WJTO-AM - The Memories Station - now broadcasts on FM 98.3

Posted Wednesday, May 22, 2013 in Features

WJTO-AM - The Memories Station - now broadcasts on  FM 98.3

by Avery Hunt

WEST BATH -- Roll over Beethoven.  There’s a new kind of music in the air over midcoast Maine!    The area’s favorite easy listening radio station, WJTO, which plays only “oldies but goodies”, has given birth to an identical twin.  It is called 98.3 FM WJTO, and it broadcasts the exact same music simultaneously, over an FM frequency.  The AM station has been playing old favorite songs ever since 1997  when WJTO was bought by Bob Bittner, who also runs a similar station in the Boston area and had just moved to Maine.

WJTO, which broadcasts out of a nondescript brown building in a meadow above an old tide mill site in West bath, airs 24/7, with no advertising, and is wholly listener- supported, a fact that Bob is inordinately proud of. 

"Not in league with Wall Street, this is The Memories Station... 730 and 98.3 WJTO”,  he often proudly boasts on air.  Another of his trenchant on-are promos is even stronger:  "Not a slave to out-of-state giant corporate-radio masters.... In the true independent spirit of the people of Maine, this is The Memories Station......"  If you listen to the stations (either one),you will often hear some these adamantly independent statements, along with the occasional public service message, from Bittner himself, who is also station’s chief and only DJ.  

The one glitch in this seemingly idyllic situation is that the station has to “dim” its signal at dusk, which is the FCC rule for most AM radio stations.  Crazy as that sounds, it means that basically no one can hear WJTO’s signal at night, even though the station is still pumping out the songs, and commentary from Bob

As of late April, that changed, when Bittner’s new sister station, which is FM, and thus not bound by the FCC-gag regulation, went live.  At full strength.   So WJTO's signal on AM Radio, 730 on the dial, is also being broadcast broadcasting simultaneously on a local FM station (98.3 FM) which Bittner purchased earlier this year.

Now listeners from east of Damariscotta to Lewiston and south of Portland will be able to hear WJTO's "adult standards" music clearly day and night, because FM stations don’t have to reduce power at sunset which many AM stations , including WJTO, are forced to do according to terms of their FCC licenses.

WJTO's new FM sister station is a special class of stations known as "translators", which are only allowed to re-broadcast another station for improved coverage.  So that is exactly what owner and golden- voiced DJ,  Bittner is doing.  It was only a couple years ago that the FCC began allowing AM stations to use these existing FM stations,  should any AM station choose to purchase one.  Many across the USA have already done so. 

Bittner’s new station is  legally known by its call-sign, “W252BT” , and has been legally assigned to Freeport as its official location, although it actually transmits from a tower on the west side of Brunswick.

While WJTO's AM signal reaches regular daily listeners from as far away as Nova Scotia, Cape Ann and Cape Cod during the daytime, it's FCC-regulated power drop after dark barely enables its signal to get past Bath from Bittner’s studio and transmitting location, only 3 miles south, in West Bath. The new FM station solves that problem in much of the mid-coast area. However, the 24-hours-a-day signal of the FM station does not reach as far as the AM station's daytime signal.

98.3 FM basically reaches a circle of listeners from Boothbay Harbor, Damariscotta, Richmond, Lewiston, to Portland. However, communities inside that circle get stronger reception; Brunswick, Topsham, Harpswell and Freeport residents are able to hear it best.

Bittner, WJTO's labor-of-love music guy, said this FM broadcast is a “…big bonus for WJTO's listeners, as many (especially elderly) people like to hear my peaceful ‘memories’ music at night while relaxing or going to sleep. The music I select to play brings smiles to peoples' faces as they remember good times in past years of their lives."  

The music he plays most often is old standards from the likes of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt, Joni James, John Denver, Andy Williams, Mel Torme, Benny Goodman, Gordon Lightfoot and Patti Page.  These are just some among the many performances from Bittner’s vast record collection, which he has lovingly, and painstakingly, digitalized.  Bob is the epitome of the one-man band:  sole owner, daily DJ, music preservationist, entrepreneur and now, also, special FM station broadcaster. 


A brief History of WJTO….

In September of 1957, Station WMMS signs on for its first broadcast at 195 Front Street in Bath, under the aegis of 40-year old owner, Winslow T. Porter, Sr.  He had a successful run with this enterprise, playing popular music and selling lots of lucrative advertising. 

In 1961, the station’s call sign was changed to WJTO. Just before Christmas 1964, a huge fire destroyed WJTO and its entire building on Front Street.  Porter quickly moved the station to his own home, at the corner of 1054 Washington Street and 20 York. 

Winslow Porter died quite young, in 1968 and his wife Catherine took over as President of Porter Broadcast Service.

In 1971, Catherine added an FM station, with WJTO-FM signing on the air at 95.3, simulcast with 730 AM, using 3,000 watts of power.   In 1973 both stations were moved to a new building on Austin Road in West Bath, next to the existing broadcast tower.  In 1976, WJTO-FM changed to rock music format.

In May of 1984, Catherine Porter and her son had sold both stations to James & Hunter Communications.  Things did not go so well with the new owners and by 1987, both stations were in bankruptcy court.  In May of 1988, there was another set of new owners: “Maritime Broadcasting Inc.”, which included a consortium of 24 people from Connecticut and Massachusetts.  In 1989, a large addition was built onto the West Bath station building, creating offices in the front and an additional second floor area. 

On February 16, 1990, both stations shut down due to lack of operating funds.  The group was carrying a heavy debt: a bank note to the tune of $6.5 million.  Whoops.  In January of the next year, both stations returned to the air with yet another new owner: Frank Burke, of Kaleidoscope, Inc.  He changed the call letters of the FM station to WKRH, and in 1994, sold it to a Rhode Island religious broadcaster named Jim Blount. 

In June of 1995, WJTO was again in local hands.  Morse High graduate, Carl Strube, bought WJTO-AM (remember, it was a commercial station all this time, selling advertising), and changed the format to all-talk and sports, including broadcast of the Red Sox games.

In 1997, Carl sold WJTO to Bob Bittner, who gradually changed the format to the “adult standards” (aka oldies but goodies) and instrumentals.  730-AM, “the memories station”, now enjoys a huge audience of devoted listeners, all along the coast of Maine to the South, as far as Cape Cod.  And Bittner, who with his wife and two dogs, has moved permanently to a house next door to the station (he still owns a station in the Boston area), made one more radical change: he would not accepting commercial sponsors.  He immediately turned WJTO – and now  into a commercial-free, listener-supported station.  And support him, his fans do. 

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