GARY JAMES in the studio of WASR 1420 AM on Varney Road in Wolfeboro. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
February 02, 2012WOLFEBORO — Gary James, WASR Station Manager and morning personality, has spent more than 40 years in radio. Now, looking back over his career from the viewpoint of completing his first year at WASR 1420 AM he says, "I just love local radio, and I have to say, this is local radio at its best."
James began his radio career in Springfield, Mass., at the local radio station. He was 15 and too young to drive, so his mother drove him to work. After a while he was given the responsibility of running the Red Sox game broadcasts, which were fed to the station, and playing commercials in the slots provided. "One day there was a rainout – the game was cancelled – and I became an instant DJ," James says, chuckling at the reminiscence. He filled the gap by playing country music and not only survived that test of his wits but was allowed to stay live on other shows.
Thus began Gary James' adventures in radio broadcasting.
He went to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting to sharpen his skills and then got a job at WARE in Wareham, Mass., as on air DJ who also did the news. He started in an afternoon slot and then moved to mornings. In all he spent 18 years at WARE, then the station was sold and the new owners changed everything.
It seems that stations are bought and sold a lot, and often a change in owners meant a change in format and personnel – and a chance to move on the bigger and better things, James feels.
James was next program director and the morning guy at WMEX in Boston and then moved to WDRC AM/FM in Hartford, where he played oldies in the 1980s. James says he loved Hartford, but then he was offered the station manager position with WKNE FM in Keene, N.H. When he arrived the station had low ratings, and it was a challenge to turn things around. He not only managed the station, he was also the morning guy. "That was the best job," he says. "I had a free hand and became in my own way a shock jock – not like Howard Stern, mind you – but we did crazy stuff to boost the ratings and entertain the listeners." One example was a secret sound contest where the station would give daily clues: on the day of the final clue "the calls blew out the phone lines," he says, He added a co-host, Tracy Caruso (who is now on WZID) and their joking byplay got people listening and talking.
After eight years at WKNE he got an opportunity to go back to Springfield, Mass. as the operational manager and morning host of WHYN AM/FM. Then that station was sold and he headed back to New Hampshire to WTSN The Bay in Dover as operations manager and morning personality. "I am good in the mornings," James says with a smile.
In a few years he was offered the position the station manager of a new station in Rochester, 106.5 FM, which was modeled after WMEX. The job included an interest in the business. He was there for seven years and his daughter worked with him. Then EMF Broadcasting, a Christian group in California, bought the station and made it part of a network with a satellite feed. There was no longer any need for a studio – or an on-air personality.
Then after a temporary arrangement or two, the opportunity at WASR opened up. James jumped at it last February and has been very happy he came.
He has lived for many years in Gonic, a section of Rochester, and he finds his morning commute a pleasant one.
"I like it here," he says. "I am really impressed with the generosity of the community. People here in general are great." As a longtime Rotarian James was delighted that his first experience with the Rotary Holiday Basket Drive raised more than $58,000 last December and set a new record.
"A big plus with WASR is that it locally-owned and all decision-making is local." He enjoys working with Grant Hatch, who has owned the station for a number of years.
Right now James and Hatch are planning programs that will make Wolfeboro's lively local station even livelier.
Stay tuned – to 1420 AM.