WBTA celebrates 75th anniversary

Feb 17, 2016

BATAVIA — In radio terminology, you’d call it a “heritage station.”

“It means it’s the kind of station that your audience has grown up with,” said Dan Fischer of WBTA. “For being on the air so long with the same set of call letters, and families have grown up listening to it.”

The long-standing radio station has been part of area life since the 1940s. And it marked a major milestone on Feb. 6 when it celebrated its 75th anniversary.

WBTA is Genesee County’s only locally-owned commercial radio station. And it’s kept the same call letters over the ensuing decades.

Broadcast origins

The station commenced broadcasting at 7 a.m. on a Thursday morning, from its studio and offices at 90 Main St.

The first voice on the air was that of the “genial” Jerry Flynn who opened the program “Rise and Shine,” according to an article published in The Daily News at the time.

The station remained at its original location until 1957, when a series of moves followed.

WBTA was 22 Seaver Place — now the JCPenny loading dock — before setting up shop for several years at 413 Main St. in the city.

The station ultimately moved to 113 Main St. in 2004 when it was purchased by its present owner, HPL Communications, Inc., itself owned by Fisher and his wife Debrah.

Despite the moves, the station’s transmission and tower site remained on Creek Road in the Town of Batavia throughout.

In the early years, an engineer was required to be at the transmission site whenever the station was on the air, Fischer said. Technical improvements in the late ‘50s allowed the station to be controlled remotely from the studio.

EXPANDING horizons

WBTA was originally owned by three Batavia residents: Joseph Ryan, Edward P. Atwitter and Edmund R. Gamble.

Gamble also served as general manager until leaving the station — along with several other staffers — for military service during World War II.

William F. Brown later took over as owner and expanded its news coverage. He was best-known for his regular editorials on local issues, winning 16 “Best Editorial” awards from the New York State Broadcasters Association.

The station continued to evolve with the Fischers’ purchase.

New digital studios were built and the station moved to its present spot at Main and Center streets, which became the name of the station’s morning talk show, “Main & Center.”

Under HPL, the station also launched a new FM station in 2014, and has continued to evolve.

WBTA streams 100 percent of its programming on the internet at www.WBTAi.com and via mobile devices with custom apps for Android and iPhone systems.

“We are proud of WBTA’s legacy of service to Batavia and Genesee County,” Fischer said. “As a licensee of a broadcast station, we pledge to the FCC to ‘serve the public interest, convenience and necessity as a public trustee.’”

Community outlook

The Fischers have kept WBTA’s focus on the community despite the changes.

Over the years the station has reported individual milestones — births, anniversaries and obituaries, Fischers said. The station has reported on service of local men and women in uniform, in times of conflict.

The station has likewise broadcast hundreds of local sporting events and have followed area high school teams to regional and state championships.

Through affiliations with national news organizations such as ABC Radio, WBTA has provided coverage of the most notable events of the 20th and 21st century, Fischer said. They’ve included the Pearl Harbor attack; the assassinations of the 1960s; the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars; the manned moon landing and the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“I think this station has done pretty much the same since it went on the air in 1941,” he said. “But the philosophy behind it is to ‘super-serve.’

“We still cover every city council meeting. ... That’s unheard-of in the larger markets.

“It’s part of what we should do, and if we do those things we have pledged to the FCC to do, I think the financial rewards automatically follow,” he continued. “That might be the philosophy of an old broadcaster,”

With more than 30 years’ experience in radio, he doesn’t consider it work.

“I love this business,” Fischer said. “I’ll be 66 years old this year, and I cannot imagine doing anything else.

“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” he continued. “This is an enjoyable business. You are truly involved in the community.

“If you are running the station right, you are part of the community. You mirror that community’s interests and needs and I enjoy doing that.”

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by Matt Surtel, The Daily News (2/17/2016)
For online article, click here!