By LINDA KELLETT
C-S-E News Staff
ST. JOHNSVILLE — Radio station WKAJ-AM will soon be on the air.
Having received news late last week that the Federal Communications Commission had granted approval for work on the project to move ahead, John Tesiero, the owner of Cranesville Block Co., on Tuesday said, “The politicians did the right thing for the people. It was nice to see Washington work right. They realized the value of having a radio station, especially during a disaster, like WCSS proved when cell phones and everything go down. We’re going to have a radio station there and hopefully they’ll provide the same kind of service for the rest of [Montgomery] county that WCSS does, with local information and news, and take care of the people.”
Cranesville Block owns and operates Amsterdam radio station WCSS AM-1490 as well as the new St. Johnsville-based AM station.
WCSS General Manager Joe Isabel, who is involved with the western Montgomery County venture primarily on an engineering basis with the help of a consultant, said he was “very happy” that the project can move ahead.
He said, “It took a long time, but the FCC finally determined there was a need out here.”
Isabel credited U.S. Sen. Charles “Chuck” Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, with their assistance in getting FCC approval for the long-stalled project. Company officials received news of the FCC’s decision late last week.
The company in 2011 had filed for a license and planned the construction of four broadcast towers, a transmitter and control unit at the company’s former Fulmont Ready Mix concrete plant just west of the village of St. Johnsville. Delays — first from a late-summer tornado and later flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee — pushed the project past its Dec. 15, 2011 permit deadline.
Isabel said, “The FCC said we had gone past the deadline, and the permit had expired.”
As noted in February 2012 correspondence between Peter Doyle, chief of the FCC Audio Division, Media Bureau, and Albany attorney Brian Barraclough, FCC officials denied the company’s request for the reinstatement of the expired construction permit as well as additional time to complete construction and file a license application for the St. Johnsville station.
Isabel said, “We appealed. They denied the first appeal. We tried to prove the need in case of an emergency. There’s nothing [that is, no main radio station] out there.There was a need for a radio station, especially with the dam. Mr. Schumer and Mr. Tonko went to appeal to the FCC, and basically they said, ‘Let’s do good for the people here.’”
Isabel added, “I was pleased both congressmen went to bat” for the project.
Company officials received word about the FCC’s decision Friday afternoon.
Schumer and Tonko both issued statements about the matter on Tuesday.
Schumer said, “The devastation of Hurricane Irene caused enormous challenges for this local small business, and I’m very pleased that the FCC has heeded my call and provided this waiver. Construction efforts at WKAJ can now move forward thanks to this common sense decision, which will mean a great deal for the local community.”
Additionally, Tonko said, “My office worked hard to ensure this radio station could move forward and be built. We are pleased with the decision of the FCC. It was the right thing to do. I believe this station’s proposed programming will benefit the community and serve the public interest, while increasing capacity in a local, underserved market.”
Isabel said the station will reach listeners west to Utica, south to Oneonta, and east almost to Schenectady. Because there is no metropolitan area north of the site, it has no delineated range; however Isabel said, “It’ll go north about the same distance as it goes south.”
Some vandalism had occurred at the broadcast towers and transmitter site after the construction delay. Isabel said, “We’re already in the building, checking lines and checking to see if repairs are needed.”
If no problems are encountered, the 10,000 watt station could conceivably begin broadcasting from its St. Johnsville transmitting location within a matter of weeks, Isabel said.
The station will broadcast initially from the former Fulmont plant, but Isabel said company officials will be seeking another local broadcast location. He’d also like to see a station established at Little Falls, but he’s not sure if that is feasible.
The company will also use the production studio at WCSS.
He estimated that the St. Johnsville station will have one full-time engineer and an additional four or five people: “Basically on-air people and production people,” he said, noting that radio talk show host Hank Brown, who was originally slated to work for the station, has assumed another position.
Reflecting on the role that radio can play in an emergency, Isabel said, “When all the technology goes away, you can still have AM transmitted.”