Democrat and Chronicle – March 5, 2012 – There was no telling how large the following for WGMC 90.1 FM would become when it started as a 10-watt school radio station in 1973. There’s also no telling what the future holds for WGMC. It’s that dynamic that makes pledge drives at one of America’s few remaining jazz radio stations essential. About half of its $200,000 annual budget depends on donations from listeners. So to reach its initial $50,000 goal, WGMC is gearing up for two fundraising events, a Pancake Breakfast on Saturday and a station Open House on March 16. In addition, the first of two annual on-air pledge drives begins March 12. In his eight years as station manager, Rob Linton has learned to love jazz — as do most, if not all, of the 32-member mostly volunteer staff. Asking for funds on-air to maintain the station is the first step in his goal of increasing the station’s reach and listenership.
“We don’t have a marketing budget,” Linton said, “so we can’t buy a billbord on 490 as much as I’d like to.”
The station finished its expansion from 2,500 to its current 15,000-watt broadcast signal just before Linton joined the station in 2004.
WGMC, which has 20,000 to 25,000 listeners a week, can now be consistently heard in a roughly 50-mile radius of Greece; under certain circumstances, its broadcast signal can be heard in Toronto, Syracuse and Buffalo.
Yet, Linton said, there’s still a need for more local exposure.
“We still have a ton of people in the area who don’t even know a jazz station exists because they don’t travel to the left side of the dial much.”
In a perfect world, he envisions a 50,000-watt transmitter or expanding the audience through use of repeater frequencies that gather, repeat and extend existing signals into other areas.
There’s no telling when, or if, WGMC will ever become a 50,000-watt station, a vision Linton jokes about. “We have to be realistic,” he said, laughing.
So, Linton is taking smaller steps for now.
It is streaming online, giving the station a potential world-wide audience; it’s launched a web-based content app for Android and iPhone devices; and it’s exploring using Web streams for use with different niche jazz formats.
In the meantime, WGMC is upholding one of America’s original art forms. And they’re having fun doing it.
Unlike some commercial stations, which are programmed to operate via computer, there’s a live staff member at WGMC at least 18 hours a day.
Thanks to Linton and music director Derrick Lucas, all of the station’s deejays — like Dave Enright of Irondequoit, who hosts a Thursday night music show — has the run of the station’s library of about 10,000 CDs and 5,000 vinyl LPs, so chances are good that an obscure artist or song, can be played.
“He (Linton) makes doing this job a lot of fun,” said Enright.
No matter what direction the station goes, there’s one thing jazz enthusiasts won’t have to worry about.
When the station considered changes to its straight-ahead jazz format a while back, Linton surveyed listeners concerning the possible addition of “smooth jazz” selections — and avid classic jazz listeners pretty much freaked.
“These people got mad,” said Linton. “(They said) ‘How dare you bring in smooth jazz?!’ … The people went nuts! I learned my lesson from that.”