refers to the ongoing debate at the NYRMB about such stations: are they viable anymore in this automated'n'consolidated era of radio? Are such stations just throwbacks, unprofitable labors of love, Don Quixote-like in their stubborn local focus, tiny ratings and aging audience?

The NYRMB debate mentioned is specifically about a local Nanuet station, WRCR 1300, of which I'm a fan; I especially like their Morning Drive Show, 6AM - 11AM weekdays with Steve Possell and Sophia Salis, who are both incredibly knowledgable and opinionated about Rockland County (what a concept! A broadcast station that cares a lot about its community!) I listen to them alot - OK, maybe not alot, sometimes - as I drive Route 59, doing errands and schlepping to work. Unfortunately, their signal bombs out shortly after I get onto the Palisades Parkway southbound.


Thinking about small-town stations very much brings me back to happy memories of my beloved hometown 500 watt AM station, Elizabeth New Jersey 's WJDM 1530. (Their swank headquarters, a floor up from the Woolworth's and Fabco Shoes on Broad Street and a half-a-block from the Union County Courthouse, can be seen above in a 70s/80s-era photo.) Sadly, this low-wattage-yet-lovable station is now gone, swallowed whole in a bewildering series of radio-biz moves: it first switched to the ill-fated Radio Aahs format in 1996, which got railroaded by Radio Disney, then it sorta morphed into WWRU, which is a Spanish station owned by Multicultural Radio Broadcasting that a) moved the JDM/RRU offices to Jersey City - or is it really 449 Broadway in Manhattan? - and b) moved its signal to the high-end-of-the-radio-dial frequency of 1660 with an increased signal of 10000 watts. Although the station is still called WJDM in Elizabeth? Is it the same Spanish-language programming heard on both 1530 and 1660? I can't quite figure it out... What I do know is that the local station, which played top 40 with a lot of local news, local talk and weather, is no longer with us.

Thanks to my mom, who worked at the courthouse at the time (for the Union County Board of Freeholders), I got to know WJDM's Dave Frankel, who also did news for the Elizabeth cable TV station that I volunteered at (Channel 12), and I got to hang out there a little bit - they had a Gates master control board that looked like this. They covered the Union County beat pretty well (again, what a concept - a station that cares about its local community). Also on the station for awhile was morning dj Art Rooney, who was better known as Looney Skip Rooney on the Uncle Floyd show, and for whom's Channel 12 black-and-white slapstick TV show I used to run a boom mike for...

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History of Westport Connecticut Radio said...

This is one of the few who have succeeded. Another example is WLNG in Sag Harbor. Though they abandoned their AM as they were offered money to make it go dark they are doing a tremendous job of super-serving their Eastern Long Island audience on FM. Unique programming for the times with a great focus on community makes them a winner in my book.

On the other hand, I engineered a little 1 kilowatt AM daytimer in Connecticut that wasn't as fortunate. It seemed no matter how hard they worked the owners could not manage as the economy too a nosedive. They ended up donating the station to a local university which now uses it as a satellite repeater. Does that really serve the community?

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