Roy Burnette finalizes deal with County.
After a nearly seven-month hiatus from broadcasting, Jackson County’s radio station returned to the air on Monday, under new ownership.
Last Sunday 540 AM WRGC began doing air tests and went live Monday morning at 6 a.m.
“So far, everything has went great,” said Roy Burnette, WRGC’s new owner. “We have already gotten some really great responses from areas as far away as Asheville and Bryson City.”
According to Burnette, by making the change to the 540 AM wavelength, a broader audience can be reached and more listeners will benefit. “Folks in Jackson County are much happier with the transition and are being able to tune in with a better signal,” he said.
“We really appreciate the community’s support in being patient while we work things out with the FCC and the county during this interim period,” said Burnette. “We are waiting to get the rest of the computers and technology and plan to be at full capacity, 24/7 by next week.”
The radio station unexpectedly went off the air on August 30 of last year, and station management posted a message on the station’s website to inform listeners it was uncertain if or when they would return.
The notice cited that the “incredibly difficult economy has made it impossible for us to secure the local advertising support needed to continue providing Jackson County a full service community radio station.”
The notice also informed listeners that although the station had been successful in maintaining a large radio audience throughout the coverage area, the station had to discontinue operations until the economy improves. “With these uncertain times and the fact that our studio/office/transmitter site lease is set to renew at the end of 2011, we did not feel it was prudent to commit any more of our company resource to subsidize the station’s operation.”
Art Sutton, owner and CEO of Georgia Carolina Radio, the same company which owns both of Franklin’s radio stations, owned 680 WRGC at the time of the station's cancellation. The three-year permit between WRGC and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) was set to expire in late December, so commissioners had to act fast to make arrangements for a new owner to take control of the station. If the permit expired, the frequency would no longer be available.
Burnette, owner and CEO of the newlyformed 540 Broadcasting Company and Jackson County resident, approached the board in November with a proposition to keep a county tradition alive. The county began working with Burnette to secure the frequency, and approved Burnette for a $311,000 Economic Development Loan.
According to Jackson County manager Chuck Wooten, the final loan amount is $22,000 more than was originally authorized. “The increased amount represents the fees we incurred with a Washington law firm to assist with this project,” said Wooten.
The terms of the loan include a two percent interest rate, with 40 quarterly payments which will begin later this year on September 1.
The agreement between Jackson County and Burnette became slightly more difficult due to the county’s past history with loans being in default. Jackson County Commissioners wanted to ensure that sufficient collateral was available in the event Burnette defaulted on the loan, allowing the county to recoup its money. Burnette offered up personal real estate and radio station equipment as collateral for the loan. “The commissioners wanted to make sure the collateral pledged covered the full amount of the loan,” said Wooten. “The collateral pledged included the equipment of the radio station, the property lease for the building and property, and land owned by Mr. Burnette. Finally, Mr. Burnette provided a personal guarantee.”
The radio station will also offer economic development for the county and as a condition of the loan will bring jobs. “A minimum of five jobs were to be created as of April, 2012 and 6 additional jobs by June 2013,” said Wooten. “One of biggest assets will be the community service they provide by announcing weather events, emergencies, and other matters of importance. For many citizens, WRGC may be the only outlet for receiving these types of announcements. Hopefully, the advertising they do will generate additional traffic for the businesses they advertise.”
According to Burnette’s presentation to commissioners when requesting the loan, the station will no longer operate on the same WRGC frequency, but instead will broadcast on 540 AM. The revamped station, which will have a 5,000-watt transmitter, is expected to have a larger coverage area spanning throughout Jackson County and touching as far as Canton and areas of Cherokee County.
Wooten believes that the transition to a 5,000-watt transmitter will help the station prevail during the county’s struggling economic condition. “The radio station has a strong track record of success and it was only the last couple of years in a very difficult economic situation that the station began to struggle. Increasing to a 5000-watt station will substantially expand the listener area and most importantly the opportunity for new advertising,” said Wooten in December.
In addition to the new name and the station expanding the transmitter, Burnette said that the new radio station will work to meet the criteria of the targeted audience. “Our main focus is going to be on trying to keep our listeners posted on what’s going on day-to- day in the community,” said Burnette. “The majority of our programs will be informative. We will be covering local sports; just really keeping our coverage local.”
Burnette stated that the station will be similar to WRGC in the fact that they will continue to play a broad range of music spanning over tunes from the last 50-60 years.