A longtime fixture of the local media scene and a philanthropist committed to the idea of “localism” are teaming up to transform a Kingston radio station into a commercial-free source of “hyper local” news and culture.
Last week, the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley announced that it had purchased radio station WKNY 1490 AM from Townsquare Media. The purchase was funded by the NoVo Foundation, a New York City-based philanthropic institution founded by Peter and Jennifer Buffett, son and daughter-in-law of multi-billionaire Warren Buffett. The foundation had begun making inroads in the Hudson Valley in recent years, most notably with its purchase of the former Gill Farm in Hurley for use as a farm hub and training ground for first-generation agriculturists.
For his initial foray into Hudson Valley media, Peter Buffett has tapped Jimmy Buff, veteran DJ and radio executive who recently stepped down as program director at Woodstock independent radio station WDST-FM. Currently, WKNY features a mix of local and syndicated programming. Buff said in an interview this week that the plan calls for a gradual phase-out of the syndicated material until eventually the station is run on 100 percent local programming.
Buffett said the NoVo support will allow the station to offer a hyper-local “conversation” about all things Kingston, while making room for voices that might go unheard on at a traditional ratings-driven radio station. The ad free model will mark a departure for WKNY which has been a for-profit commercial enterprise since its founding in 1939. The acquisition also marks a rare transfer of a radio station from a nationwide corporation (In the Hudson Valley, Townsquare owns nine Hudson Valley radio stations including classic rock powerhouse WPDH and pop country station 94.3 The Wolf) to a local enterprise.
“We wanted, in the beginning, to be free and clear of any market driven conditions,” said Buffett. “It may be mildly utopian, but we do want everyone engaged.”
Radio Kingston is still awaiting FCC approval for the purchase, something Buff said should be forthcoming in about six weeks. Meanwhile, the new station owners are planning to hold a series of public forums next month where area residents will have a chance to talk about what they would like to see from the new station and pitch their own ideas for content. Buff said he envisions an eclectic mix of music, news, culture and storytelling, all created by locals for locals.
“Kingston has a phenomenal community of people doing amazing things and we want to support that,” said Buffett.
Plans for the station also include a technology upgrade, like portable units that will allow for live broadcasts from local events and a beefed-up staff, including an office manager and a news director. The new station has also partnered with local tech and marketing company Evolving Media to develop a platform for online content, live streaming over the Internet and archived shows.
Buff said he would likely do a music program on the station. Other new content will be phased in based on community input and available talent. And, while the NoVo Foundation’s mission includes addressing social justice and inequality issues, Buff said there were no plans to turn the station into a left-wing political platform, similar to the right-wing talk format that dominate syndicated broadcasting.
“People think that because of who we are, we’re going to get rid of all of the conservative programming,” said Buff. “But what we want is good quality programming that represents every aspect of Kingston.”