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Local entrepreneur buys Houlton radio station

Jen Lynds | BDN
Jen Lynds | BDN
Fred Grant, the new owner of WHOU 100.1 FM in Houlton, stands in the lobby of the radio station on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. Grant purchased the station under the name Northern Maine Media from County Communications.
By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

HOULTON, Maine — A local businessman who has invested himself in the Greater Houlton community over the past few years has purchased a radio station that has served the area for generations.

Fred Grant, a former town councilor, current SAD 29 board member and owner of two websites, signed the papers to acquire WHOU 100.1 FM on Monday.

Grant purchased the station for an undisclosed price under the name Northern Maine Media from County Communications, an entity formed when previous owners Robert Anderson and Dave Moore bought the license for the station in the late 1990s. The purchase also gives Grant control over WBCQ FM 94.7, a station based in Monticello.

Grant still has to apply to have the Federal Communications Commission transfer the license to operate WHOU to him, which could take up to a year. While the application is pending he is allowed to operate the station.

At this point, WHOU plays adult contemporary music and WBCQ plays classic country music. The WHOU signal reaches from Millinocket to Presque Isle and sometimes can be heard farther away.

Grant said he plans to change several things about the station but will keep its adult contemporary format at this point. The station now is under contract for its programming, which is received by satellite feed so local staffers don’t really have a choice regarding what type of music to play. Grant is looking to hire disc jockeys, however, to provide local programming.

“One of the changes I want to make is to go back to having live DJs,” Grant said Wednesday. “The DJ can change the music while they are there. That will allow people to call in and request music.”

He already has hired Ryan Hill as his first DJ, who will provide a live evening show three days a week, and he hopes to hire a morning DJ soon.

“I have received a few applications and others have shown interest in being a DJ,” he said. “I would really like to do a lot more with DJs, especially on the weekends. Most of the time, we just play programming on the weekends.”

Grant initially rejected any suggestions that he buy the stations. The Houlton native has a background in computers and experience in college administration. He operates www.collegehelpers.com, a site that helps colleges manage their off-campus job postings and assists students in finding part-time jobs, seasonal employment and internships. He also started www.highschoolhelpers.com to perform a similar service for high school students and alumni. He holds degrees from the University of Hartford and Adelphi University.

“When I was first approached about buying the station, I was immediately against it because I don’t have a background in radio,” he said. “But soon I learned that I have a lot of transferable skills and made the decision to go through with it.”

Grant said that he does not plan to change some things, like coverage of Boston Red Sox baseball or local basketball games, but he wants to expand the station’s technological reach. The station’s website will be revamped and stream live on the Internet 24 hours a day. Grant also wants to develop a mobile app so people can listen to the station on their iPhone or Android. He says Northern Maine Media will offer services such as newsletter development and help businesses with social media and mobile technology.

“I grew up here, and I’ve always wanted to invest in a local business,” he said. “This station is really a part of the community. Most radio stations have been purchased by big conglomerates, but this station remains locally owned. I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews when I’ve told people about buying the station.”

Anderson and Moore rescued the station from a troubled time in the 1990s. The station’s then-owner, Peak Communications of Brewer, declared bankruptcy in August 1995 and the station was placed in the hands of a Bangor attorney who was serving as trustee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. According to court records, Peak Communications was in the hole for almost $207,000 to 41 creditors. The station was off the air for several months until Moore and Anderson solidified its purchase in 1996.

Grant said that he also hopes to secure rights to broadcast Boston Bruins hockey games on WBCQ. If that happens, the station would be the only one north of Bangor to do so.

“That is a complicated process,” Grant said Wednesday. “There are a lot of requirements to carry those games, but I really am hoping to make it work.

Besides live DJs, Grant also is looking to hire an advertising sales agent. Staffing at the station, which lists six employees besides Grant on its website, http://whoufm.yolasite.com/, will remain unchanged for the time being.

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