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NAB Marconi Award Finalist Profiles: WCTK(FM)

Long-time country music kingpin of New England

The National Association of Broadcasters has announced the finalists for the 2015 Marconi Awards, which will be handed out Oct. 1 during the NAB Marconi Awards Dinner & Show taking place during the 2015 Radio Show in Atlanta.

As the start of the 2015 Radio Show approaches, we look to offer a profile for some of the stations that were named finalists for the Marconi Awards. This week the Vice President and General Manager of Large Market Station of the Year finalist WCTK(FM) in Providence, R.I., Tom Wall, spoke with us about his station.

WCTK Programming Staff and Promotional Staff with Country Music Star Hunter Hayes (third from right, back row) Radio World: Briefly describe your stations history, current ownership and format?
Tom Wall: WCTK(FM) was originally WFMR and an authorized power of 20 kW. It went on the air Dec. 9, 1946; during the inaugural program, Massachusetts Gov. Maurice J. Tobin said that WFMR was the first new FM station to sign on in New England after World War II. By the 1970s it was WMYS, a soft rock-/oldies-based station broadcasting from New Bedford, Mass. On July 28, 1989, the station switched formats to country and changed its call sign to WCTK. The new country station was originally known as “Country 98.1 WCTK.” In 1994, WCTK began calling itself “Cat Country.” In 1997, the station moved its studios from New Bedford to the Roland Building in Providence, R.I., to concentrate on fully serving the Providence Arbitron metro which consist of the of the entire state of Rhode Island and Bristol County, Mass. The station is family-owned and operated by Hall Communications Inc.

RW: What’s the station’s slogan?
Wall: WCTK’s slogan is Cat Country 98.1: Southern New England’s Country.

RW: Why do you think WCTK was among the finalists in the Large Market Station of the Year? What makes WCTK stand out from the other finalists?
Wall: WCTK is your hometown country radio station if you are from Rhode Island, southern Massachusetts or Cape Cod. Our staff is all “from here,” and everything we talk about on the air is run through a “local” filter. Our talent does not use DJ prep services; they use real life — in our communities — to prep their shows. Our staff members are the ones you see in the community — running or volunteering at big events. On the air, we look for people with real “Down-East” accents to be in our testimonial spots and make it a habit to get as many local towns or “hot-spots” on the air each week as possible.

What makes WCTK stand-out is the impact the radio station has had on the format in this region. For years, country music was not a top-tier format in the Northeast. While other country stations came and went, WCTK stayed the course — believing that any strong brand takes patience and tenacity to build. The Hall family always believed in the format and that WCTK could be a world-class country music station. The pages of pictures of country stars coming through the WCTK studio is a testament to the strong country music brand WCTK has built in New England in its 26 years.

RW: What is the radio culture like at the station? What words would radio people who work there use about it?
Wall: WCTK’s on-air sound is “fun and familiar.” The audience won’t feel the fun if the staff is not having fun. Our staff is used to brain-storm creative ideas to keep the audience entertained and to catch them off-guard. Several of our biggest promotions of the year have come out of meetings in which a staff member threw out an idea, which grew in a concept and a listener promotion.

RW: What’s the most unusual thing the station has done lately that typifies its personality or mission?
Wall: WCTK’s mission statement is to “do what’s right for our listeners, advertisers, families and communities to make a positive difference in their lives.” The first quarter of this year provided a unique opportunity to serve our communities as one of the harshest winters in history buried southern New England under a record amount of snow. Our tower is on the coastline, so as storm after storm knocked-out power, WCTK was one of the only sources of information for people who live in isolated coastal areas and the islands. WCTK provided a steady stream of information to those people, breaking format when needed — despite the fact they represent a minuscule portion of the metro population. That is something only a local broadcaster can do.

RW: Who makes up the leadership roles at the station — GM, PD, SM, chief engineer, digital platform manager and others?
Wall: VP/GM/GSM is Tom Wall; PD and Digital Platform Manager is Bob Walker; Promotions and Marketing Director is Briget D’Antonio; Chief Engineer is Dave Doherty.

RW: Anything else people need to know about the station?
Wall: WCTK is one of the last of the family-owned, standalone radio stations in a large media market.

See more station profiles of 2015 Marconi Award finalists here.