99 Rock to remain locally owned

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 10/17/2021 6:00:09 PM
Modified: 10/17/2021 6:00:11 PM

HANOVER — A local buyer has stepped forward to purchase Dartmouth College’s WFRD-FM radio station, keeping it in the hands of a broadcaster based in the Upper Valley.

Sugar River Media, which owns and operates WNTK-FM in New London and WUVR-AM-FM in Hanover, has executed a purchase and sales agreement to acquire WFRD for $225,000, confirmed John Landry, who with his brother Rob Landry now run the Upper Valley stations formerly owned by Bob Vinikoor.

“It’s a good fit for us,” John Landry said Thursday about acquiring WFRD, the radio station which had been a launching pad for the broadcasting careers of many Dartmouth students but which the college announced in June it would seek to sell as radio programming has shifted online. “We see unrealized potential.”

The sale and transfer of the license is subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to close by Dec. 1, Dartmouth College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said via email.

In the interim, Sugar River, beginning Oct. 20, will operate WFRD under a local marketing agreement, Lawrence said. It permits one party to manage under contract a radio station owned by another party.

WFRD, branded as “99 Rock,” remains on the air playing an automated rock format. The station’s sole employee, manager and on-air morning show host Chris (Garrett) Fazio, aired his final show Aug. 31.

Although WNTK and WUVR are known as citadels of firebrand conservative talk shows, Landry said he plans to retain WFRD’s rock format. But as embraced as the populist format is among some listeners it does not attract younger audiences that advertisers will pay more to reach.

Adding WFRD to its portfolio will broaden Sugar River Media’s appeal to sponsors, according to Landry.

“One of the things we were lacking is a younger audience. Talk show radio tends to skew old,” he said.

Landry said that WFRD’s audience, in number of listeners, is near the size of WNTK’s audience, which he said averages about 4,500 listeners in “any given hour” (about 85% of WUVR’s programming is “simulcast” with WNTK).

“The station has quite a good following already,” Landry said of WFRD. “And with some improved promotion it will easily do what WTNK does or better in the ratings.”

Landry, 58, and his brother, Rob, 64, are radio engineers who worked at stations in New York and New England before they moved up into ownership with the purchase of the former Vinikoor group of Upper Valley radio stations four years ago for $1.95 million.

The group includes WCVR-AM-FM in Randolph, WCFR-AM-FM in Springfield, Vt., and WCNL-AM-FM in Newport, N.H. Together, the signals of the Sugar River Media radio stations, cover in overlapping rings most of the Upper Valley on both sides of the river.

The Landrys also operate, through a foundation, WSCS-FM in New London, a noncommercial classical music station that was once owned by Colby-Sawyer College that Vinikoor had taken over in 2014.

Landry said that the purchase of WFRD includes the station’s FCC license, call letters and antenna equipment on Craft’s Hill in Lebanon but not the studio equipment on the third floor of Robinson Hall, which continues to be utilized to produce programming for the online student-run station WDCR.

At the time Dartmouth announced its intention to sell the radio station it said any proceeds from the sale would be plowed back into the student online radio channel.

Dartmouth was originally seeking $350,000 for the station — a price that struck some as optimistic at the time — but in the end it came down considerably in the price.

“We based the valuation on what our current sales are and the market will bear,” said Landry. “I don’t know how they came up with that. We made an offer what we thought it was really worth.”

The sale was handled by Dick Kozacko, a Raleigh, N.C.-based national radio and TV station broker.

Sugar River Media recently closed its satellite WNTK studio located in the lower level of the Hanover Street Plaza building in Lebanon and will be closing the station’s studio in New London as well. The broadcaster will continue to have production studios at its Newport, Springfield and Randolph stations, Landry said.

The Landrys’ purchase of WFRD might lead to one outcome that wasn’t foreseen, however, at least when Fazio was let go by Dartmouth after 15 years of managing the station, selling air time and hosting his own “Rock ‘N Go Morning Show” from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. five times a week — bringing him back on air.

“That’s a possibility if we can work it out. The door is open on that,” Landry said about Fazio.

Fazio, who used the name Chris Garrett on air, said he would be open to the idea, too.

“Absolutely. The ‘Rock and Go’ morning show was my passion,” he said via email.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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