UTICA-ROME -- The sale of WRUN 1150 from Albany-based Northeast Public Radio to Bud Williamson's Digital Radio Broadcasting is now official. The deal (first reported in July), which included a swap for another station plus some cash, closed last week.
Updated 12/10 at 10pm with WRUN call letters changed to WUTI.
Word of the closing comes from the latest edition of NorthEast Radio Watch by Scott Fybush. He also includes a brief history, reminding us WRUN once represented the western fringe of the coverage area of NEPR, until the network finally got approval to build WRUN-FM at 90.3 in Remsen last year.
Without any further need for WRUN(AM), the public radio group struck a deal with Williamson to trade WRUN plus $20,000 for a Cooperstown translator. Fybush reports Williamson has replaced the programming of NEPR mothership WAMC with an automated CHR feed.
New on 12/10: As reported in a comment below by CNYRadio.com subscriber "fitnesscenter," the new owners have changed the call letters to WUTI (verified by FCC station query), ending a 61-year run with the classic WRUN call letters. The station's entry in the CNYRadio.com Station Wiki has been updated accordingly.
So far its just music and a liner that states WUTI, Utica. Lets hope there more to come, like some live announcers, news, weather and local programming. Boy, that would really be a step in the right direction. I hear so many comments that there is nothing to listen to on the AM band.
Thanks for the comment on the new call letters. Yep, just confirmed it on the FCC's database; the long-standing call letters of WRUN have been supplanted by WUTI.
Yes, its too bad that the call letters were changed, in my opinion. The calls are too close to WUTQ, and WUTR, the television station. Matter of fact, the one liner they use sounds so close to WUTR, if you don't listen carefully, you'd think they are saying WUTR. A quick "RUN" down to the transmitter site in Oriskany yesterday revealed that nobody home there, so the audio probably isn't originating from Thomas Road in Oriskany. It will be interesting to hear what eventually will develop on the air..They can't play music and one liner forever. Maybe they will surprise the entire Utica area with Country Oldies, live announcers, lots of local programming and call letters that are well away from the WUT combination already here in (w)UTica.
I agree, WUTI is a poor choice of call letters. Sure, UTI are the first three letters in Utica, but UTI is also a common abbreviation in the medical field, and that's what I think of whenever "WUTI" is mentioned.
Just because nobody's there doesn't mean the audio isn't originating there -- could just be an automated playlist on a hard drive. Nobody really needs to be there to watch over it. There are a couple of free or very low-cost radio automation programs out there capable of playing music at random, and they can be set to insert a legal ID at the top of the hour, other liners at any other desired times during the hour, and so forth.
Country oldies might be a good choice, but I highly doubt there would be live announcers or much local programming. He'd need to get an FM station and simulcast it in order to reach the number of listeners it would take to hire an air staff and still be profitable. Much cheaper and simpler to just plug in a satellite feed from a company like Dial Global or ABC Radio Netw---er, Citadel Media.
I could continue on with a commentary about the way radio stations around here do a horrible job when launching new formats, but that would take me pretty far off-topic in relation to this post.
It can be done with live local announcers. Take W-E-N-T, 1340, Gloversville. Nice set up with local live announcers, news, sports, personality, and the station is making money. Oneida has live announcers, and have been doing pretty well for a number of years. Its easy and cheap to plug in the nets, but those are not serving the people. They give owners a place to plop commercials sold on their FM stations. Young people don't listen to AM radio, older people will listen for awhile but none of the all news or all sports formats are anything that people will listen to hour after hour. A music/variety format with news, weather, sports and localization can be on, in the car, at home or business for hours without boredom. Do some block programming, sell the specialty shows, sell sports. There are a million things that can bring in money. With a sponsor, give away $20 bills to 100 local listeners. Hey, I just won $20 from WXXX AM radio ! Its been done in the past and can still be done. But, you have to have a dedicated sales staff, and seasoned announcers who know the area, and have some commitment, not some college kids who are eager beavers at the start, and then say "see ya" after a month or two.
Here's what I heard on WUTI this evening while heading from Utica to Syracuse:
During that song, I was getting far enough away that the signal was starting to fade so I switched stations. If nothing else for now, it might grab some ears from AC listeners who don't care much for the temporary all-Christmas offerings of the two AC stations on the FM dial. Only problem is that some of the songs on the playlist are coming from waaaaay out in left field and don't seem to fit in.
I have heard some oldies, and a few country songs mixed in too, no polkas.. So maybe its planned that way to make the audience wonder exactly whats coming when they get on the air for real! Why not do a contest and we can vote on what the station will eventually settle on? I'll bet those call letter won't last long. Someplace on the internet I stumbled on idea of them using WDRE, which I think is now available. That surely beats Wonderful Urinary Tract Infection. Ooooh.
Their success is likely because of the fact they are single stations located in communities that are in the "gray area" between two larger markets. WMCR does well with programming serving Madison County because no other radio station in Syracuse or Utica would bother. Likewise for WENT, being too far away from Utica and Albany to have any serious competition from programmers or salespeople from either market. People in these areas listen to these stations because there are no other stations right in their own backyard.
On the other hand, WUTI is licensed to Utica (soon New Hartford, if the new owner chooses to follow through with the construction permit obtained by WAMC earlier). Utica is already saturated with other broadcast media, and thus, saturated with competition for advertising dollars.
Also, bear in mind that WENT and WMC have always been live and local and everything else you mentioned. That ongoing momentum is arguably a big contributor to their success. But WUTI, on the other hand, has spent the last several years largely syndicated or automated. For most of the time it was owned by Regent (or Forever beforehand), WRUN was just a simulcast of either WIBX or WFRG. Near the end of Regent's ownership, it had a standards format, and then it was back to simulcasting when WAMC bought it. For most people in this area, 1150AM is a long-forgotten has-been.
I'm not saying your ideas are impossible, but it would take a lot of time, effort and manpower (read: money) to put together a well-polished AM station with live, local talent (and remember, more experience equals more money) that would actually be generate enough ratings and profits to compete with the other players in town.
And the significance of WDRE would be....?
Without researching it again, I'm pretty sure his company is Digital Radio Engineering.
According to FCC records, it's Digital Radio Broadcasting, Inc.
Could Rome support a live/local station on the AM dial?
Billiam - I'd hate to say the idea of Rome supporting a live/local AM station is completely out of the question. After all, nothing is impossible. However, I would think it's highly improbable.
Let's consider the fact that most of the AM stations in the Utica-Rome market are required to lower their power and/or change their patterns at sunset. During some parts of the year, we're still in darkness during parts of morning drive and afternoon drive. So most AM stations are already at a terrible disadvantage compared to FM stations.
Next, let's look at how much it would cost an owner to have a live/local station, regardless of AM or FM. If it's a music format, you'll need at least three (preferably 4-5) full-time weekday talent to cover the entire day. If you have 4 of 5 talent, they can double to fill other duties (promotions, programming, music, production) but if you have only 3 talent each working an 8-hour air shift, then you still need to hire additional people to handle those off-air functions.
Not only do you need talent -- they would need to be pretty darn GOOD talent in order to capture enough of the audience to be a profitable station. So we're not just talking minimum wage or even $30k/year.
And again, that's assuming it's a music station. If you're thinking about a talk station, shifts would need to be considerably shorter. Good talk hosts can't just crack the mic and sit in the studio for 8 hours. They need time to prep their show, and would probably begin to tire out after more than 3-4 hours of constantly talking.
Aside from your primary weekday air talent, you also need a stable of reliable part-timers who can do weekends, fill-ins and holidays. Add in sales people, an engineer, a traffic/continuity person, HR and whatever other back office jobs you need and you're well into 6 figures for payroll. That's before licensing music or buying whatever equipment you need to get the station mechanically running... vehicles to do remotes and so forth.
And if nobody's around to hear your tree slamming into the ground, will anyone hear it? You'd need to spend a pretty penny on promotions. Granted, promoting a new radio station just within Rome only would be relatively inexpensive (compared to a full-market promotion, or a bigger market like Syracuse), but you're still competing with a full host of FM stations in the Utica-Rome market, and a number of Syracuse FM stations that reach Rome clearly. Again, the programming will need to be pretty darn compelling to compete with all these other stations and turn a profit.
Long story short, sure, it's possible... but an owner would need to have pretty deep pockets, and a LOT of patience. If the station is profitable, it's likely those profits would be pretty slim, and the station could take several years to make back the initial investment.
I think it is possible to operate that station with 2 live announcers Mon-Friday,and a computer that would handle the rest. Hire a live morning man that would be on the air for 3 hours. He gets off and records news, local events, and the weather. The computer takes over from 9 until 3 when the second man comes in and does 3 to 6 or 3 till 7, after hes done, he records updates weather and news and that is used on the computer until the morning guy comes in at 5 or 6. For the weekends, use one person per day working a 3 or 4 hour shift. All the announcers are paid on an hourly basis, and don't put in a full 40 hour week. If all the announcers can handle some production duties, doing commercials, you're basically covered. As for programming, give the area something that isn't already being done. We certainly don't need any more talk, news and sports, its all over the AM dial. Music would be a good choice. Do something that appeals to a wide range, an audience that has spending power. Anybody who buys a radio station has to realize that some money has to be spent, some time has to go by to establish the stations substance, and the station has to sound better than XM/Sirius. What does the local station have that XM/Sirius does not? Local talent, and the opportunity to localize with news, weather and community events. That is why running a computer with only liners and music on a local station is pointless. . Listen to WADR/WUTQ after 9 AM, its enough to make you turn it off .A poorly assembled music mix and the same stale liners played over and over. No news, no weather, no personality, nothing! It would be nice to be able to get a variety of music with live announcers on a local AM station. Is anyone listening?
AM radio will never sound better than sattelite, fact #1 I don't believe equipment to recieve AM in stereo exists, let alone equipment to broadcast it that way. Even without that AM seems to be most vulnerable to interference from other sources. Which is why virtually no one of any value to the ratings book seriously listens to music on AM radio, and why there is so little music in so few formats actually offered there. It's not 1982 anymore. Ratings have to come from a desirable market range to be used to generate ad revenue. Does Rome even have population enough these days to make a bump in the ratings book if EVERYONE listened? Besides, I don't know what format you could add that isn't covered somewhere within listening range of Rome, already. Perhaps classic country? The only thing the local AM station offers as a real unique option that you won't get elsewhere would be local-specific issues in the talk format. What issues does Rome have that aren't covered by other stations? Traffic reports?
The only way I'd see a station like that working is if the owner was also the on-air talent - PD or engineer and a DJ shift (or even all of those things) - and could use an intern assignment, relative or spouse to cover a second shift. Or if the DJ could literally phone in his air shift from elsewhere, maybe from home, and work some other job as well. I mean the hourly would have to be pretty darn good to go in and work for three, four hours, especially if I had to commute very far to do it.
I agree that music on AM radio can't sound as good as music on satellite, however a 45+ audience isn't really listening for every note. That is why localization is the key element to attract the listeners. Yes, country oldies is a good possibility. And, if the signal is up to where it should be, 1150 really isn't just a Rome, New York station. It covers a wide area and can be heard as far West as East Syracuse and east, to Amsterdam. So it will show, and compete with stations in Utica.
It will indeed be interesting to listen to whats really going to happen. As I said before, he can't play one liner and music forever. It just seems like the changes in local radio within the past year have been rather disappointing, in my opinion.
This reminds me of a book written in 1988 by SUNY Oswego broadcasting professor Peter Hunn, who formerly owned WZZZ in Fulton. The book is called "Starting and Operating Your Own FM Radio Station: From License Application to Program Management." I found it in the library once while working on a college paper, and inside, Hunn included a log of his daily work routine. He'd wake up, fire up the transmitter and sign on the station. Then he'd host morning drive. Whenever his shift ended (mid to late morning?) his wife would take over as host while he went out on sales calls. Later in the day, he'd return and host a few more hours before signing off the station and retiring for the evening. Without reading the entire book, I got the impression from the schedule, that he had his transmitter, the studio and his house all in the same building, so it was probably a little easier to manage such a demanding work schedule. But not many people today would be willing to undertake such a task -- especially considering it offered little or no opportunity for he and his wife to take any time off.
Granted, technology has changed greatly since 1988, and if Hunn were to do it all over again, he could do more things he couldn't do before -- for example, some dayparts could be automated. The station could run on auto-pilot overnight rather than being shut down. But other good points still prevail: nearly any music format that could be devised is already being offered elsewhere in the market. Niche formats that superserve a subset of a given format (ie. classic country) typically don't perform very well against established mainstream format leaders. Yes, niche formats usually do get a group of very devoted listeners, but it's generally not a giant audience -- which is why they're called niche formats.