April 06, 2020

N.Y. firm buys 3 County radio stations> Pilot also to open operation in Dennysville

BANGOR — A radio station company based in Syracuse, N.Y., that owns stations in Augusta and Waterville has acquired three Aroostook County stations and a soon-to-open operation in Washington County.

In a deal valued at $5.1 million, Pilot Communications LLC has purchased WBPW-FM, WQHR-FM and WOZI-FM in Presque Isle, and WHRR-FM in Dennysville from Four Seasons Communications Inc./Quantum Investments Inc. of San Francisco.

Pilot Communications is financially backed in the deal by Broadcasting Partners Holdings L.P., a group set up by a New York investment bank — Veronis, Suhler & Associates — to build a portfolio of radio stations.

Pilot Communications also announced a second deal last week to purchase an AM-FM station in Ithaca, N.Y.

The deals come at a time of great change in the nation’s radio industry. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the industry, permitting companies to control larger market shares. While no company has yet emerged as a dominant player in Maine, there have been a number of changes in ownership at stations across the state.

“There’s a lot of consolidation going on right now across the country,” notes David Lyman, the station manager in Presque Isle.

Radio listeners in the Presque Isle area, though, do not need to fear changes to the stations’ formats, Lyman says. Hot Country 97 will still be heard at WBPW-FM, WQHR-FM will continue as Q96.1 playing adult contemporary rock, and WOZI-FM will still be known as Oldies 101.7.

The only changes expected at the 16-person operation in Presque Isle is the increased wattage planned for Oldies 101.7. The new owners plan to increase the power of the oldies radio signal from 4,000 to 25,000 watts, closer to the 100,000 watts of Hot Country 97 and 95,000 watts of Q96.1.

The Dennysville station, Lyman said, is still on schedule to be operating by March. That station, with 100,000 watts of broadcast power, shares a similar approach with the Presque Isle operations, broadcasting across the border into New Brunswick and looking to the Canadian market for a substantial piece of its advertising revenues.

The new station’s music format still hasn’t been nailed down, Lyman says.

Founded in 1990, Pilot Communications is a relatively new player in the Northeast radio world. Its operations are limited to upstate New York — where it has three AM-FM clusters in Syracuse and the new cluster in Ithaca — and Maine. The company bought WEZW-AM/WMME-FM in Augusta in 1992 and WTZL-AM/WEBB-FM in Waterville in 1993.

Jim Leven, a former program director for WWFX-FM in Brewer who is president of Pilot Communications, says that the recent Aroostook County and Washington County acquisitions together with the Augusta and Waterville stations makes his company one of the biggest radio broadcasting companies in Maine.

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