WRGC 540 AM back on the air and lovin’ it

Jackson County commissioners may have taken a leap of faith to help WRGC radio get back on the air, but it seems to be paying off so far.

Not only has station owner Roy Burnette restored a local AM presence to the cars and homes of thousands of listeners in Jackson and surrounding counties, but he’s also created the equivalent of eight full-time jobs practically overnight.

WRGC went live on AM station 540 in April after getting a $289,000 economic development loan from the county. The old AM station in Jackson County had gone off-line the previous year, but Burnette had an educated guess that there were both the listeners and advertising dollars to support a local station.

In fact, Burnette says advertisers were so willing to jump on board before the station ever went live, he had advertising contracts in hand equal to half the station’s total ad sales from 2011.

While he had the blood, sweat and tears to pour into getting the station up and running, he needed cash to help buy the radio frequency — which is where Jackson County commissioners entered the picture. The Smoky Mountain News incorrectly reported earlier this month that Burnette was late on his first economic development loan payment to the county. That is not the case — in fact, the first payment isn’t even due until September.

The revolving economic development loan pool, started more than two decades ago primarily out of federal grant funding, was intended to help entrepreneurs get out of the gate and in turn create jobs.

In exchange for the economic development loan, Burnette has to create 11 jobs by 2014, and is well on the way. He has 12 people on the payroll, although some of those are part time. If you add them all up, the station is employing the equivalent of 7.75 fulltime positions, plus contracting out additional services from maintenance to IT, according to Burnette.

Commissioners were also favorable to the idea not just because of the job potential but the community service provided by a local radio station. In addition to local news, WRGC does live broadcasts of local sports events and church services, a local call-in trade show and syndicated national news.

In just three months, the station has increased its range into neighboring counties and upgraded equipment, making continued technical improvements to improve the station’s sound quality, including for live remote broadcasts.

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