Listeners probably didn’t notice a difference in the on-air banter of WPST’s deejays over the past year. Longtime personalities Chris Rollins, who hosts the morning talk show, and Dave McKay, who is 94.5’s programming director in addition to being a nighttime host, continued business as usual, spinning Top 40 hits at the popular radio station and keeping up the upbeat chatting for which the station is known.
But behind the scenes at the station’s Alexander Road studios, everyone was wondering what would happen to them.
Between 2011 and May of this year, the station and its two AM radio counterparts were in financial limbo. The parent company, Nassau Broadcasting Partners, had gone bankrupt, and the company’s creditors were buying up parts of Nassau’s 66-station empire.
The stations ended up in the care of a Goldman Sachs subsidiary. What would become of PST? Would its hosts be replaced by syndicated content? What would become of the AM stations, which simulcast Christian content on 920 and 1040 AM?
In 2012 Connecticut-based Connoisseur Media made moves to purchase 10 of Nassau’s stations, including PST and the two AM stations, which broadcast from a tower in Falls Township, Pennsylvania. That sale was finalized this summer, and the future of the radio stations is becoming less murky.
Connoisseur has tapped Andrew Rosen, an 18-year radio veteran, to be general manager of the station. Rosen says there will be no bloodbath: Connoisseur has big plans for the station and is going to hire more local talent, not less.
“This station is respected and loved, and a tremendous brand,” Rosen says. “We are re-investing at a time when so many media companies are severely cutting back resources and manpower. Many have gone to syndicated shows or cut down on the number of on-air personalities. But we are blessed with a CEO who is committed to putting resources back in.”
There are signs that Connoisseur CEO Jeff Warshaw is serious about putting more local voices on the air. WPST has hired Rashad Thomas, a recent graduate of Syracuse, to host a show at night. Even bigger changes are afoot on the AM side, with 920 dropping the Christian format to become “920 AM, The Voice.” Dwain Decker, programming director for the AM stations, says the station did a “soft launch” in November.
The weekday programming at 920 has changed to syndicated talk shows, such as financial advice guru Dave Ramsey and right-wing talker Glenn Beck. The weekends are devoted to local programming.
One of the hosts is food writer and U.S. 1 contributor Pat Tanner, who is hosting “Dining Today with Pat Tanner” Sundays at 2 p.m. Other local shows include Pets & Their People, Let’s Talk About Bullying, The Irishaires (hosted by Geraldine McSorley), and Your Valuable Home. Rosen says many other shows are in the works.
Some of the shows, such as “The Voice of Freedom,” pay Connoisseur to be on the air, Rosen says, and may make a profit by selling their own ads. Others, such as Tanner’s show, are paid a portion of the ad revenue they generate.
The other AM station will continue to broadcast Christian content. Rosen says broadcasting the same programs on two stations was “a waste of a signal.”
Rosen acknowledges that radio is facing increased competition from podcasts, streaming audio, and other sources. He says he wants to make this work in his favor by distributing the content created by his station over multiple platforms, including web streaming and podcasts. Also, even if many people are now listening to digital broadcasts, the radio audience is still massive. WPST reaches 700,000 to 800,000 listeners.
“We have a marketing advantage that digital doesn’t, which is the great content that we have,” he says. He plans to use the “big stick” of the broadcast license to promote the company’s other broadcast and digital content whether it is delivered on the radio, smartphones or tablets, or computer web browsers.
A key part of that strategy is creating more local shows. The Voice will not only have local hosts, but it will cover high school sports games throughout Mercer, Burlington, and Bucks counties. Eventually, the plan is for the programming on 920 to be completely local.
The history of WPST goes back to 1949, when the Mercer Broadcasting Company, a subsidiary of the Trenton Times, launched a station called WTOA broadcasting on 97.5 FM. In 1963 businessman Herbert W. Hobler founded Nassau Broadcasting and launched his own AM radio station, WHWH, named after his initials. Hobler, a Princeton alumnus who was a navigator on B-29 bombers in World War II, also launched an FM station, which became 97.5, WPST in 1975.
Louis Mercatanti bought Nassau from Hobler in 1986, when it only owned WPST and WHWH. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Mercatanti expanded the broadcasting empire, acquiring dozens of small-market radio stations. In 2005 WPST changed its frequency to 94.5 and moved to reach more of the Philadelphia metro area.
Recently Nassau was besieged by financial woes. In 2011 the company’s creditors forced it into a bankruptcy wherein it had to settle its debts by selling its radio stations. As of this writing, only one radio station, a silent station in the Poconos, remained in Nassau’s hands.
Throughout all this, WPST remained a valuable asset, which Connoisseur was eager to snap up. Rosen believes radio has thrived in an era when it is becoming very easy for people to listen to their favorite songs anywhere, for free, mostly because radio offers personalities in addition to music.
Chris Rollins, in addition to being a charismatic, chatty radio personality, makes a point of sharing stories from her personal life on the air. Listeners call in and do the same. It doesn’t take long for a regular listener to feel an emotional bond to Rollins or another host.
At the moment, the driving personality behind WPST isn’t on the air. Rosen has been behind the scenes in broadcasting since his college days, when he studied broadcasting at the University of Hawaii while working five jobs, including being a production assistant for ABC News.
Rosen grew up in New York, where his mother was a legal secretary and lounge singer. She raised Rosen and his brother in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. His father left when he was 5. Rosen’s first attempt to finish college ended when, lacking ambition, he dropped out to work at a sporting goods store. But Rosen says that after seeing how hard the family who owned the store worked, he was inspired to return to school.
However, the disruption of Rosen’s education had a price. Rosen recalls that when he interviewed for a job at the college television station, the interviewers asked if they could count on him to be punctual.
“I panicked,” Rosen says. “I said, ‘I don’t know how to operate the equipment, but I will learn.’ They said, ‘No, we mean, will you be on time?’ I didn’t know what ‘punctual’ meant!”
Rosen learned the broadcasting trade well in Hawaii, and after graduation, took a job stateside producing news for NBC. He soon moved to the world of radio, rising through the ranks to become a regional manager in the New York state market. He has worked for stations in New York and Pennsylvania since then, including a stint at industry giant Clear Channel.
Now Rosen says he is committed to making the former Nassau stations better and more local than ever. “We want to give people a voice.”
94.5 WPST, 619 Alexander Road, Box 1350, Princeton 08540; 609-419-0300; fax, 609-419-0143. Andrew Rosen, station manager. www.wpst.com.