The Radio Vermont Group, which includes WDEV-AM in Waterbury, is for sale. Owner Ken Squier says at 82, he’s reached the age where he feels he must sell the stations.
“I hate to give it up,” says Squier. He hopes to find a buyer who will carry on the company’s tradition of locally produced programming.
“I so much want to see it continue to be local, community-oriented. It has great listenership. I think people do respond to it and they care about it.”
A Vermont broadcast institution, WDEV signed on the air in 1931. Squier’s father, Lloyd, ran the station initially and bought it in 1935.
In recent years, Squier has added several other Vermont stations, including WDEV-FM in Warren, WLVB-FM in Morrisville, WCVT-FM in Stowe and WEXP-FM in Rutland. All are included in the sale. The Radio Vermont group has 22 employees.
WDEV-AM, with its three prominent towers just off the interstate in Waterbury, is the company’s flagship and one of Vermont oldest radio stations.
Its reputation rests not only on its longevity as a family-owned station, but on its emphasis on local programming and an unhurried, quirky style that includes a willingness to poke gentle fun at itself. A number of WDEV’s personalities, including Squier, have been on the air for decades and are familiar voices to Central Vermont radio listeners.
Squier says many small town radio stations have transitioned to syndicated national programming supplied by satellite, enabling them to cut costs by reducing staff. He says WDEV’s refusal to follow that path has come at a price.
“The times are much harder,” says Squier. “As more and more stations decide that they don’t need people, they need sales people only, it kind of puts us in a difficult position.”
To someone accustomed to the fast-paced, tightly formatted programming popular in today’s commercial radio, WDEV may sound quaint and out-of-date, but even as times have changed, it has continued to mirror the lives and routines of rural listeners.
One example is Saturday morning’s “Music To Go To the Dump By," a tongue-in-cheek segment hosted by Squier. The program’s title goes back to a time before transfer stations.
Another program, the daily "Trading Post," remains a popular venue for listeners to buy and sell items, even in the era of Craigslist.
While evolving over the years — scaling back music programming in favor of local talk segments, for example — the station has continued to emphasize public service, news and sports, including play-by-play broadcasts of high school basketball games.
Squier says he is already talking with potential buyers.
“The criteria would be that we would find some Vermonters who believed in what we were doing and would carry it forward,” he says.
Squier acknowledges WDEV's business model may not be particularly profitable. "But as far as what I wanted from it, I'm pretty satisfied," he says.