KINGSTON–As Jimmy Buff was leaving the Kingston Farmers Market on Saturday, at least five people approached him with ideas for shows on what will soon be a reinvented WKNY-1490 AM.
“We’re going to entertain all those ideas,” said Buff, the executive director of what will be called Radio Kingston.
The nonprofit Radio Kingston Corp., led by Peter Buffet of the NoVo Foundation, is purchasing the 78-year-old WKNY from Townsquare Media for $500,000.
Townsquare, the third-largest AM-FM operator in the country, owns more than 300 radio stations in 66 markets, according to its website, http://www.townsquaremedia.com/local-media/overview.
On Tuesday, steps were taken with the Federal Communications Commission to take ownership of WKNY, Buff said.
“Negotiations have been going on for a couple of months. Some things have to take place first, but we’ll take ownership in a couple of months.”
Buff, who has a large following, stepped down in recent weeks as program director and on-air morning host at Radio Woodstock, 100.1 WDST.
He will be a driving force at Radio Kingston, which will spotlight “community storytelling as well as artistic and musical expression, conversation and connection”–all what Buff describes as “hyperlocal.”
“WKNY is coming back to local hands. We will be independently owned. WKNY was part of Townsquare’s package, and while the people who work at WKNY….have done a great job maintaining local, there was stuff that wasn’t local. The heart of the matter is that we’re going to give the voices of Kingston the chance to be represented,” he said.
According to Buff, the buzz is big following word that WKNY, which has been on the air since 1939, is being sold.
His encounters with fellow Kingstonians at the farmers’ market over the weekend illustrates the interest in “returning the radio station to local hands,” he said.
“The key is hyperlocal in that it will all relate to Kingston in some way, shape or form.”
Buff pointed out that Radio Kingston will be markedly different from anything out there, including WGHQ-920 AM, known for its live weekday talk show “Kingston Community Radio” from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
The two-hour “air time” is leased from Pamal Broadcasting through donations from the public and program underwriters. The rest of the day, it features a traditional country music format.
“Even WBPM (92.9) isn’t in Kingston. Their studio is in the Beacon-Fishkill area. Their hosts don’t live in the city and aren’t part of the city fabric,” he said. “They look at it as a market, and we look at it as a community.”
When word got out about the buy, interest turned to familiar WKNY personalities like on-air host and brand manager Warren Lawrence, who has been a fixture at the Kingston station for 44 years.
He has worn just about every hat from on-air host and programming director to ad salesman and has lived through countless changes, including ones in ownership.
Townsquare bought WKNY, along with 71 radio stations, from Cumulus Media in the fall of 2013.
Buff said Radio Kingston will retain and find roles for Lawrence and other employees.
“Warren is staying on. There’s no doubt about it. We’re excited to keep him. Everyone who wants to stay can stay, and we’ll be having conversations with them,” Buff said.
In fact, call-in shows like “Lunch Box ’70s,” the “Sunday Morning Garage Sale,” “Original Sold Gold Weekend” and ethnic favorites like “The Irish Show” will continue, Buff said.
“WKNY has done a great job keeping it local. We’re just going to bring more locality to what they’ve been doing already.”
In addition, Radio Kingston Corp. expects to hire at least two full-time people–a news director and office manager, Buff said, and is further considering some sort of sports coverage.
“There’s been sports reporting throughout WKNY’s history,” he said. “We don’t rule anything out. I would love to engage with Kingston High School. I would love for Kingston students to become radio reporters and report on events, and those are all things we’re going to be talking about.”
In the coming months, Buff said Radio Kingston will be holding public meetings to tap ideas and solidify shows.
“Literally everything is on the table for coverage,” he said. “We’re going to open that process up shortly. The meetings are for people to tell us what a local community station should be.”
Buff got his start in the business 33 years ago at the legendary rock station WNEW-FM in New York.
There, he met Gary Chetkof, who later moved on and bought WDST in 1993.
Not long after, Buff joined Chetkof at WDST, which became one of the first alternative radio stations in the country, according to its website, and helped “invent the Triple A format (Adult Album Alternative).”
Buff became program director there in 1994 and developed a huge following as morning-drive host.
In addition to serving as executive director at Radio Kingston, he will be part of a yet unknown show.
“My job will be to make sure that we succeed in our mission, and our success isn’t going to be determined by revenue or ratings. It will be determined by how much we help the Kingston community become engaged with itself.”
As far as how the whole concept got started, Buff said it’s been months-in-the-making, particularly as his relationship with Peter Buffet, co-president of the NoVo Foundation, evolved.
“He helped start a radio station in Milwaukee, and his NoVo Foundation …helps fund some Native American stations, and this idea came out of our shared experience in radio and community and progressed from there.”
Buff said there are no plans to move the radio station from its current location at 718 Broadway, but equipment, particularly that which is needed to do live remotes, will be updated.
“We’re going to be out in the community doing a lot of live broadcasting,” he said.
Going forward, Buff said he is not looking at his new role at Radio Kingston as a challenge, but as an “evolution.”
“Commercial radio has its place in the world, but my interest is not getting advertisers. It’s getting the community engaged. I consider it a welcome opportunity.
“We have a young son growing up in this community. My wife has legacy here. We live and breathe this community, so those are the things that I want to support, and a radio station has this unique ability to bring a lot of the community together,” he said.