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Thursday, May 3, 2001

New Portland station to air local news, talk
By RAY ROUTHIER, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Saying that Greater Portland suffers from a lack of locally produced news and talk radio, the owners of WMTW-TV (Channel 8) announced Wednesday the launching of a new radio station to fill the void.

The radio station will be called WMTW (870 AM and 106.7 FM) and will feature a unique combination of media resources: radio technology, TV news gathering, local callers and occasional newspaper columnists. It is scheduled to begin airing Monday.

"When we started looking at buying radio stations in 1997, I saw that the market could really use a news/radio format," said David Kaufman, executive vice present of WMTW Broadcast Group, owner of the TV station and four Maine radio stations. "Overall, this will help the TV station, but it's also creating a new news product."

The new station also will leave a void in the Portland market, by taking over two dial positions previously used to air WLAM-AM and -FM, a popular nostalgia music station known as "The Jewel." WLAM was scheduled to go off the air in Portland this morning.

Kaufman said he made a "business decision" that a news/talk format would be more popular and profitable than a nostalgia format.

WLAM will remain on the air in the Lewiston area, on 1470 AM. The popular radio host Bud Sawyer will continue as WLAM's morning host, and will do commentary spots on the new WMTW radio, Kaufman said.

The creation of this new radio station is unusual because, nationally, there is a trend for station owners to launch news/talk stations by using syndicated programming, such as Rush Limbaugh or Dr. Laura, because it is cheaper and easier to manage than local programming.

"Nationally, local news/talk is not growing because the cost is much more and it's so much more management-intensive," said Tom Taylor, editor of The M Street Daily, a publication that covers the radio industry. "This is an experiment of sorts and an investment in the community. But it's also probably as much about marketing for the TV station, because the radio station will be an extension of the TV station."

WMTW radio will feature locally produced programs every weekday morning and evening, while the days will include a mix of local and national news/talk programming.

WMTW's weekday morning news/talk show will be co-hosted by Neila Smith, a former Portland TV news anchor, and George Campbell, a former Portland city councilor and mayor.

At noon, there will be a 45-minute local call-in show focusing on business topics, hosted by Ken Main, the station's program and news director and a former anchor for CNN radio.

Throughout the day there will be local segments, including some featuring WMTW-TV news reporters, as well as national news and some syndicated segments, such as one featuring the domestic guru Martha Stewart.

The station's local call-in shows will air mostly on weekdays from 7-9 p.m., and throughout the weekend. Topics of the various night and weekend shows will include sports, teen-age issues, music, the outdoors, gardening and relationships.

One unique program, for commercial radio, will be a locally produced live radio play, on Saturday nights at 7:30, under the title "Studio 87."

The station will also simulcast WMTW-TV news from 5-6:30 each weeknight, and ABC-TV news at 6:30 p.m.

By taking WLAM off the air in Greater Portland, WMTW leaves the area with only one station playing a nostalgia format that includes music from the big band era through the 1970s, WBAE (1490 AM).

And the new WMTW radio will be competing with a station long regarded as Portland's main news/talk station, WGAN (560 AM). Both stations will be providing local talk shows on weekday mornings and local news reports throughout the day. Only WMTW will have local call-in shows every night and throughout the weekend.

Managers at WGAN said the station will continue to have strong ratings because of its history as a news station and its stable of high-profile national talk hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura.

"Talk stations are driven by personalities, and fortunately we have the best-known personalities," said Cary Pahigian, vice president of Portland Radio Group, WGAN's parent. "Plus, this station has been the leading news station north of Boston for years."


Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: rrouthier@pressherald.com