Pottsville Duo Bucks the Trends
     

Argie Tidmore is shown. The mics (from left) are three RCAs of various type and size, an Electro-Voice Mercury Model 611 and an EV Model 664.
Consolidation changed the ownership landscape of broadcast properties forever — except, apparently, in Pottsville, Pa., population 14,324.

WPPA(AM) signed on May 9, 1946; its sister-station WAVT(FM) signed on about two years later. The original owner was Pottsville Broadcasting Company, and the owner today is still Pottsville Broadcasting Company. How many stations in your market have been owned by the same folks for 68 years?

“The AM calls stand for ‘Pottsville, Pennsylvania,’ and the FM calls are my father’s initials,” said Argie D. Tidmore, son of the founder.

“Dad learned radio in the navy, and in fact, helped set up FDR’s fireside chats when he later worked for CBS radio. He settled here with a little money and an FCC license to start us off. Being an engineer type, he used to get up there and climb the towers himself. One day, Dad noticed a female disc jockey, a girl named Georgine A. Yanavage. He asked for a date, soon proposed to, and eventually, married her. That was my mom, who used to write speeches for Dad, handle license renewals and who eventually became general manager here.”

Tidmore the younger grew up around his family’s radio stations and, after stints in the Navy and then college at Penn State University, started working at the company full-time.

“I started out painting the fire escapes when I was in high school, and finally, my father let me inside,” he said. “After that I worked on setting up remotes, watched the DJs and the sales staff, and sometimes did on-air interviews. I was never a jock myself, but I started full time here in 1992. The only instructions I got from my parents were, ‘See what needs to be done and do it. If you need help, ask us.’ I’ve been here ever since.”

After Argie was working full-time for two weeks, his parents took off to Florida for vacation, so he began to pose a lot of questions to the employees, and he kept his eyes open.

“Eventually, I improved, changed or left things alone,” he said. “I gave myself the title of assistant general manager, but was officially made GM in the fall of 1993.”

Patriarch A.V. Tidmore died in 1994.

A.V. Tidmore
“I managed here long enough to hear my dad tell me he was happy with what I was doing with his company,” said Argie. “That meant a lot to me.”

NO SALE
Later, his mother gave him her shares in the stations and in 2006 suggested that it might be a good time to sell the properties.

“I knew dollar-wise it was a great time to sell, but I was only 38 and didn’t want to do anything other than radio,” he said.

The AM/FM combo now has a staff of 13 full-time people and 15 part-timers. Many of these are involved with local sports broadcasts that air every week. Four staffers are in sales.

Bucking another trend in smaller markets, the AM is “live and local” until noon each day. The FM is live from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. weekdays. If more than two sports events are to be broadcast simultaneously, the company will use its AM, FM and Internet sites. The stations are not digital.

“My dad told me that our job was to cover what is of interest to the community,” said Tidmore. “He said that if we took care of the people, they would take care of us.”

Again contrary to the practice at many businesses, Pottsville Broadcasting has no debt. It owns its studios, property and towers.

“That got us through the recession,” said Tidmore. “We didn’t have to get rid of people when times got tough. We didn’t even cut salaries. If someone left, we may not have been in a hurry to replace him, but we didn’t go through the place with a hatchet. A lot of owners today paid so much for their stations that they have no choice but to cut out the lifeblood of their radio station: the talent.”

Georgine (Yanavage) Tidmore
TALK ABOUT LOCAL STUFF
The stations are located near Reading and Allentown, but Pottsville is considered part of the Wilkes-Barre market, which itself has only 41,000 residents. Owning a two-station cluster in one of the smallest markets in the country has its challenges over the years.

“If we want to give away tickets to a concert, we have to buy them,” said Tidmore. “We are billing about 15 percent below our peak in 2007. We used to get national commercials from dMarc/Google, but that has dried up. Another thing we deal with in small-market radio is getting good people who understand the industry and want to work. You advertise for a sales position and people think it means answering phones. Because we are a stepping stone to larger markets, we’re lucky to hold onto people for a few years, although my core staff has been with the company a long time.”

However, the station’s close connection to its populace allows WPPA/WAVT to do things that larger-market stations wouldn’t consider.

“Our DJs talk about local stuff,” said Tidmore. “If there is road construction going on, they talk about it. Everyone comes to us to promote their event. We cover the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, the blood drives, charity auctions for families whose homes got burned and much more. We are always happy to talk about an Amber Alert, and we really cover the big weather stories. For the bigger events, we send our people out there. We do well financially only if our area does well, and that’s why we are so intertwined with our community.”

Robert Carl Jr.
Robert Carl Jr. is executive director of the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce, which includes Pottsville. Schuylkill County is home to 155,000

“They run this show on WPPA called ‘Step Up to the Mic,’ and the chamber has actively used that to talk about timely topics for our members and the general community,” Carl said. “The stations really work with the nonprofit groups, and we have about 670 of those in this county. The radio stations have been great partners for us because they understand community service. For example, we had a major transportation bill that passed the Pennsylvania House and Senate, so we went on the air to talk about that recently. The stations have always given us an invitation to come on the air, and I would say they do more than their share of benevolent work.”

“When you walk out the door you are face to face with your listeners and advertisers,” said Tidmore. “If they don’t like something you do on the air, you have to answer for it.”

Pottsville broadcasting has two websites, www.T102radio.com for the FM and www.wpparadio.com for AM. Both stations are streamed when commercial contracts allow.

Ken Deutsch says he grew up in a small market — so small that the main road ran through a carwash. For more of his stories in Radio World, go to radioworld.com and search “Deutsch.”


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