Local Radio Heads Back to the Future

rock939.jpgThree years after selling a group of stations, including Claremont’s WHDQ, to Nassau Broadcasting, Jeff Shapiro has returned to local radio. Last Friday, media giant Clear Channel Communications announced the sale of all six of their area stations to Shapiro’s Great Eastern Radio LLC.

Shapiro characterized the purchase as “an aggressive, wise and well thought-out” move into the local market.

Great Eastern acquired the AM/FM talk radio tandem of WTSL and WTSM, along with FM stations featuring country (WXXK), adult contemporary (WGXL) and rock (WMXR & WVRR) formats. The sale, which awaits FCC approval, is expected to close in the spring.

Their deal with Clear Channel is part of a larger sell-off of 448 stations nationwide, carried out under a buyout by Bain Capital, a private equity firm.

Shapiro said in a phone interview Tuesday that he doesn’t expect disruptions at any of the stations. “They’re not in need of major fixes or changes,” Shapiro said, adding that he hopes “to put our imprint on the stations – a little more promotion, aggressiveness and excitement.”

Shapiro praised WTSL as “the heritage talk station in the area,” but also indicated that it may feel more immediate changes. It currently features a lineup of national hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. “If anything, we’d like to add a dose of local talk,” says Shapiro. “That makes a difference in radio, having that locality and local callers.”

As an undergraduate in the early 1980s, Shapiro was General Manager of Dartmouth College’s AM and FM stations. Yesterday, a local radio programmer welcomed him back to the Upper Valley.

“I think it’s a great move, and I wish Jeff much success with those properties,” said the industry veteran, who asked that his name not be used. “Anytime a local owner buys radio properties and takes away control from a giant media conglomerate – only good comes from that.”

“If it means more competition, only good can come from that because that means we all have to get better and serve the listeners better,” he said.

Shapiro said he looks forward to competing with his former stations. “It’ll be fun,” he said.

When it comes to programming that spotlights area bands, Shapiro says he’ll try to strike a balance. “I think radio should be involved with the local music scene and use its’ airwaves to promote and develop it,” says Shapiro, but cautions that, “on the other hand, stations are sensitized to playing music that people like. You can’t be all over the road – people want some consistency. “

Shapiro’s partner Courtney Galluzzo was, says Shapiro, a “local yokel” during his days as WNNE-TV general sales manager, known for “sticking the Jiffy Mart logo on the satellite truck.” Galluzzo and Shapiro have worked together for the past 10 years, and share a spirit of using the media to spur community activism.

“When you can drive people to action to do good things, nothing does a better job,” says Shapiro. “I mean this – by owning five FMs in one market, you cannot get away from it. Local radio proves itself over and over again.”

“As long as we’re strong locally, we’ll always do extremely well,” he says. “That’s why these stations had such incredible appeal to me. They’ve raised a huge amount of money for CHAD and David’s House. That tells you that people are listening to and liking their products.”

“This sounds very philosophical,” says Shapiro. “But we have an opportunity to do right and do well at the same time.”

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