August 26, 2005

WJTO, Bath, Maine


As we continue our recap of our June visit to New England, we're jumping back a few days to pay proper homage to one of our first stops on that weeklong trip: an overnight visit to one of the more unusual stations on the Eastern Seaboard.

Regular readers of this column and of NorthEast Radio Watch are probably already familiar with Bob Bittner, one of the last of the one-man radio station owners anywhere. Bob began his broadcast career here in our hometown of Rochester, running the Rochester Institute of Technology student station WITR (then an AM carrier-current operation), then working at early progressive rocker WCMF and at the then-new WVOR before heading to Boston (at WNTN and WXKS) and Puerto Rico (WQBS 870). And then, in 1991, Bob was the winner, at bankruptcy auction, of what was then WLVG (740 Cambridge MA), the sad remnant of the once-great WTAO/WCAS.

After a year or so of running the station as "Earth Radio, WWEA," Bob managed to get the heritage WJIB calls, and for over a dozen years now, WJIB has been a consistent spot on the Boston radio dial for relaxing music with very little interruption, played at first from 8-hour VHS HiFi tapes (with a cart machine on a timer inserting hourly IDs) and later from a computerized automation system. (There was also the interim step in which Bob used the automation system to pkay the music out to VHS HiFi tapes, which were then played on the air, but I digress...)

WJIB also achieved a small degree of fame among certain hard-core radio geeks for "Let's Talk About Radio," the talk show about, yup, radio that's been running in one form or another since 1994, with your editor as co-host for several of those years.

Bob followed up on his amazing bargain (he paid $277,115 for WJIB, a signal that's easily worth several million dollars today) by buying - and later selling - WNEB (1230 Worcester) and WKBR (1250 Manchester NH). And then, in the late nineties, he made another great bankruptcy purchase: WJTO (730) in Bath, Maine.

Bob's purchase of WJTO gave him two things - first, another powerful daytime signal low on the dial, pumping out a kilowatt on 730, adjacent to his 250 watts on 740 down the coast; and second, a beautiful piece of land adjoining a coastal pond in a scenic part of Maine.

The WJTO facility, when Bob bought it, was already considerably larger than the station itself required. In addition to the original small building (at left in the photo above) that held the transmitter and the old AM studio, a new two-story building had been added for WKRH (105.9 Bath), the sister FM station that had already been spun off before the AM was sold. Bob moved the AM studio into what had been the FM studio, and renovated the upstairs sales offices into an apartment with stunning views of the pond and the woods.

And then, last year, Bob completed his holdings in the area by buying the big house that stands guard over the road down to the station.

Today, Bob and his wife, Raisa, spend much of the year right here at WJTO, enjoying the coastal scenery and keeping the station on the air with Bob's unique blend of soft AC and easy instrumentals, reaching a loyal cadre of listeners (Bob keeps a file full of appreciative letters in the station office) up and down the coast from northern Massachusetts into the Canadian Maritimes. We should all be so lucky!

Thanks to Bob and Raisa for a pleasant visit!

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