New owner of popular Aroostook radio station will keep local vibe

1 month ago

CARIBOU, Maine – In 1986, Stan Bennett was 14 years old and working his first job as a switchboard operator at WIGY FM in Bath during Boston Red Sox games. That same year, Channel X Radio began at a Caribou station over 280 miles north.

Nearly four decades later, Bennett, 52, is now the owner and general manager of Channel X, a station that County and New Brunswick residents have tuned into for classic and modern music, live event coverage and local news, sports and weather reports.

Though Bennett has no personal County connections, he wants to maintain the station’s local vibe for listeners.

“I want Channel X to be where people tune in to hear what’s happening in their own backyard,” Bennett said. “Listeners appreciate when you focus on their area and not on another part of the state.”

Channel X has been a local staple since 1986 when Richard Chandler, the late Dennis Curley and his wife Pam Curley started WCXU 97.7 FM in Caribou. They later expanded to several FM call signals throughout The County: WCXV 98.1 in Van Buren, WCXX 102.3 in Madawaska and a low-powered transmitter, 103.1 FM, in Fort Kent. The signals also extend into northern and western New Brunswick, Canada.

Even after Curley’s death in 2018, Channel X remained locally owned, with Chandler serving as vice president and Pam Curley remaining a stakeholder in the company. But as other longtime staff members passed away, Pam Curley, now 75, and Chandler, 62, decided to retire and find someone to carry on the Channel X legacy.

The pair sold Channel X’s stations and the Fort Kent transmitter to Bennett Radio Group, based in Norway, Maine, for $400,000 in December. The Federal Communications Commission gave final approval in early April.

Channel X’s transition to a new owner now leaves only one Aroostook radio station – WHOU 100.1 FM in Houlton – under fully local ownership. Presque Isle-based stations Q96.1, Big Country 96.9 and 101.9 The Rock are owned by Connecticut-based Townsquare Media.

Chandler will stay on as a sales and marketing consultant for Channel X. He said that after speaking with many potential buyers, he and Pam Curley were most impressed with Bennett’s commitment to serving local listeners first.

“That’s 100 percent of the job,” Chandler said. “Stan knows Maine well and we knew he would be the perfect person to pull it off.”

After graduating from the New England School of Broadcasting in Bangor, Bennett began a 28-year career at 99.9 WTHT FM and 107.5 WFNK FM in Portland. He started as a part-time weekend radio announcer and went on to serve as a production director, promotions director, program director, operations manager and vice president of programming.

In 2020, Bennett and his wife Alison purchased their first station, the Norway-based WOXO Country 92.7 and 100.7, after the station closed during the pandemic. They brought the station back on the air in hopes of restoring the community-based services that local radio provides.

“I love how rural local radio gets involved with its communities,” Bennett said. “We can promote fundraisers for local causes, do live event coverage and giveaways and just be there when someone asks ‘Can you give us some help?'”

Bennett followed up that venture with the purchases of WIGY 105.5 and 95.7, a 1980s music station in Auburn; BRG Sports; and The Patriot 96.9 and 98.3, an AM talk radio station broadcasted throughout Oxford County.

Until last October, Bennett had never traveled north of Orono. While visiting Channel X Radio’s communities, he found himself quickly impressed with Aroostook’s friendly people and the attachment they felt to their local station.

That’s why when listeners tune in, they’ll still hear the familiar voices of news anchor Rich Mellow, morning host Rob Hohman and afternoon host David Leo Sirois. Former Channel X announcer Vanessa Pearl will soon return as a midday host. The hosts are continuing local birthday, anniversary and “tip of the hat” segments.

“We want our announcers who live in The County. It’s the best way to serve the area and tell people what’s going on,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s biggest change has been the station’s music line-up. 

Channel X previously had 5,000 songs in its catalog, from the 1960s to present-day hits. Bennett has narrowed the focus to 1970s, 80s and 90s hits and reduced the music catalog to 2,000 songs, with 700 on active rotation.

Bennett plans to continue the station’s “oldies” show featuring late 1950s and 60s hits every Saturday night from 7 to 9 p.m., the hourly national news briefs from CBS News and live coverage of local events.

So far Bennett has only received positive comments about the new music format. 

Eagle Lake resident Earl Labbe said that he used to switch between radio stations while grooming local ATV trails. Now Labbe, 67, keeps his dial tuned to Channel X because he most enjoys the musical decades that the station now plays. 

Labbe also likes how the broadcasts still focus on local happenings.

“What’s going on downstate doesn’t really concern me. I like to hear the local news and weather,” Labbe said. “That’s really all you can ask of a local station.”

Since Bennett purchased Channel X’s stations but not the studio at East Green Ridge Road in Caribou, he plans to relocate to a new studio within the next several months. He hopes to find a building in Caribou within range of the current studio’s radio tower.