UPDATE: Struthers Board of Education to determine ‘next step’ for WKTL

The tower at Struthers High School has marked the home for WKTL radio since 1965. Electronic image by Ron Flaviano.

The tower at Struthers High School has marked the home for WKTL radio since 1965. Electronic image by Ron Flaviano.

BY EMMALEE C. TORISK | METRO MONTHLY STAFF WRITER

At the Nov. 27 meeting of the Struthers Board of Education, discussions continued regarding the fate of WKTL 90.7 FM by way of two presentations from interested parties.

Tommy Bruno — general manager of WAPS 91.3 FM, or The Summit — spoke first, acknowledging both WKTL’s ethnic programming hosts, many of whom were in attendance, and The Summit’s hundreds of “intensely loyal” area listeners.

Approximately three years ago, WKTL began to simulcast programming from The Summit, which is owned by the Akron Public Schools system. Bruno referred to this relationship as “a wonderful cooperation” and one that “makes the . . .  community a better place to live.”

“We’re deeply committed to this region,” Bruno said. “We feel we enhance the region.”

During his presentation, Bruno proposed entering into a public service agreement with the board. WAPS would assume all responsibility for WKTL, and all costs would be reimbursed through a monthly lease, the cost and length of which is still undetermined. WKTL’s volunteer-driven ethnic programming, which now occupies Saturdays, would remain intact, he said.

WAPS would also finance the relocation of WKTL’s tower, studios and transmitter to another site in Mahoning County; give the Struthers City School District $30,000 worth of on-air marketing annually; and set aside $15,000 each year to “give to the students,” perhaps by coordinating internships or work experiences with nonprofit organizations.

Bruno said WAPS is “very open to negotiating” the specifics of the agreement in any way that the board sees fit. He also mentioned that WAPS recently renewed WKTL’s license for another eight years and now pays all costs to operate the station, including putting “tens of thousands of dollars of equipment in the transmitter room” and compensating a “monthly engineer.”

“[There are] a lot of benefits to keeping The Summit here,” Bruno said, addressing the board. “I think we’ve been a good steward. When we came in, [WKTL] was barely on the air. . . .We hope we’re a part of your future. . . . We hope that you’ll stick with us.”

A second proposal, titled “WKTL: Community Radio for the Mahoning Valley,” followed Bruno’s presentation.

Frank Sole, a 1970 alumnus of Struthers High School, began the presentation by reflecting on WKTL’s “interesting history,” of which he was a part from his sophomore through senior years. Sole, now an assistant professor in Youngstown State University’s Williamson College of Business Administration, explained that WKTL has “impacted thousands of students” since Sept. 13, 1965 — the noncommercial radio station’s first day on air.

“There’s a legacy here,” Sole said. “This is a gem that we need to maintain.”

In addition, WAPS’ acquisition of WKTL would allow The Summit to “cover all of northeast Ohio,” he said. Plus, WKTL’s signal, now at 13,500 watts, could “double or triple in size” if the station broadcasts at full capacity, as permitted by its Class B1 license. WAPS has a Class A license and now broadcasts at 2,000 watts, Sole said.

“If I was Tommy Bruno, I’d be salivating over this station,” Sole said. “That’s why Tommy Bruno would like to move the tower. . . . He gets three times the footprint once he moves the tower.”

Max Grubb, a media consultant with more than 30 years of experience in the electronic media industry, continued, urging the board to “consider restructuring [WKTL] as a community radio station.” WKTL could become a professionally managed, volunteer-based self-sustaining operation with local control and local oversight — and no competition, he said.

Sole called WKTL “the last chance the Mahoning Valley has to do something local,” citing the influx of “media owned by somebody else.” If WAPS does acquire WKTL, the best-case scenario would be 50 percent Mahoning Valley content and 50 percent Akron content, he said; in contrast, a local radio station could feature programming that is customizable to the community’s needs and reflective of the area’s diversity.

“We’re looking at it as a problem. Usually, when there’s a problem, there’s a heck of an opportunity,” Sole said. “We really need to carry that legacy forward.. . . . You could end up with WKTL being The Summit of Mahoning County.”

Financing for the station could be achieved through membership drives, underwriting, grants and events, Grubb said, and a seven-member advisory board — consisting of a Struthers Board of Education member, four members selected by the Struthers Board of Education and two members selected by WKTL listener membership — would be established.

Reinvented as a community radio station, WKTL could be sustainable within a year to 18 months, Grubb said. He said that getting the station to that point “shouldn’t cost the board anything.”

Even if it does, it’s because past boards haven’t made the investment, Sole said.

“We invest dollars in football teams, in bands,” he said. “Now, we’re talking about it impacting an entire community.”

During their respective proposals, both parties agreed that selling the station, as was discussed during the July 17 board meeting, would be unwise at this time.

“Stations, newspapers, the business we’re in, they’re not worth what they used to be,” Bruno said.

He added that WKTL, as a public asset, would have to go to auction and to the highest bidder, which would likely be an out-of-town religious organization.

Sole emphasized that “the worst thing [the board] could do is sell the station” in the current market.

“You’d be doing well if you got tens of thousands of dollars for your piece of paper,” he said. “You’ll spend more on your electric bills for the city schools than you’ll get for your piece of paper.”

Still, a decision about WKTL could still be a few months off, said Struthers Superintendent Robert Rostan. He emphasized that no timeline exists, but that the board does “need to make a decision sometime in the near future.”

“I would suggest that the sale of the station right now is not the number one choice,” Rostan said. “Certainly, that’s probably third now, but the board is probably going to want to get some more information from the groups, and we’ll take it from there.”

Rostan said he’s “pretty confident” that this communication will occur prior to the next board meeting on Dec. 18. Although he’s not sure that board members will be able to announce a direction, they will likely know “what the next step is,” he said.

Overall, both presentations demonstrated “a lot of passion for radio and a lot of concern for our region and our Valley,” Rostan said.

“These are folks who have strong backgrounds in radio and frankly understand better than do we the asset that we have,” he said. “They needed to convince our board that it’s an asset, that it is something that we’re holding onto, even while we’ve transitioned from teaching radio classes to hopefully using it in some other way.”

Kay Sefcik and Elizabeth Cibulas, two of WKTL’s ethnic programming hosts, attended the Nov. 27 board meeting and said they’re just hoping for the best possible outcome.

“They both had excellent points, but, naturally, our personal interest is the ethnic programming on Saturdays,” Sefcik said. “Where do we have the better assurances or guarantees or whatever? . . . That’s what we’re concerned about, but a lot of that still has to be developed.”

Cibulas agreed, stating that the station’s future is still very much “up in the air.”

“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” she said. “To me, it’s still a grayish area here.”

However, as long as Sefcik and Cibulas have a station to broadcast through, they’ll continue to host their respective programs.

“I have enough CDs to keep going for another 10 years. I’m serious. She does, too,” Sefcik said, laughing. “A decision’s going to have to be made.”

© 2012 The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. Frank Sole says:

    Emmalee,
    Thank you for your balanced coverage of a complex situation. If there is anything I can help you with in the future, please feel free to contact me.
    Frank Sole

    Like

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