Local radio is about to get a little more local as three media professionals with longtime ties to the area prepare to take over operations of The Trail 103.3, The Jack 105.9 and Fresh 104.5.
"It's moving pretty quick," says incoming General Manager Ross Rademacher, who owned Maverick Group, a Hamilton advertising company, for 10 years.
Rademacher is one of three partners forming the Montana Radio Company, which as of Jan. 1 will assume control of the three stations. This is the second management turnover since the stations' original founder and owner, Kevin Terry, obtained a radio license for them in 2005. In 2006, Terry retained ownership but stepped back to allow the Salt Lake City-based Simmons Media Group to manage the stations.
Simmons recently opted out of its operating agreement and the Montana Radio Company has stepped up to assume control. In addition to Rademacher, the new company is comprised of Terry, a radio engineer, and Becky Smith, who's been an active player in the Missoula media market since 1989, overseeing radio stations and print publications, including the Independent.
"Radio is my first love," Smith says.
Musical selection and staffing will essentially remain the same across the board, Rademacher says. But Dave Cowan, who created the original Trail music format, is returning as programming director for all three stations. "We are pretty busy and trying to figure out a good, smooth transition," Rademacher says.
The shift toward local oversight mirrors what appears to be a national trend. Large media groups that went on a buying frenzy after the federal government eased ownership restrictions in 1996 have recently shed stations in the face of tightening budgets. In addition to relinquishing control in Missoula, Simmons Media moved to sell four radio stations in Waco, Texas, earlier this year. Meanwhile, Clear Channel Communications sold its six Missoula affiliates, including 96.3 The Blaze, 107.5 Zoo FM and 94.9 KYSS Country, two years ago to regional chain Gap West Broadcasting. The move came as Clear Channel sold hundreds of small-market stations nationally.
Rademacher says local management attends to homegrown needs in a way distant corporations can't, and that's good news for listeners and advertisers.
"We're all out in the community," he says. "We're members of the community."