WARWICK—In the past few decades the ownership of media outlets has become increasingly concentrated in a few large companies, and the media owned by those conglomerates is often criticized for a homogenized product without a strong local identity. Orange County’s WTBQ radio station stands apart from these trends.
One of the last independent radio stations in the Hudson Valley, WTBQ is locally owned. It also puts serving the community first, according to station owner Frank Truatt.
Truatt gauges success in increasing listenership and keeping a good name in the community, not in big financial returns. “We want to make the station continue to have a great reputation. Over the years, we’ve stayed true to that.”
“We are really a local radio station that gets out to the local community everything that they need to know about what’s going on within the community,” said Truatt.
WTBQ provides information and entertainment geared specifically toward local listeners. He welcomes local experts who can provide fresh insights from their area of expertise that listeners want to hear. Dr. Richard Hull is one such expert.
“It’s an amazingly effective forum where we can exchange ideas and thoughts. Out of that comes new ideas and new directions in the community,” said Hull, who hosts a program on local history at the station.
Truatt said he covers almost everything of interest to the local community: the arts, history, politics, and real estate. Part of the regular programming are two nationally syndicated shows, consumer guru Clark Howard’s “Money in Your Pocket” and John Tesh’s “Intelligence For Your Life,” which provides helpful tips on a wide variety of subjects such as health, career, home improvement, and pet care.
“We try to appeal to everybody in Orange County and not bring it down to one single demographic,” Truatt said.
The station plays a variety of music, and Truatt himself hosts a ’70s music show. “It’s really a mix of hits,” Truatt said. Station Manager Taylor Sterling interviews music celebrities on the morning show.
Political affairs stir up lively discussion. Truatt said they try to provide the latest information on hot topics, with a local focus. The station’s political roundtable follows a defined format: County Executive Steve Neuhaus on Mondays, a former county supervisor on Tuesday, a Middletown legislator on Wednesday, three legislators share the mic on Thursday, and local celebrity Pat O’Dwyer rounds out the schedule on Friday.
Sterling said listeners get the straight story directly from the source, with the station balancing different political viewpoints.
“That’s why the issues in this county have taken us so long to resolve. Everybody’s got a different side and a different twist on it,” Truatt said. Whatever is discussed, he wants it to be compelling. “We want to be the place where people tune in and talk about over the water cooler.”
The station brings in its share of celebrities: Tony Danza, Larry the Cable Guy, NASCAR drivers. Actor and local resident James Cromwell stopped by to push a pet project.
WTBQ calls itself Orange County’s No.1 Community Radio Station with listeners in Sullivan County, New Jersey’s Sussex and Passaic counties, and Pike County in Pennsylvania. The station broadcasts on 1110 AM and 93.5 FM, with live streaming on the Internet and apps for phones or tablets.
Modern community radio stations offer a variety of content that is not necessarily provided by the larger commercial radio stations. A community radio meme said that it should be “10 percent radio and 90 percent community.” The issues in the community are more important than radio per se, as opposed to mainstream stations with a focus on the commercial importance of featured presenters.
The Wall Street Journal cited the station as one of the last true community radio stations left—a nonprofit operation licensed by the FCC in the public portion of the FM band. Community radio differs from public radio, such as NPR, by allowing volunteers in the community to actively participate as broadcasters. Much of WTBQ’s programming is locally produced with skilled nonprofessional disc jockeys and producers.
The popularity of podcasts has raised the exposure of community radio, especially among young people who now see radio as “cool,” according to a 2012 report by Australian Bill McKibben.
WTBQ embraced digital early on as a way to reach its audience. It was the first station in the Hudson Valley to carry its programs on the Internet in 1999; it was also the first area radio station with a website, back in 1995.
Sterling said they challenge themselves to keep the programming relevant and ensure “that the hosts engage the listeners with informative, intelligent, humorous, and savvy conversation and in a timely fashion.”
Hull noted the key position WTBQ has in the local area. “This provides us with a wonderful forum where we can bring experts in to debate these issues. They’re an essential part of our community.”
Truatt said time passes quickly as he goes about his duties at the station. He feels he has found his calling, “I can truly be myself on the radio.”