You could say that life in radio hasn’t exactly been a breeze for 70-year-old station owner Dick Greene.
But the winds have been blowing in a positive direction for the owner of WECK-AM ever since he changed the station’s format from The Breeze to Timeless WECK, which is available on 1230 AM and 102.9 FM.
Timeless – which carries adult standards featuring Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé and Tony Bennett – has a soothing format that is pleasing to listen to whether you are staying home during this week’s historic snowstorm or lounging on a beach chair in the summer.
Greene, who has spent his life in radio, proudly calls himself the only local owner of an AM and FM combination in the market. His career reflects all the changes in the industry over several decades and now he has something more to be proud of at WECK.
According to sources, WECK had a 2.5 share of the audience over the age of 12 for 12th place in the market during the summer ratings book – which is the most recent – for the period June 19 through Sept. 10.
That may seem like a modest figure, but it is a 40 percent gain from a year ago and an indication the format is catching on after Greene had a few failures since buying the station in 2008.
The 2.5 share also is almost twice as high as the share of the new alternative station, WLKK-FM, in the summer and four times as high as the ESPN format on WWKB.
Of course, WLKK and WWKB attract audiences that may be more attractive to younger and male listeners. But the 2.5 share is impressive on a station that struggled a few years ago to even achieve a 1 share.
Greene previously tried a news and sports format, thinking he could compete with WBEN-AM and WGR-AM. Wrong.
Greene, who also owns WLVL-AM in Lockport, figured that having a hometown news and talk format in both Niagara and Erie counties would help him compete with the big boys.
“I thought I would divide and conquer WBEN and WGR,” said Greene. “It didn’t work. It is very difficult to beat the heritage stations in the market – BEN for news, WGR for sports. For as good as we were, we couldn’t compete.”
So he changed formats in 2012 to The Breeze, which was homegrown, adult contemporary music.
“I thought if we were to do a contemporary format better than anybody else and provide a more complete playlist of songs targeted at that 25-54 audience, I’d be able to get some numbers,” said Greene.
“Failed again,” he conceded. He was told the format had a lower share than news, talk and sports.
So he decided to go back to the future with a format close to the station’s former “Music of Your Life” format after an extensive search. The result is Timeless WECK.
“There was a format void,” explained Greene.
Bingo. It helped that by then he had purchased a lower power FM station, 102.9, for $90,000 to simulcast WECK and put an antenna on top of the then-HSBC building that expanded the station’s reach in the city and south of the city.
But the FM signal wasn’t a cure for The Breeze in its dying days.
“I expected The Breeze to do better,” said Greene. “It didn’t.”
The switch to satellite-delivered Timeless WECK happened in May 2013.
“Now it is really starting to work,” said Greene. “Changing a format in radio is like putting a whole brand new radio station on the air. When people heard the Timeless format, they immediately reflected on what they were missing from the old WECK from years ago. We’ve been able to take advantage of that heritage and build on it.”
Tom Donahue is the morning personality, with Dave Cash of the NFTA providing traffic reports. Channel 2 provides news and weather. WECK carries satellite music the rest of the time.
Greene acknowledges the station gets an older audience of listeners 40 and over but adds Western New York is a community with more of them.
“Sales have doubled in a year,” said Greene. “We’re making money now. Not a lot. But we’ve been able do some Big Band Bash promotions with a 17-piece band.”
He said 350 people showed up for two events, another indication of the station’s success.
A 1962 graduate of Clarence High School, Greene is enjoying the success because he admits he is no stranger to failure.
“I’ve always been an independent thinker,” said Greene. “I like to create success. I feel like I have accomplished a lot of it. I’ve failed in some areas but I have learned from my failures.”
He said he flunked out of Alfred University twice and the University at Buffalo once before graduating from Bryant & Stratton with a degree in marketing management.
He went into advertising at The Buffalo News before moving to radio sales at several locally owned stations, including the former WYSL, WGR and WBEN and the former Rock 102.5 in the days before a government policy made it easier for big radio companies to buy several stations in the market.
A native of Grand Island, Greene and his investors paid $600,000 in 1981 for WLVL, 1340 AM, whose “graduates” during his ownership include WBEN morning co-host Susan Rose. He eventually bought out all of his shareholders.
Thirty-seven years later, Greene bought WECK – which at the time had a classic country format – for $1.3 million at perhaps the worst time possible, just before the economy imploded.
“It was the worst time to buy anything,” said Greene, who now admits it was a mistake. “The economy went in the dumper six months later. When I bought it, it was a good buy.”
When the economy collapsed, so did WECK’s worth. He concedes that even a successful WECK probably isn’t worth the $1.3 million he paid six years ago and adds that e would like to retire “as soon as it is feasible.”
“It is worth what somebody will pay for it,” said Greene. “I’m 70 years old. It is the old axiom – everything I have is for sale in the business world. If someone made me an acceptable offer, I’d sell the stations.”
In other words, now that WECK and WLVL are both successful, it would be music to Greene’s ears if a buyer came along.