In Fulton County, on a stretch of semi-rural road off of a Route 30A that is unrecognizably developed compared to a generation ago, a small radio station doubles in practice as a living museum of broadcasting.
The station is independent, immunized from the ravages of the conglomeration/consolidation frenzy that hit the business post-1996. It is almost exclusively live and local.
The on-air crew to a person has decades of experience at the station. So does some of the studio equipment.
The station is apolitical, or at least non-partisan. The owner is proud of the fact the general public does not know his politics.
Most stunningly: It makes money, as in it’s profitable, as other stations shrink if not eliminate staff, or simply disappear.
Now WENT (1340 AM), which this past week completed the purchase of a translator station on the FM spectrum (105.1), is for sale.
Jack Scott, a former radio and television personality before he got into sales, bought the station in 1986. “The station then was what it is now — lots of local news, lots of community involvement,” he said. After partnering to pay $700,000 for the station, he thought of bailing a year later — “We were, as they say, leveraged” — but stuck it out after fortunes improved by the late 1980s.
Now 72, he wants to call it a career. Although it has not been reported, he has been shopping the station for a couple of years. Scott declined to reveal an asking price, or even a ballpark figure. But he has in mind the type of person he wants to take over.
“I’m ready to retire, but it’s not an emergency,” he said in his wood-paneled office. “The ideal buyer for the staff and the market is someone who will maintain the community service [and] keep it live for the most part,”
Scott said if a Clear Channel or some other corporate behemoth “offered me a boatload of money, I’d listen — but they won’t.” But he’s clearly concerned over the fate of the station and his staff after he’s gone.
“Emotionally, and because I’m not really a [mild vulgarity], that is a big problem,” Scott said. “I don’t want to see any of these people lose their jobs.”
In an era of satellite, syndication, consolidation, voice-tracking and downsizing, a local station that does 10 minutes or more of locally generated and produced news at the top of the hour is something out of a history book. The fact that much of the on-air staff has remained in place for decades in a transient medium is just another reason WENT is perhaps the only media outlet of its kind in the greater Capital Region.
“What I do and what the station does is an anomaly,” said Tom Roehl, the news and sports director who has won dozens of statewide and other broadcasting awards since arriving in 1984. “I’ve been treated fairly here. I like being my own editor, with very little interference from management.”
Added disc jockey John Markiewicz, who first came to WENT in 1974: “I wouldn’t be interested in doing this anywhere else.”
The music, mostly oldies with some new tracks mixed in, is logged on typed index cards; each time a song is played it’s noted in pen. Scott calls the play list — the Hollies and Bruce Springsteen and mostly middle-of-the-road fare — a “defensive music policy.” Nostalgia, evidenced in the music and the way the full-service station operates, is prized here.
And it all works, thanks to advertising sold in chunks as small as less than $100 and purchased by local funeral homes and insurance companies and even a landscaper or two, in addition to bigger-name spots sold through an agency.
“If you can find another business [in radio] like this, I’d be shocked,” Scott said. “If we can maintain our niche and maintain our profitability, why wouldn’t you do it?”
With his station for sale, Scott and his longtime staff hope there is at least one other person who thinks the same way.