WBTA Radio, Genesee County's only locally owned commercial radio station, marks its 75th year of broadcasting this Saturday.
The station went on the air at 7 a.m., Thursday, Feb 6, 1941. It has been licensed as WBTA since its inception.
The first voice on the air was that of the “genial” Jerry Flynn who opened the program, “Rise and Shine,” according to an article published in the Daily News. Flynn became better known later as a sports announcer. The station's studios and offices were located on the second floor of 90 Main St. in Batavia where they remained until 1957.
WBTA studios moved several times over the years. Its next location was 22 Seaver Place, now the JCPenney store's loading dock. For several years the station occupied the second floor and later the first floor of 413 Main St. at the corner of Harvester Avenue. The station moved to 113 Main St. in 2004 when it was purchased by its present owner, HPL Communications, Inc., owned by Daniel and Debrah Fischer.
As the studios and offices moved, the station's transmission and tower site has remained on Creek Road in the Town of Batavia. In the early years, an engineer was required to be at the transmission site whenever the station was on the air. Technical improvements in the late 1950s allowed the station to be remote controlled from the studio.
The station was originally owned by three Batavia residents: Joseph Ryan, of Union Street; Edward P. Atwitter, of East Main Street and Edmund R. Gamble, of Vernon Avenue. Gamble also served as the general manager.
After the outbreak of World War II, several members of the station's staff left for military service including Gamble.
The next local owner of WBTA was William F. Brown. Brown was best known for his regular editorials on local issues. He won 16 Best Editorial awards from the New York State Broadcasters Association.
Brown expanded the station's news coverage, which was apparent in the 1971 coverage of the Attica Prison Revolt.
In February 2004, the Fischers' formed HPL Communications, purchased WBTA and moved to Genesee County.
New digital studios were built and WBTA moved to its present location at the corner of Main and Center streets, which became the name of the station's morning talk show, “Main & Center.”
From 1977 to 2000, WBTA operated an FM station that was licensed to Attica, NY. The station was sold and became WLOF, which beams Catholic programming into the Buffalo area.
Under HPL, the station launched another FM station in 2014. It is licensed under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) translator rules and allows WBTA to broadcast in stereo at 100.1 Mhz. The station also streams 100 percent of its programming on the Internet at WBTAi.com and via mobile devices with custom apps for Android and iPhone systems.
“We are proud of WBTA's legacy of service to Batavia and Genesee County,” Fischer said. "As a licensee of a broadcast station, we pledge to the FCC to 'serve the public interest, convenience and necessity as a public trustee.' ”
WBTA is known in the industry as a “heritage” station, Fischer added, “our listeners have grown up with us.” Over the years we have reported individual milestones: births, anniversaries and obituaries. In times of war, the station has reported on service of local men and women in uniform.
The station has broadcast hundreds of local sporting events and have followed area high school teams to regional and state championships. WBTA has been the broadcast voice of Batavia's professional baseball team, the Muckdogs.
Through affiliations with national news organizations such as ABC Radio, WBTA has provided coverage of the most notable events of the 20th and 21st centuries including the Pearl Harbor attack, the assassinations of the 1960s, wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East, the manned moon landing and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Radio broadcasting has certainly undergone significant changes over the past 75 years and will continue to change and evolve over the next 75 years,” Fischer said, “but I believe its basic commitment to serving the public interest will never change.”
Photo by Howard Owens. Pictured, Dan and Debbie Fischer.