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Lloyd Gochenour, who has owned the station since 1964, is selling it to employee Russ Brown.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
A longtime Roanoke radio station is about to be sold to a longtime Roanoke radio man.
Russ Brown, a veteran radio station manager who has worked in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market for much of the past three decades, is buying WRIS-AM (1410) from Lloyd Gochenour , a Baptist minister who has owned the Christian-themed station since 1964.
Gochenour is 89, lives in a retirement facility and has not been involved with the daily operations at the station in several years, said his son, John Gochenour.
“It’s time to move on,” John Gochenour said.
By selling to Brown, who has worked for Gochenour for years and is currently the operations manager and chief engineer at WRIS, the Gochenours feel like they are almost keeping the station in the family.
Brown is buying the station for $30,000, a bargain in the radio business.
“The station needs to be revitalized,” John Gochenour said. “It needs somebody like Russ. Somebody local and who knows the city well.”
WRIS is one of Roanoke’s oldest stations still on the air. It was the city’s fourth station when it went on the air on Feb. 23, 1953. Its call letters stood for Roanoke’s Independent Station because it was not affiliated with a nationally syndicated news or programming network.
The station played a mix of big band and pop tunes in its early days, along with newscasts and call-in shows, then became an early adopter of rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues. One of its early on-air stars was “Squirmin’ ” Herm Reavis, who played rock and country.
When Gochenour came to Roanoke from the Shenandoah Valley in 1964, he used the station as an outlet for his radio ministry. He moved the studio from downtown Roanoke to a new facility on Luckett Street in northwest Roanoke, where it still sits today.
He started a companion FM station, WJLM (93.5), in 1969. Over the years, WRIS continued to air religious programs along with community shows that included “Swap Shop,” a pre-Craigslist live show where people phoned in to sell used items on air. The show aired from 1961 until 1999, when host Gary Cooper retired.
Gochenour sold the FM station in 1997 to the media behemoth that would become Clear Channel Communications, but he kept WRIS and added some conservative talk shows to the schedule. John Gochenour said that the family has tried to keep the station viable, but the audience has grown older and advertising revenue has dried up. That’s why they turned to Brown.
Brown, 60, is one of the Roanoke Valley’s best-known radio managers. A native of Newburgh, N.Y., Brown came to Roanoke in 1979 to help turn light-music WLRG into Top 40 juggernaut K92.
K92 (WXLK-FM, 92.3) brought insouciance, attitude and morning-zoo shenanigans to Roanoke. The station dominated the valley’s radio landscape throughout the 1980s with Brown in key roles the whole time, from general manager to program director.
He left K92 but returned a couple of times in the 1990s. Brown worked for Gochenour’s FM station, then called country station J-93, before becoming the manager of WRIS. He would not say what changes are in store. He did say that some of the religious programming could stay.
He said the station has been not made a profit for a couple of years.
“We will make some changes,” Brown said. “Some programs that are popular, or the ones people want to contribute to, we will keep. But we have to run the station well and turn a profit.”
After 45 years in radio, Brown will become a first-time station owner.
“This is the first time I won’t have to look over my shoulder,” he said with a laugh. “Middle management can be dicey.”
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