Bottom Line: New WNTK radio host aims to bring less volatile voice than his predecessor

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 11/16/2019 8:48:31 PM
Modified: 11/16/2019 10:21:48 PM

A familiar voice is returning to Upper Valley radio and he’s already sounding different from the guy he is replacing.

And I’m not talking about their speaking styles.

Jason Place, who at one time or another has worked at nearly every radio station in the Upper Valley, has come out of his self-imposed absence to take over the 6 to 10 a.m. morning time slot on WNTK-FM, the New London news talk radio station that airs a reliable stream of conservative talk shows.

Place, 50, fills the morning drive time slot left vacant after former host Keith Hanson’s show was abruptly canceled in October shortly after he made vulgar comments on social media posts. (Both WNTK and General Manager Matt Cross said at the time the cancellation was not related to the controversy.) Hanson also was ousted as chair of Sullivan County Republican Committee and was roundly denounced by Gov. Chris Sununu, who called his social media posts “disgusting and inappropriate.”

In contrast, Place said he doesn’t see the show as a soapbox to broadcast his personal political beliefs.

“The first thing I said when I went on the air (on Monday) was that I am not going to say where I stand on issues politically. Because, frankly, nobody cares,” Place told me later that day. “What matters is what the listener thinks. Hopefully, we can get a conversation going, learn something and have some fun. ... God, I just hope I don’t take myself too seriously.”

At the same time, Place makes clear, part of his role will be to play devil’s advocate and challenge listeners who call the show to back up their opinions with facts and evidence.

“I need to have the freedom to explore the other side of what a listener is saying. You can’t really form an opinion unless you hear both sides of the issues,” Place said.

Cross, who has known Place since the early aughts when they worked together at the Upper Valley Great Eastern Radio station group, said he’s looking to his old friend to execute the kind of show he’s had in mind for some time.

“I’ve always wanted to do a show that is fully community-oriented, where guests are neighbors and friends from all walks of life and not to be diminishing to any one group of people and making the show as broad as possible,” Cross explained.

If you ask me, that sure sounds different from Hanson, who wouldn’t hesitate to use his Twitter posts to sling insulting vulgarities at anyone who dared challenge him and whose program often sounded like a local version of Howie Carr or Rush Limbaugh.

(Cross demurred from responding to questions about Hanson.)

Place is about as local a guy as they come. He grew up in West Lebanon, one of seven in a family whose home was located on what is now Glen Road Plaza and graduated from Lebanon High School in 1987.

He got his start in radio when he was 12 years old and would crank call WCNL-AM in Newport with uncanny Ronald Reagan impersonations. Over the years, he’s done stints at Upper Valley radio stations WTSL-AM, WHDQ-FM, WGXL-FM, WTSV-AM-FM and KIXX-FM — all now stations under Jeff Shapiro’s Great Eastern Radio empire — before taking a break in 2009 for health reasons.

“I’ve bounced around at them all,” Place said.

WNTK-FM is owned by brothers Rob and John Landry, who purchased longtime Upper Valley broadcaster Robert Vinikoor’s group of six radio stations in 2016 for $1.95 million. All WNTK-FM programming is simulcast on WUVR-AM-FM in Lebanon.

Lower gun sales lead to fewer employees at Ruger​

Gun owners have had steadfast NRA support with President Donald Trump in the White House over the past three years, but that hasn’t necessarily been all good for gunmakers.

Peace on the political front often results in less profits on the fiscal front.

U.S. gun sales peaked in 2016, the final year of President Barack Obama’s two-term presidency and the year Trump was elected, and gun sales’ steady slip ever since is being felt at Sturm, Ruger & Co. The Newport gunmaker recently reported that sales through the first nine months of 2019 fell to $305.4 million, down 18% from the same period in 2018, which themselves were down 7% from 2017.

Not surprisingly, profits at Ruger have declined accordingly — from $38.7 million to $24 million in the nine-month period — and Ruger has responded by reducing its number of employees. As recently as February, the company had 1,830 full-time employees and no part-time workers, according to regulatory filings.

But NH Business Review, which surveys Granite State employers for its annual Books of Lists issue, reports that Ruger now has a total of 1,600 employees, of which the Newport manufacturing plant currently employs 700 — which is 239, or 25%, fewer employees than it had at the Review’s last survey.

Ruger executives rarely talk outside of carefully scripted presentations and public news releases, but Ruger CEO Christopher J. Killoy told investors on a Nov. 8 conference call following the release of its quarterly results that, because of lower production rates, “we were proactive in managing our workforce as we kept the hiring freeze in place and allowed attrition to reduce our workforce, reduced overtime and took two additional shutdown days in the third quarter on top of normal scheduled shutdown in July,” according to a transcript of the call.

Typically when consumer demand falls, manufacturers respond by cutting prices to goose sales. But that’s never been Ruger’s way. The conservatively run Yankee company has no debt — which company has no debt these days? — and $137.3 million in cash and liquid investments on hand.

“Demand has remained soft throughout this year,” Killoy said. “Once again, we elected to forgo opportunities to generate better short-term results with overly aggressive discounting and promotions and the extension of payments terms, which would hinder our long-term performance, value and brand.”

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