New radio station signals more competition

Town grants approval for antenna in Williston

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A Connecticut company has won approval for an antenna that will beam a new radio station to area listeners, adding to the cacophony of signals in an already crowded market.

Impact Radio Inc. plans to broadcast locally at 97.5 on the FM dial. The company is headed by partners John Fuller and Arthur Belendiuk, who operate two stations in the New London, Conn., area. Fuller said he does not yet know the new station’s call letters.

The Williston Development Review Board granted approval last week for the antenna. It will be located on an existing 100-foot-tall communications tower on Brownell Mountain near the St. George town line.

Earlier this year, Fuller said he submitted the winning bid of about $925,000 during a Federal Communications Commission auction of new frequencies. He and his partner received a 25 percent discount off that price under FCC rules because they own five or fewer stations.

The new station is licensed in Bristol but its coverage area will extend from that town to just south of St. Albans.

Fuller is still mulling the station’s format, but he said he will not duplicate anything already aired locally.

“To be honest with you, I’m leaning toward the eclectic genre,” Fuller said. “It would be a little upscale, something the area doesn’t have.”

He said the station may play some jazz and perhaps other types of music. That would follow a radio industry trend of mixing genres to appeal to listeners with diverse musical tastes.

Local radio veterans said the new station will find intense competition in what is a relatively small market. Depending on the exact location, Chittenden County listeners can receive between two and three dozen stations on the AM and FM bands.

Arbitron ranks the Burlington-Plattsburgh market 138th largest in the nation, just behind Palm Springs, Calif. and just ahead of Atlantic City-Cape May, N.J. The local market has 317,200 potential listeners age 12 and older.

“It’s kind of congested,” said Dan Dubonnet, senior vice president for Hall Communications, which owns five area radio stations, including WOKO-FM and WIZN-FM.

“Welcome to the fray is what I’d say,” said George Goldring, who began his broadcasting career with WJOY-AM in 1961.

Goldring, who still works as a part-time disc jockey, called the market “oversaturated” and noted that the area has more radio stations per capita than Boston.

But Fuller is undaunted by the competition, which increasingly includes not just terrestrial stations but satellite radio and Internet stations.

“I think every business is getting more competitive,” he said. Fuller added that a station with quality content and a genuine commitment to the market will do well.

Fuller owns WBMW-FM, a soft-rock station, and WWRX-FM, which plays hip-hop. Both stations have studios in Ledyard, Conn., a few miles from New London.

The new station is licensed in Bristol, but will likely have a studio in Williston or a nearby town, Fuller said. It will initially employ 10 to 12 people. It will broadcast 8,800 watts, a much lower power output than the area’s most powerful 100,000-watt stations.

Drawing and keeping advertisers in such a crowded market is difficult, said Dubonnet, who started his radio career 25 years ago. The trick is to find a niche that will attract both listeners and advertisers. But with so many stations, most of the obvious formats are already taken.

“It’s not easy running a radio or TV station in such a small area,” Dubonnet said. “Basically, the strong survive.” But he noted the intense competition is a boon for listeners.

Goldring said many new stations are started by owners who intend to “flip” or sell the stations shortly after they are launched. But Fuller said he’s “putting forth too much time and effort to just flip it.”

Fuller, 42, started in the radio business in the early 1980s. He said his first job was filling in for the regular disc jockeys at the University of Rhode Island station on Saturday nights so they could hit the bars.

He thought of Vermont as the location for a new station because he has come here to ski at Jay Peak and Stowe for years, he said.

Fuller is now scouting for studio space. He initially hoped to begin broadcasting in the next few months, but he now thinks getting regulatory approval and launching the station could take a year or more. He said the station should be on the air no later than the first quarter of 2008.