WPVC has been a reliable progressive talk radio voice on Charlottesville’s airwaves since 2015. But on June 17, the low-frequency station went off the air. Michigan-based corporation Saga Communications has reshaped the Charlottesville radio landscape in recent months—Saga has laid off staff from the local stations they own, and filed legal petitions to shut down competition.
When Jeff Lenert started WPVC, “the whole idea in developing the radio station was to turn it on and pass the mic to people to let them tell their stories,” he says.
WPVC had Black Lives Matter organizers on in April 2017, one of the first local outlets to do so, says Lenert. The station also offered the area’s only Spanish-language programming.
“So many people are asking why,” says Mindy Acosta, who hosted a show in Spanish. “It’s very sad. We tried to give information to the people.”
Last year, Saga petitioned the FCC to shut down WPVC and four other low-frequency radio stations in Charlottesville. The petition alleged the five small stations’ underwriting amounted to commercials, which is forbidden for non-commercial broadcasters.
Lenert says his lawyer assured him the petition wouldn’t stick. But legal bills—combined with threats from “neo-Confederates” to Lenert’s underwriters—spelled doom for the small station.
“We generated $1,048 last month in underwriting revenue,” says Lenert. “How [does Saga] know I exist? Am I taking away their money?”
Saga announced June 18 that it was temporarily suspending its quarterly cash dividend, a sign that it’s eyeing further acquisitions. “By preserving the company’s cash position, the company believes market conditions may present attractive acquisition opportunities,” says a Saga statement.
Lenert predicts that during the next FCC filing window for frequencies, Saga will try to take over 94.7.
Meanwhile, over at the Saga-owned Charlottesville Radio Group, six people were unceremoniously shown the door, including some of the stations’ best-known personalities.
The Corner’s Jeff Sweatman was given the ax March 20 while his morning show was still on the air, although he says “no comment” when asked about the manner of his ouster.
Adam Rondeau, co-host of country WCVL’s “Brondeau Show,” was given his pink slip April 15. His co-host, Bryan Shine, decided to depart as well. “The decision to leave was because they weren’t investing in the station and they weren’t investing in the community,” says Shine.
“They make money hand over fist,” he adds.
“Big Greasy Breakfast” host Max Hoecker had been with the Rose Hill Drive stations since 1989, when they were locally owned by Eure Communications, and on 3WV since 1992. He got pulled into the general manager’s office June 5, told the “Big Greasy Breakfast” was no more—it’s been replaced with a syndicated show—and sent on his way.
And Rob Schilling’s local WINA talk radio show has been sliced in half to one hour.
Last fall (pre-pandemic), the company canned operations manager and WINA morning host Rick Daniels, who worked there for more than 30 years. And longtime WINA morning co-host Jane Foy learned she was out of a job the night before she returned from vacation.
Charlottesville Radio Group GM Mike Chiumento did not respond to requests from C-VILLE Weekly.
“We got a lot of lip service that we were a local station,” says Shine, who is now hosting a podcast with Rondeau.
Lenert thinks Charlottesville Radio Group and Saga could afford to have the “Big Greasy Breakfast,” and coexist with stations like WPVC, which generate $1,000 a month. “But they choose not to in an effort to dominate the local radio market,” he says, “which appears to me every month less and less local and more syndicated.”