May 4, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Support your local station
By Dan Szczesny

It’s in a quiet neighborhood outside Concord, in an ordinary-looking suburban house that’s literally at the end of a road.

But inside, the studios of WKXL are a beehive all day, with telephones ringing, visitors coming and going, and programs being produced and edited.

What’s the purpose of all this furious activity? It’s truly local community-oriented radio, a kind of broadcasting that’s increasingly rare in this age of syndicated programming and media consolidation. But that rarity, of course, makes it all the more valuable.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Recently, WKXL-AM 1450 received two first-place awards at the annual New Hampshire Associated Press Broadcasters Association competition.

The station earned honors in the “Documentary or Series” category for coverage of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard saga, and also got top prize in the Play-by-Play category for its high school basketball coverage.
It’s not the first time the rejuvenated station has received accolades. WKXL often wins “Golden Mike” awards and other honors from the broadcasting fraternity.

One reason it’s rare, unfortunately, is that local radio is a dicey business proposition at best. Such stations were once common in New Hampshire and all around the nation, really, until the economics of consolidation caused them to mostly vanish.

Consider: Manchester not long ago had three “full-service” local AM stations—WFEA-AM 1370, WGIR-AM 610, and WKBR-AM 1250. All three still broadcast, but virtually all the programming is syndicated.

In Concord, the community is fortunate to have an owner, Gordon Humphrey, and management willing to try to make a go at local radio, which, for all its obvious value, is still tough to make work as a business.

But Humphrey and his colleagues have stuck with it, bringing the capitol region a schedule of local programs heard nowhere else on the dial: Coffee Chat with Gardner Hill (daily from 9:05 to 10 a.m.) and Movies are My Business with Barry Steelman (Fridays from 1:05 to 2 p.m.).

Some of the programming defies categorization. How about Coming to America (every other Thursday from 2:05 to 3 p.m.), which is described as “Stories of New Hampshire’s immigrants. Former Franklin Mayor Tony Giunta hosts this bi-weekly show about the immigrant experience in New Hampshire and interviews families which have successfully found the American Dream.”

This kind of programming is important because a good local radio station is a significant and unique asset for the city. It builds community, helps communication, provides an outlet for local talent, and in the long run can become part of a city’s identity.

As a relative newcomer to the Concord area, I’ve found myself tuning in WKXL more often than not just to hear what they’re up to. In the process, I’ve learned many things about the community I never would have known.

Multiply that by several thousand people every day, and you begin to understand the importance of local radio. Let’s hope local businesses find value in reaching its audience, or WKXL’s days are numbered no matter how many awards it wins.


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