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Wednesday, 19 October 2011 12:37

Sylva AM station off the air but still trolling for a buyer

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There’s still no reprieve in sight for WRGC, Sylva’s radio station and a five-decade community mainstay for local weather, news and more.

The station, broadcasting at 680 AM, went off the air at the end of August.

Gary Ayers, a regional radio personality living in Jackson County who has an intense interest in locally owned and operated radio stations, previously indicated that he might try to buy WRGC and get it back on the airwaves. Ayers once worked at WBHN in Bryson City, and previously owned a radio station in Canton.

Art Sutton, president and CEO of Georgia-Carolina Radiocasting Company, which owns WRGC, said local advertising didn’t generate enough money to keep the station running. WRGC had about 8,000 daily listeners.

Sutton said many of them have called or emailed to express their sadness over losing the station.

Ayers said the door remains open to the possibility of buying the station, but he’s not sure it’s a good business decision to walk through that open door. Local advertising support, Ayers said, seems tepid at best.  In talking with business owners, Ayers found few have interest in radio as an advertising medium.

Since 2008, the radio station’s revenue in Sylva had declined by 40 percent. The broadcasting company owns two stations in neighboring Franklin, one on AM and the other on FM, and there the revenue, despite the economy, grew nearly 10 percent over the same period.

Sutton said last week that the station’s lease on its office and studios and tower site expires at the end of the year. The immediate urgency for a buyer would come if a new owner wanted to use the present site. Georgia-Carolina Radiocasting Company leases the office and tower site from the station’s founder and longtime owner, Jimmy Childress of Sylva.

The FCC will allow the station to remain silent until Aug. 31 of next year before pulling the frequency, Sutton said.

“At that time, it must return to the air waves or the license will be deleted,” he said. “If a buyer does not come forward very soon, and wish to build the station’s tower in another location, yes, we will move the frequency to another market.”

Sutton declined, citing competitive reasons, to say where the frequency might go.

He said the company plans to begin removing the towers and equipment next month.

“I still believe a local operator could do well with WRGC,” Sutton said. “The station had a large audience for a small town station.”

Sutton described WRGC as a “unique situation,” but one “I think a local person living and working there could figure out, respond to more quickly than an absentee operator like us, and be successful.”

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