Local radio station WVGN 107.3 FM will go off the air Sunday, taking with it National Public Radio. In its place will be a contemporary music format that eventually will feature a live disc jockey.
Keith Bass, managing member of LKK Group Corp., the station owners, confirmed the sale of the station in August. Speaking from LKK’s Hollywood, Calif., home, Bass said the station had been sold to Robert J. Watkins of Michigan.
"Over the last 10 years we have performed a community service and we are winding down," Bass said then. "One thing, we haven’t been able to look at more local programming. With NPR, you need to integrate local programming."
Watkins said Wednesday that he could not afford the NPR programming, which he said runs between $17,000 and $24, 000 annually.
"I can’t afford those numbers,” the new owner said.
Watkins, president and CEO of WHPR TV33 / FM88.1 in Detroit, is a seasoned radio veteran with more than 40 years under his belt. He has big plans for the new station, but said for the time being it will just carry contemporary music until he gets his satellite and studio set up. That may take a couple months, adding that unforeseen problems have stood in the way of his actively taking over the station earlier.
As far as NPR’s fees go, Watkins said, "Actually, people pay me to come on the radio. I have not yet had to pay someone to come on my radio station.”
Eventually he plans for a lively, interactive format.
"We will have a live DJ playing music and you’ll be able to see him on live streaming. In a few months you’ll be able to call in or Skype and talk to the DJ live. You’ll be on TV.”
Watkins said his goal is to "bring the V.l. to Detroit and Detroit to the V.I.” The station will still be at 107.3, but the call letters are WVIE, for Virgin Islands Entertainment.
The loss of NPR will come as a blow to many Virgin Island residents. Victoria Squires, general sales manager of WVGN, who put out a release about the sale Tuesday, said there is no way to judge the local NPR audience because "it’s not a measured market.”
Nonetheless, in its 12 years in the V.I., the station has grown a small, but dedicated audience.
NPR staples the Diane Rehm Show, Terry Gross of Fresh Air, and all the others can be accessed through Internet streaming at http://www.npr.org/.
Watkins said he will keep the local Doug Lewis show, which has been on Sunday afternoons for the last 10 years, featuring an eclectic mix of everything from blues to country to jazz with local artists. Lewis said he is happy to still have his show, though sad to leave WVGN. He has already sent this Sunday’s show, his final on WVGN.
Losing WVGN is to many like losing an old friend, a smart, funny, healthy, well-informed friend.