Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Local News

New 'CAP owners want to stay local
By Christopher Scott
Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- Local, local and local.

That was the mantra yesterday at WCAP AM 980, where the owner of the Central Street radio station for the last 56 years, Maurice Cohen, emotionally announced that he is selling his radio station to a group of local investors led by Sam Poulten of Chelmsford and Clark Smidt of Andover for $2.6 million.

"It's been like holding a tiger by the tail," Cohen said of his ownership of the station for the last few years. "I just didn't know when to let go. Of course, it's a happy day for me, but it's also a sad day. I'm just glad the new owners plan on keeping everything local."

The prospective deal -- it still needs approval by the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected within 60 days -- culminates nearly two years of negotiations.

Cohen, who started the station with his brother, Ike, had discussed a potential sale with several prominent local businessmen. He even rejected a more lucrative proposal because it didn't contain the local commitment.

"This is just an exhilarating day, a wonderful occasion," said Smidt. "Maurice put together this deal in outstanding style."

"No," Cohen interjected, "you did, Clark."

Both Smidt and Poulten applauded Cohen for keeping the station local with as much local programming as possible.

In fact, they called Cohen a "great hero of local radio."

With "The Morning Information Team" airing weekday mornings from 6 to 9, and "Afternoon Live" running weekday afternoons from 3 to 6, Poulten and Smidt said they hope to create more local programming that's more expansive.

"This radio station will truly be a voice for the entire Merrimack Valley," said Poulten, a real-estate agent who is a member of the Nashoba Valley Technical High School Committee and a former member of the Chelmsford School Committee.

Poulten and Smidt spoke of possible alliances with local schools like Nashoba Tech, as well as The Sun, UMass Lowell and local ethnic groups.

"We're going to cover everything, from the Armenian Festival to the Greek Festival and, of course, the Lowell Folk Festival," Poulten said.

For example, the station will continue its long-held, and successful, tradition of raising money for the local Salvation Army prior to Christmas.

But it won't be easy, Poulten acknowledged.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, WCAP employed nearly 30 people, including a full-time sales force.

Today, the station employs about a half-dozen, and no one is selling ads "except for Maurice," Poulten said.

Poulten said the first challenge is to "beef up" the work force, particularly on the news side, followed by the recruitment of an aggressive sales force to make coverage of the news possible.

Poulten said he and Smidt have formulated a two-year business plan to "bring the station into the 21st century."

Following yesterday's announcement just after the 8 a.m. news, Cohen held court on the air for nearly an hour.

It was a rare on-air appearance for Cohen, who seldom ventures from his business office into the studio.

Guest after guest saluted the gray-haired man in the seersucker suit, including his friend, Kendall Wallace, The Sun's chairman of the board, City Councilors Edward "Bud" Caulfield and Rita Mercier, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan and City Manager Bernie Lynch.

Warren Shaw, host of the "Saturday Morning Live" program, said WCAP's radio personalities, including himself, are welcoming the sale.

"The sale was inevitable," said Shaw, a former Dracut selectman. "By and large, we're just happy it's staying local."

Meanwhile, an application was made to the FCC on Aug. 10 to transfer ownership of the station from Northeast Radio Inc., which is principally owned by Cohen, to Merrimack Valley Radio, LLC, which is owned by Smidt and his son, Jeffrey, and YMSK LLC. The latter is owned by Poulten; his son, Benari; Lowell real-estate agent/developer Brian McMahon; John P. Finn of Tyngsboro; and Kelly Verdolino of Medway.

The 5,300-watt station, which carves a wide radius from Lowell, is the oldest independently owned radio station in Massachusetts, and possibly in New England, said Gary Frascarelli, who serves as WCAP's news director.