BRUNSWICK — Radio industry veteran Jim Bleikamp revived WCME in October after several years of dead air, and said he hopes to make the station a profitable venture by focusing on community news.
“We feel there will be a relationship between the extent to which we’re involved in this community and the extent to which we’re successful in a business sense,” Bleikamp said last week.
WCME launched on Oct. 17 at 900 AM and with an online stream at radio9wcme.com. He said he plans to gradually add local content in about a month. For now, he said, the station plays 1970s-oriented music “with some surprises.”
During the day, Bleikamp said the station’s signal will reach Brunswick, Bath, Topsham and Freeport, although he has managed to pick up the signal farther south in towns like Saco and Kennebunkport.
“I believe there is no area, no small market in this nation any more primed for a local station than Brunswick and Bath,” the station owner said, citing Brunswick’s political activity and community involvement.
He said because of Federal Communications Commission regulations, the station will only reach Brunswick and Freeport at night, though people might be able to intercept a faint signal elsewhere.
For that reason, Bleikamp said he hopes to grow his audience with the online stream.
“It will be a very good tool at night for people in the outlying areas,” he said.
Bleikamp said he hasn’t yet hired any news staffers. He said he will start with a few people who will share news reporting responsibilities.
“Initially it will be a small staff, just a few people. We may have some part-timers,” he said. “But we will work hard, we will work effectively and we will work smart to provide service to this community.”
Bleikamp said local news will be the cornerstone of WCME, with hourly news updates, a morning talk show with local guests, play-by-play high school sports broadcasts and more.
“A radio station like this is very contagious because of its local nature,” he said.
Bleikamp, who most recently spent 12 years as an anchor for Wall Street Journal Radio in New York, said it took him a few years to launch the station because he needed build or acquire a radio tower and receive site approval from the town. The Town Council approved a zoning ordinance for a tower site in the south end of town, near Route 1, a year ago.
The tower is currently powered at 700 watts during the day, not quite reaching its 1,000-watt potential, Bleikamp said, because he is awaiting approval from the FCC.
Matthew Killmeier, a communications and media studies professor at the University of Southern Maine, said locally oriented radio station like WCME can be viable because of inexpensive production and licensing costs, and its broad reach.
“Radio is uniquely situated, particularly when you have a breaking news story. People will go to the radio, especially while at work,” Killmeier said, adding that listeners in the area will turn to radio because they don’t have many options for day-to-day local news.
Killmeier said WCME’s most expensive cost will be labor, depending on how the station resources its news. He noted that even network radio stations often report stories that originate in newspapers.
But Bleikamp said he and his staff will try often to break news stories with original reporting. There will also be room for updates about missing pets, the station owner said, along with weather alerts.
“It will be actively gathered by us, and you will see us with our microphones and our small recorders around town,” he said.
And while Bleikamp considers WCME an adult station, he said he wants the station to have a broader reach.
“You ask me what the demographic target of this station is; I would tell you birth to death,” he said, “because this is the kind of station, by the virtue of its local orientation, that everybody is going to want to use at some point. There will be something of interest to everybody.”
WCME first operated from 1955-1972 before going through a series of name, programming and ownership changes, Bleikamp said. He said when he bought the 900 AM frequency back in 2009, he decided to reinstate the WCME call letters.
“I worked in radio my entire life in various situations: small markets, medium markets, large markets,” he said. “But to me, the core, the soul to radio is at the local level, and after spending my life taking orders from various bosses, I really a developed a strong urge to do my own thing and this is it.”
Jim Bleikamp brought WCME back to the Brunswick airwaves at 900 AM and radio9WCME.com in October. He said he plans for the radio station to focus on community news programming, which will begin in about a month.