‘The River’ Moves Down the Radio Dial to Battle ‘The Point’

Valley News Business Writer
Sunday, November 19, 2017

West Lebanon— The battle for listeners between the Upper Valley’s two rival “alternative” radio stations, The River and The Point, is increasing in pitch with the shift of The River from 106.7 to 93.9 on the dial.

On Nov. 1, West Lebanon-based radio station group owner Great Eastern Radio moved its “adult album alternative” format known as The River on WHDQ at 106.7 and placed it on WWOD at 93.9. At the same time, Great Eastern took its syndicated oldies format, known as KOOL-FM that was on 93.9 and moved it up the dial to 106.7.

The flip-flop in program formats between the two co-owned radio stations was undertaken to increase the coverage area of The River, station management said. The River competes against a similar format on rival station The Point, broadcast over WRJT at 103.1 on the dial.

WRJT is the locally owned and operated affiliate of the statewide The Point network, owned by Montpelier Broadcasting Co., which is based in Montpelier and broadcasts over multiple radio stations in Vermont.

Moving The River to a lower dial position with a more powerful signal should significantly expand the station’s coverage radius, said Nichole Romano, general manager of Great Eastern’s group of nine Upper Valley radio stations, which operate out of a former bank building at the corner of Bridge Street and North Main Street in West Lebanon.

Romano said the switch came about because of audience demand. When the program format was heard on radio channel 106.7, the signal “was really contained here within Lebanon, Hanover, Hartford, Quechee, Lyme and maybe Enfield,” Romano said, but it could not be heard by listeners farther away who wanted to pick up the station. “The (River’s) move was more done to meet demand of listeners,” she said.

In shifting The River “down the dial,” Great Eastern moves it from a low-power transmitter that was technically a “translator” — typically an ancillary antenna that is meant to augment the signal of a full-power transmitter — on Crafts Hill in West Lebanon, to 93.9’s much more powerful 3.1 kilowatt transmitter located near Lower Hurricane Reservoir Dam in White River Junction. That could double the range of The River’s reach, according to Romano — and, she hopes, the size of its audience.

“Now you could easily get (The River) at a 30-plus mile radius of the Lebanon market, even beyond,” Romano said.

Despite fielding four on-air personalities between 6 a.m. and midnight — including Lebanon City Councilor Karen Liot Hill who holds down the 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. slot — the limited range of The River’s signal on 106.7 meant that station had been able to attract only a sliver of the market’s audience.

Romano said The River, handicapped by its low-power transmitter, has pulled in an audience of only a few thousand listeners out of a market of nearly 158,000 people, according radio station ratings company Nielsen. She said she will not know how many listeners The River picks up on its new dial position until the “fall book” of Nielsen ratings is released in the spring of 2018. For comparison, Great Eastern’s rock station WHDQ — known as Q106 — is the dominant radio station in the market with an average weekly audience of about 26,000 listeners, Romano said.

By switching to a more powerful transmitter, The River will be better positioned to compete against The Point, which targets a similar audience that is more in sync with Mumford & Sons or The Shins than desiring the umpteen-millionth rotation of Stairway to Heaven or Go Your Own Way.

Still, The Point’s signal covers virtually all of the Upper Valley, making it a challenge for any competitor.

With a 1.35 kilowatt transmitter located off Beaver Mountain Road near the Norwich-Sharon town line, WRJT’s signal reaches to Randolph and Bradford in the north, Rutland in the west, Enfield in the east and Springfield, Vt., in the south. The station also simulcasts on 107.7 over a low-power transmitter located on Crafts Hill.

Ed Flanagan, chief executive of The Point owner Montpelier Broadcasting Co., said he’s not terribly worried about The River’s greater signal reach posing much of competitive threat. Flanagan said he had “heard rumblings for quite a while” that The River would be changing its dial position, but “we’re pretty confident in what we do and we’re going to continue to do what we do well.”

Besides, he noted, The Point pioneered the adult album alternative format in Vermont, whose playlists of independent and often outlier artists has its roots in college radio, and knows the market.

“We’ve been doing this format for 40 years,” he said, beginning at WNCS in Montpelier and then later extending the “triple-A” format to WRJT at dial position 103.1, which is licensed to Royalton.

Along with WDOT in St. Johnsbury (technically licensed to Danville) on 95.7, The Point’s stations in Vermont with their accompanying translators form three footprints that nearly blanket the northern two-thirds of the state, according to a coverage map on The Point’s website.

Romano said her company wanted to wait until after The River format gained momentum among listeners after it first debuted on 106.7 in 2014 before deciding whether to move the format to the more powerful channel position at 93.9.

“Everything good takes time. Building presence in the listening community grew slowly,” she said. “The timing was good to change to a larger signal and actively grow what is becoming a primary entertaining radio product in the Connecticut River Valley.”

Great Eastern’s WWOD at 93.9 has shuttled through numerous owners and formats over the years, from oldies to classic rock to country to news/talk and back to classic rock and, since 2012, back again to oldies. The oldies format, which is now broadcast on 106.7, is a syndicated program produced by radio personality Scott Shannon.

The format switch is the second big change in the Upper Valley radio market in a little more than a year. In October 2016, Robert Vinikoor sold his group of six local radio stations, including WNTK in New London and WUVR-AM-FM in Lebanon, to brothers Rob and John Landry for $1.95 million.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.