Brockton’s lone AM radio station, long known for its community news and local sports coverage, has switched to an international format geared toward Haitian listeners.
WXBR-AM (1460) is now “24-hour Haitian-only” and features paid programming, which means businesses and aspiring broadcasters provide their own content and pay for airtime, said Jhonson Napoleon, president of Azure Media LLC, the Miami Gardens, Fla., company that owns the station.
Napoleon said the changes were necessary because the station has been losing money. “We had to do something,” he said.
WXBR’s old shows went off the air and the station transitioned to Haitian programming on July 14. Paid programs will continue to be added to the lineup, and the new schedule will be posted on WXBR’s revamped website, which is under construction, Napoleon said.
The changes come as a disappointment to some, and an opportunity to others.
Ed Perry, the longtime owner of WATD-FM (95.9) in Marshfield, said he has “mixed emotions” about WXBR’s transformation. On one hand, it’s a boon to his radio station, which emphasizes local events and issues and caters to an older, music-listening audience.
“We have less competition to work in the Brockton market,” said Perry. “On the other hand, from a standpoint of local information going out on a contemporary basis, I think it’s sad.”
As the owner of an independent radio station, Perry knows the broadcasting business can be a tough one. Perry and his wife launched WATD in 1977 when he was 36. He’s 73 now, and he and his wife still work there.
“You can understand it’s a business,” said Perry. “If you’re not involved with the community, it’s often easy to say, what can we do to best monetize the investment we made?”
Perry said WATD will look to increase its news coverage and involvement with Brockton.
“We’re going to try to pick up all the slack we can,” said Perry. “It still doesn’t take the place of a station that’s totally dedicated to the Brockton market.”
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to salvage some of WXBR’s locally produced programs that went off the air earlier this month.
Ron Van Dam and other WXBR on-air personalities bade their farewells to the station’s listeners on July 11. Having the opportunity to host the final show and sign off was “a nice way to go out,” said Van Dam, who says he will continue to produce his show as an online podcast, at www.metrosouthpodcasting.com.
Van Dam, who was named general manager of WXBR in March, stepped down after he was told of the plans to change the station’s format. While he is sad to go, “there’s no ill will or anger,” said Van Dam.
“I certainly understand’’ what the owner did, he said. “I understand his reasoning, but it’s unfortunate for the South Shore community.”
The radio station’s roots run deep in Brockton. It first went on the air in 1946 as WBET and operated from the Enterprise newspaper building on Main Street. In 2006 the station was purchased by a Connecticut-based company, and its call letters were changed to WXBR. Azure Media LLC bought the station for $250,000 in 2012, and moved WXBR’s studios to 250 Belmont St.
Napoleon said he aims to increase WXBR’s revenues and make the station “more inclusive than it used to be” and more representative of the city’s population.
“The community of Brockton is very diverse,” Napoleon said.
Recent census figures show that 24.7 percent (23,245) of the city’s population are foreign-born, and large numbers of residents trace their roots to Cape Verde and Haiti. Of the 94,000 people who live in the city, 13,671 are of Cape Verdean descent, and 10,226 are Haitian, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2008-2012 American Community Survey.
Leading the charge to save some of WXBR’s former programs is Dennis Hursey, a Brockton resident, Brockton High alum, and physical education teacher at Ursuline Academy in Dedham.
“I listened to it in high school,” said Hursey. “It’s a very good community radio station, and it’s really important to the community. It serves Avon, Easton, Stoughton, West Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, and Bridgewater. It encompasses a lot of towns.”
Hursey is chairing a committee to save three local talk shows that used to air on WXBR: the Metro South Morning Show, the Ron Van Dam Show, and the “Mind of Meda,” hosted by Tremeda Martin.
On July 16, Hursey held a public meeting to discuss ways to get the programs back on the air, and 28 people attended. He has scheduled another meeting for next Wednesday at 7 p.m., with the location in Brockton yet to be settled early this week.
“We want to keep those shows on, because they provide local news and give local people a chance to talk,” said Hursey. “We want to get the surrounding towns involved.”
He said he also wants to bring back high school sports broadcasts.
One option would be to raise money to buy airtime on WXBR. Hursey said the committee will also explore the possibility of Internet radio and any other options. He would like to get the programs back on the air by Jan. 1. “That’s my goal,” he said.