6-Station Upper Valley Radio Group Sold

  • At WUVR-AM-FM radio station, Rich Parker, right, and fill-in Kevin Doyle start the Valley Buzz morning show in Lebanon, N.H. on Oct. 8, 2016. The station has been sold. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 10/8/2016 11:55:45 PM
Modified: 10/10/2016 9:35:13 AM

Lebanon — One of the Upper Valley’s last locally owned radio broadcasters is being sold to an out-of-state buyer, but the new owners say they intend to continue each station as a locally run operation.

Robert Vinikoor, owner of six radio stations spanning the talk/news, country, variety and classical formats, is selling the group to brothers Rob Landry and John Landry, broadcast engineers who live near Boston and New York City, respectively.

The deal is pending approval by the FCC and is expected to close around Jan. 1, Vinikoor said in a telephone interview on Friday.

Vinikoor is known as a broadcaster who steadfastly bucked the trend in radio over the past 30 years by refusing to sell out in the wave of consolidation and formation of massive, centrally run station groups.

His radio stations continue to operate out of storefront studios or tucked under a bakery and feature local news segments and high school sports reports and analysis.

“I turned 70 last month and with the passing of my wife (Sheila) early this year, it was just the right time,” Vinikoor said of his decision.

“It just came together. (The stations) weren’t listed with any broker. I couldn’t be happier than to see them sold to these two guys.”

Rob Landry has been working for the past two years as contract engineer and programming consultant for Vinikoor at Vinikoor’s non-commercial New London station, classical music formatted WSCS-FM, which Vinikoor acquired from Colby-Sawyer College in 2014.

Rob Landry, in an interview, said he and his brother have extensive backgrounds in broadcast engineering and “have been looking to get into station ownership for a while. We spent several months talking with Bob about this and ascertained it’s a very good opportunity for us.”

All the stations are profitable, he said, and he doesn’t foresee the need to shake up programming.

“Right now our goal is to preserve what we are inheriting from Bob,” he said. “Both John and I believe very strongly that radio has to be a local, integral part of the community.

The $1.95 million sales price covers all six stations: WNTK-FM in New London; WCNL-AM-FM in Newport; WCFR-AM-FM in Springfield, Vt.; WUVR-AM-FM in Lebanon; WCVR-AM in Randolph and noncommercial WSCS-FM in New London, the last owned by the Vinikoor Family Foundation.

Vinikoor and his wife, who died in January, moved to the Upper Valley in the early 1980s and initially ran a retail satellite electronics business for several years in White River Junction. They formed Koor Communications with the purchase of WCNL-AM Newport in 1988 and in subsequent years acquired five other stations in the Upper Valley.

The Vinikoors took WCNL’s relatively weak 250-watt daytime station and boosted its power to 10,000 watts, one of the most powerful in the state, greatly expanding its reach, and changed the call letters to WTNK-AM. The station was one of the first affiliates to carry the show of an itinerant disk jockey named Rush Limbaugh who was fashioning himself in the late 1980s into a brash conservative oracle with a growing following. Then, in 2007, the station reverted back to call letters WCNL.

Unlike many radio station groups that continually “trade up” to expand into bigger markets, the Vinikoors remained rooted as small-town broadcasters in the Upper Valley. “I think radio’s a local business,” Vinikoor said on Friday. “I never wanted to abandon that. That’s what makes the business work.”

Rob Landry concurred. “We see no reason why we should abandon Bob’s business model,” he said.

When he started out in broadcasting in the late 1980s, Vinikoor said, there were eight different owners of radio stations in the Upper Valley.

But following the wave of consolidation in the industry after the FCC lifted ownership restrictions on the number of stations a single owner could control, today there are three. Once the sale of his radio stations close, there will be two: West Lebanon-based Great Eastern Radio, whose 15 stations include classic rock-oriented WHDQ-FM, branded as Q106, and Puffer Broadcasting, which operates WYKR-FM and WTWN-AM in Wells River, according to Radiolineup.com.

Vinikoor said he first became fascinated with radio while growing up in Washington, D.C., when he obtained his ham radio operator’s license at age 12. Although he has a residence in Norwich, he now lives most of the year in Florida.

As for what’s ahead, Vinikoor said he intends to stick to retirement, unlike the previous attempt “four or five years ago” when he tried to call it quits but quickly grew restless and so obtained his real estate license in Florida “to keep busy.”

Instead, Vinikoor said, he plans to indulge one of his passions: touring the country to visit the facilities of other radio stations — on Friday, Vinikoor was driving back with a friend from Bangor, Maine, where he had just paid call at the studios of a local station.

“I’m going to get back to ham radio and tour radio stations with my buddies,” Vinikoor promised, describing the pursuit as “sort of a busman’s holiday.”

John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or jlippman@vnews.com.

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