For a 1986 Batavia High School grad who has lived in Batavia all of his life, it seemed only natural that Jim Ernst would celebrate his ownership of the city’s staple radio station Friday with a visit to a downtown bartender challenge and then to a concert at Batavia Downs.
After all, that was a large part of why the 54-year-old Batavia native and versed salesman wanted to take on WBTA’s airwaves: to serve and support the community at large.
“I love the community of Batavia, and I see this as an opportunity to make a difference and give back,” he said late Friday afternoon after signing official paperwork to transfer ownership of WBTA from Dan and Debbie Fischer to Ernst. “I grew up listening to WBTA, of course. And when I was a kid, I didn't like it much. But I used to listen to school closings, and I got hooked on it. The first time, in the old days when school would be canceled, the first place that would have it would be the radio. And then, as you get older, you start caring about the community and then listening. And by the time I was in my 30s, I started listening to it a lot.”
After high school graduation, Ernst went to Genesee Community College for business administration. He always had that dream of running his own business, he said, the first vision is a sports park with batting cages and such.
While those thoughts percolated, he began to work on a Schwann truck selling food products and doing well, moving up to manager in Syracuse. That position was cut in 2009, and he returned to Batavia, where he was working in sales and met General Sales Manager Lorne Way. They struck up a conversation, and while Way was complaining about the lack of sales at the station, Ernst suggested that “you should just hire me.”
And that’s exactly what the manager did. Ernst joined WBTA in 2014 and never left.
“We’ve been ripping it up in sales,” he said. “Dan, Debbie, Lorne and me were the core. Around a year ago, Dan hinted around that he wanted someone from the station to buy it.”
While it may have seemed a more obvious fit for Way, who had 30 years with the company, he had plans to retire, so Ernst picked up that ball and made a pitch.
“I approached Dan a year ago now. Today was the signing. It went from a dream to reality; it almost seemed like, is it ever going to happen?” he said. “It was a euphoric moment.”
He’s been gradually preparing for this, taking business classes throughout the years and learning the ropes “as I go.” A big plus will be having Dan Fischer as an ongoing consultant.
Most of the programs will remain in place for now, with one major and significant exception, he said. Station staff member Nicole Johnson has been hired for the morning show, making her the first female to obtain that coveted role.
A trusted member of the WBTA team, Johnson has produced, worked the 10 to 2 shift, done live remotes at Batavia Downs and “always been there for things we need,” Ernst said. She will replace former morning announcer Chris Kalen, who has taken a promotion with SiriusXM.
The Fischers filed for the sale in February, and it became public on Feb. 21 when then-advertising executive Jim Ernst, aka Majic Tones LLC, purchased the station, officially titled HPL Communications, for $425,000.
Dan Fischer had said the couple was happy that the station was remaining in local hands and that Ernst was a familiar face around town and someone with no intentions to radically alter what listeners have grown accustomed to after so many years.
As for the music, “we might spice it up a bit,” Ernst said, but nothing major.
“We don’t want to lose the faith of the listeners we do have. We will enhance our sports coverage … for football, hockey, baseball, with a WBTA game of the week every week,” he said. “I’m learning as I go. I’ll use the next six months to learn and grow in the position.”
Ernst has a fiancee, Rachel, three children, five grandchildren and one Great Pyrenees who even got involved at the station during a naming contest. The winning name was slightly tweaked for Konzie.
Batavian Dick Siebert, longtime director of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., said today that he is stepping down as Genesee County's representative on the public benefit corporation's board.
Speaking on WBTA Radio, Siebert issued the following statement:
"I've been told that when the governor signs the budget today, I will be fired by people other than people who appointed me -- the county legislature 29 years ago. Quite frankly, I thought I would be fired or terminated by the board that appointed me but I'm hearing that I will be terminated. All 17 of us will be terminated and there will be new appointments to be made for directors representing Batavia Downs.
"I've never been fired a day in my life for any job I've ever done. So, rather than being fired by someone that I don't even work for, I've chosen, after 29 years, to notify my chairman and OTB Chairman Bianchi that I am resigning as of today. And so, it ends my career of 29 years of Batavia Downs.
"... and I point I would also make is that this isn't about the distribution of money. This is about distribution and who appoints jobs. We have five department heads; we have 14 department heads, and we have several people that are not union. So, this is a question of who makes the appointments. It's been the board that we have now.
"It will strictly be by weighted vote, and it'd be by the Democrats in Erie and Monroe County and cities that control all the vote. It's a blatant effort to take over the jobs that we have at Batavia Downs that are appointed by their merit and not by political affiliation.
"I'm worried about all of our employees that happen to be Republicans up there right now, quite frankly."
After more than 50 years in the news business — covering the gamut from radio DJ and newspaper writer to regional photographer, vice president of broadcasting for five stations, and owner of the successful WBTA radio station with wife Debrah right here in Batavia — Dan Fischer is ready to call it a day
Paperwork was filed on Feb. 17 and the sale became public on Feb. 21 that WBTA advertising executive Jim Ernst, aka Majic Tones LLC, purchased the station, officially titled HPL Communications, for $425,000.
“I’m 72, I’ve been doing this for 53 years, it’s time,” Fischer said to The Batavian. “I enjoy the business; I truly never worked a day in my life. I had the opportunity to sell locally. Jim is an account executive for us, he’s a local guy who grew up in Batavia, and he’s been with us for eight years.”
WBTA AM radio has been on the air based in Batavia since February 1941, with two FM stations, one each based in Batavia and Le Roy, and all three carry the same program. And programs are streamed around the world, Fischer said, to audiences that can be counted “by the person” versus less accurate totals for other audience types.
The station reaps 25,000 listeners cumulatively during each weekly period, though the numbers can vary, say, on a snow day — and “average listenership just soars,” Fischer said. After all, everyone seems concerned about bad weather days.
As for the new ownership, Ernst is a familiar face around town, and “wishes to keep everything the way it is” right now, Fischer said.
“He’s happy with the way things are,” Fischer said.
Staff will also remain the same at this point, which is five full-time, including President/General Manager Dan Fischer and Vice President/Business Manager Debrah Fischer, and five part-time staff, and about four contract talents for sports play-by-play broadcasts, he said.
Perhaps more importantly, how did this all come about? “Jim and I have been talking for a year,” Fischer said. “I was not actively seeking a buyer.”
He liked the idea of keeping the station in local hands, and believes that’s been a key to the station’s success. WBTA had one of its best years in 2019, just before COVID and the pandemic hit, he said, and “we suffered, along with many other businesses,” but the workload on media increased even more so by covering pandemic-related news briefings, announcements, vaccine and protocol updates, and infection rates, he said.
“All while advertising revenues lagged,” he said. “That was a challenge. The station has always done well when in local hands … and owners understand that the way to success was serving the public interest.
“WBTA and The Batavian are the only locally owned and operated media. One of the highlights of my tenure has been our partnership with The Batavian,” Fischer said. “Covering local news is an expensive proposition at a time when advertising revenues for all traditional media are shrinking. We have been able, with our partnership with the Batavian, to stay very competitive in this market.”
Likewise, The Batavian’s publisher, Howard Owens, has greatly valued his professional relationship with Fischer, while also appreciating his “journalistic friendship.”
“I first talked to Dan after I became owner of The Batavian in March 2009. He could see the value of what we were doing, and could see the value of a news partnership. That always gave me somebody to talk to, and we could trust each other. His knowledge of Genesee County has been a tremendous asset to The Batavian, and WBTA is a great example of a news organization serving its local community,” Owens said. “I’m looking forward to working with Jim.”
Fischer’s long history with the company — he and business partner Debrah, who will continue in a consultant role after the sale, bought WBTA in 2004 — also includes a lot of journalism roots attached. His first job was as a country music DJ in Utica who also read the news for listeners. The station owner liked the way Fischer read, and “I really enjoyed doing news,” he said.
“It was a more important calling than just announcing the next Johnny Cash song,” Fischer said.
He worked his way up the ranks, moving to Jamestown, where he met the future Mrs. Fischer, and also worked for Buffalo Courier, Erie Times-News, and WIVB, gleaning all sorts of media nuggets for his future career. He eventually moved to Batavia — a brand new place for the native of Cheektowaga — and credits the late Bill Brown, a popular media figure and author about town — for inviting Fischer to Batavia Rotary, where he met several people, and made those much-needed connections as a new business owner.
Part of the local aspect includes WBTA’s status as being a heritage, full-service radio station. It has been around for decades, even before World War II, Fischer said. News stories from its airwaves have been about tragedy — the Attica Prison riot — and victories — high school championship football games. And everything in between.
“I can’t imagine operating a station with just music,” he said.
Many pancake breakfasts and chicken barbecues later, the Fischers had settled into Batavia life, though as residents of Oakfield. Married for 33 years, they plan to continue their love for travel and visiting family. That is, after all legalities have been finalized, which is to happen in 80 to 90 days when a notification will be sent regarding an assignment of licenses, and that gives the parties 10 days to close the deal.
Top Photo: Dan and Debrah Fischer at the time of the station's 75th anniversary. Photo by Howard Owens. Inset photo, Jim Ernst, courtesy WBTA.
City Fire, WBTA, Ken Barrett Chevrolet and Cadillac, along with the Salvation Army, teamed up again for their annual toy drive to benefit families in Genesee County who may not have the financial means to meet all of their kids' Christmas dreams.
Photo: Ryan Whitcombe, Nathan Kinne, Nici Johnson, Ken Barrett, and Todd Rapp. Photo by Howard Owens
The History Heroes summer program hosted by Holland Land Office Museum and led by Anne Marie Starowitz visited Adam Miller Toy & Bicycle and WBTA today, fitting into this year's theme of "History Rockin’ Around the Clock in the 1950s."
The theme gives the participating children a chance to glimpse into what it was like to live in 1950s America.
Photos by Howard Owens
Joie shared a little bit of her life, her hopes and dreams on WBTA Radio, Friday morning during an Arc GLOW interview on Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. She told listeners that shortly after she was born she had a stroke, resulting in a seizure disorder. She has an autism diagnosis and attends Arc GLOW’s Community Prevoc program to help develop work skills. The Prevoc program introduced Joie to activities including delivering Meals on Wheels and volunteering at a food pantry.Image
“I love volunteering at the community food pantry in Oakfield, and would love to open a food pantry of my own someday,” Joie said.
Arc GLOW’s Shelley Falitico shared Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a time to raise awareness about the inclusion of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities in all areas of community life and it’s an opportunity to highlight their contributions.
“Individuals living with disabilities in Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming counties are making contributions to our community across the spectrum,” Shelley said. “This month may be nationally recognized as DD Awareness month but we at Arc GLOW celebrate daily individuals with disabilities served, families, guardians, friends, providers, staff and all of those who use their talents and continue to push initiatives that help individuals with disabilities create a more inclusive community,” she added. (Listen to Friday’s full interview, posted on the Arc GLOW Facebook page).
During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, Arc GLOW has kicked off its annual Membership Drive, received proclamations from each of the four GLOW County Legislatures/Boards of Supervisors, and is participating in restaurant and cookie fundraisers across the four counties. Details can be found on Arc GLOW’s website, www.arcglow.org.
WBTA, Ken Barrett Chevrolet, the Salvation Army, and City Fire teamed up today for the radio station's annual toy drive. Area residents were invited to drop by the dealership to leave new, unwrapped presents for children in the community.
Top Photo: Lorne Way, WBTA, Ken Barrett, Lt. Jamie Call, Firefighter Ferdinando Papalia, Todd Rapp, Salvation Army, and Nici Johnson, WBTA.
City firefighters Ryan Clair and Ryan Whitcomb collect toys from a car at Ken Barrett Chevrolet Cadillac today as part of the annual Salvation Army toy drive sponsored by Ken Barrett and WBTA.
To comply with CDC guidelines related to COVID-19, this year's toy drive was a drive-thru affair. By early afternoon, the beds of multiple pickups had been filled and ready to take to a local hub to prepare the toys for distribution to children in Genesee County.
The Salvation Army of Batavia is proud to announce, for the 37th year in a row, WBTA’S annual toy drive with Ken Barrett Cadillac Chevrolet. COVID-19 has hit The Salvation Army especially hard, with the need for services being at an all-time high and funding down nearly 40-50 percent.
The annual drive for new, unwrapped toys will take place at the car dealership this Friday, Dec. 11, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located at 229 W. Main St. in the City of Batavia. WBTA will broadcast live.
The toy drive is a staple seasonal event for The Salvation Army of Batavia and the local community. All toys donated go to children in the Genesee County area. To date, The Salvation Army of Batavia has 180 families registered with more than 400 children needing toys this Christmas. They have seen more than a 30-percent increase in need this year due to the coronavirus pandemic in just the Batavia area.
“While the start of the Christmas season for The Salvation Army begins in the summer with planning, for me, the Christmas spirit is ignited with our annual toy drive,” said Captain Rachel Moore. “I feel the toy drive is what really signifies the holiday spirit in Batavia.
"It is overwhelming to see the generosity of our community as toy after toy is dropped off. This year, more than ever before, we are relying on the giving spirit of our neighbors to offer hope to children in need all over Genesee County. We are grateful to WBTA and Ken Barrett Cadillac Chevrolet for continuing a beautiful tradition that will help so many this year.”
The Batavia Salvation Army has implemented additional precautions to make the toy drive a COVID-19 safe event. Those participating can simply drive up to the designated area at Ken Barrett Cadillac Chevrolet and open their trunk. A member of the Batavia Fire Department will collect the toys.
If you cannot participate on Dec. 11th, please visit our Angel Tree Registry with Walmart.com. Toys will be directly shipped to our offices.
About The Salvation Army Empire State Division
The Empire State Division of The Salvation Army covers 48 counties in Upstate New York and one city in Pennsylvania (Sayre, Pa.). Our annual Red Kettle Campaign in November and December helps our 45 community centers and 166 volunteer driven service units raise funds that remain in each community to help those in need.
For more information go to: empire.salvationarmy.org
About The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army annually helps more than 23 million Americans overcome poverty, addiction and economic hardships through a range of social services. By providing food for the hungry, emergency relief for disaster survivors, rehabilitation for those suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and clothing and shelter for people in need, The Salvation Army is doing the most good at 7,600 centers of operation around the country. In the first-ever listing of “America’s Favorite Charities” by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Salvation Army ranked as the country’s largest privately funded, direct-service nonprofit.
For more information, visit SalvationArmyUSA.org. Follow us on Twitter @SalvationArmyUS and #DoingTheMostGood.
This is audio from today's special hour-long Main and Center on WBTA: "COVID-19: A Local View," hosted by Dan Fischer.
- Dr. Tara Gellasch, Chief Medical Officer of UMMC
- Dr. Danielle Notebaert, Chief of Emergency Medicine at UMMC
- Timothy Yeager, Coordinator of Genesee County Emergency Management
- and Mari Hamilton, Public Health Educator, Genesee Orleans Health Depts.
NOTE: This was recorded before the afternoon announcement of a local death and new additional cases.
Suicide and how to prevent it will be the topic of discussion at 9 a.m. Tuesday (Jan. 21) when WBTA radio’s “Main & Center” talk show welcomes James Thorman, of Byron, as its guest.
Thorman has been working tirelessly over the past several months to gain support from community leaders and the public in general as he attempts to form a coalition dedicated to mental health well-being for young people and veterans at risk.
Recently, he has connected with Bereaved Parents of the USA, a nonprofit group that offers support and encouragement to fellow bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents after the death of a loved one.
Thorman’s life has been exponentially affected by suicide as two of his daughters took their lives about nine years ago.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 people, and was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.
Also in that year, there were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States as there were homicides (19,510).
WBTA radio is at 1490 on the AM dial, at 100.1 on FM, or can be streamed over the internet at www.wbtai.com.
Clients of Arc of Genesee Orleans dropped off bags full of gifts today for annual WBTA toy drive at Ken Barrett's Chevrolet and Cadillac, which benefits local children through the Salvation Army.
Among the other large donations to come in this morning was seven bags of toys from the employees of Oatka Milk Products in Batavia.
WBTA co-owner Dan Fischer said that by 11 a.m. it looked like as many toys had come in so far as had been received by the end of the day last year.
The toy drive runs until 4 p.m., so plenty of time as of this posting (at 1 p.m.) for you to run down to Adam Miller and load up on toys to donate to the Salvation Army for local children who might otherwise receive little or nothing for Christmas.
Note about the videos below: The audio quality is not great. We have hardware coming by next week that will fix this for future videos.
Come join The Salvation Army for the 35th annual WBTA and Ken Barrett Chevrolet Toy Drive from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14th.
This toy drive, held at the car dealership on West Main Street in Batavia, will enable us to help those less fortunate in our community.
Throughout the years, Ken Barrett and WBTA have partnered with us to make our Christmas efforts a success.
What a privilege it is to work side by side with these businesses to make Christmas dreams come true for the less fortunate in Genesee County. To date we have 375 youth registered in our program. Please donate the gift of hope for a child in need this season.
90 FOR 90 CHALLENGE -- The Salvation Army reaches midway point in Christmas Drive
The spirit of giving is alive and well in Genesee County. As people hurry to check items off their shopping list, decorate the tree and plan Christmas dinner menus, many may have overlooked the fact that today marks the halfway point of the Christmas shopping season.
Today also marks the midway point for The Salvation Army’s Christmas fundraiser. The proceeds raised each year fund assistance programs for impoverished local residents.
“We rely on this funding to carry us through the year in order to help those who are in need. All of the money raised stays in our area, so when you make a donation this Christmas, you are really creating change for your neighbors,” say Lt. Brad and Capt. Rachel Moore, commanding officers of the The Salvation Army locally.
“We are very grateful for the four local residents who took on the 90 for 90 challenge who have given us donations and we thank them for their kindness. We are still in need of $60,000 to reach our goal this year."
In Upstate New York, the majority of The Salvation Army’s funds are raised in November and December.
To learn how to help with The Salvation Army’s Christmas fundraising drive, please call (585) 343-6284.
To become a bell ringer, call us at 585-343-6284.
"It was always a joy to go over there and do the show with him because he was so easy to talk to," said Tom Turnbull, president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce. "Even on air, it felt like you're sitting around and talking in your living room with somebody. He always had this kind and gentle and calming influence when you were talking to them. It made it easy to be on his show."
Warner was born Feb. 9, 1943, in Batavia and was a lifelong resident of Oakfield. He started his radio career in 1971 with WBTA. He left the hometown station for a short time to work at WEZO in Rochester, where he created the city's number one morning show.
When he returned to WBTA he became the station's morning personality and host of "Main and Center," a talk show that featured a local guest talking about local events and issues.
"I really enjoyed speaking with Jerry and doing his interviews," said Jason Molino, Batavia's former city manager. "You know he was always extraordinarily professional. He was very classy. He was kind of part of an old guard. (We had) many laughs many times. I think the legacy of a memory of Jerry as just being kind and sweet but also asking good questions, and I think he was genuinely interested in the topics we discussed, so it's something I'll always miss about Jerry."
Another frequent guest was Jay Gsell, county manager, who said Warner was always ready to talk about the issues of the day.
"Coming in on Thursday, the way we have been, and how warm and accommodating Jerry was, but also the fact that he really took the time to know what we were doing, to understand that and be able to conduct an effective and cogent interview was always what impressed me about him," Gsell said.
For Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster of the Sheriff's Office and also an Oakfield native, Warner was always the voice of his hometown. He remembers being out and about, perhaps at the dentist office and hearing Warner's voice and feeling like he was hearing home.
"I was very saddened to learn that he had become ill and in particular distressed when I read this weekend that he had gone down to hospice," Brewster said. "He was a great man. He had a wonderful voice. He had an infectious laugh and he didn't take himself seriously. He's going to be sadly missed."
Molino recalled a laugh he got listening to Warner's program one morning about eight years ago. It was the Monday after Summer in the City and Molino had volunteered a session in the dunk tank as part of a fundraiser. The City Council president at the time, Charlie Mallow, came along determined to dunk Molino. He spent about $20 on softballs and missed every toss.
"Sure enough, the next morning, I was listening to WBTA and I heard Jerry on the air talking about Summer in the City and trying to generate revenue and some funds for charity," Molino said. "And sure enough he goes on to say 'and the council president was trying to sink the city manager in the dunk tank and he just couldn't do it. He needed some bigger balls in order to do that.' And that's one of the fondest memories I have of Jerry."
Warner and his wife, Darlene, celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary in August. He was a former member of the Oakfield Presbyterian Church and served with the United States National Guard.
Calling hours are Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Burdett & Sanford Funeral Home, 11 Maple Ave., Oakfield, where services will be held Friday at 10 a.m. Jerry will be lain to rest in Cary Cemetery, Oakfield.
For Jerry Warner's full obituary, click here.
More than a year ago, Warner, a resident of Oakfield, retired from the station due to ill health.
Warner, who hosted the morning show "Main and Center," is being cared for at Crossroads House.
Those who wish to send Warner a card of support can mail it, in care of Crossroads House, to the Crossroads House mailing address: P.O. Box 403, Batavia, NY 14020.
WBTA Radio has expanded its coverage of local high school football with the addition of a secondary streaming channel WBTAi2.
“This new streaming service allows us to provide live, play-by-play coverage of two games at the same time,” said WBTA President Dan Fischer.
The station plans to use the new service to cover all Le Roy Knights home and away games for the entire regular season. Scott Ripley will call the games.
The secondary stream can be accessed from the WBTA website (WBTAi.com) or the station’s mobile app for iPhone and Android devices.
The station has also announced it will broadcast all Batavia High School Blue Devils varsity football games in the Livingston County League, home and away. WBTA veteran sports announcers Bob Brown, Jay Moran and John Vazquez will call the Blue Devils games along with selected Saturday afternoon contests featuring other area schools.
The Blue Devils games will be broadcast over WBTA AM & FM and streamed on the stations’ main online channel, WBTAi.com
A complete schedule of game broadcasts is available at WBTAi.com
Tomorrow starting at 6 p.m. the place to be is GO ART!, 201 E. Main St., Batavia, where the night's guest bartenders will be Howard Owens of The Batavian and Chris Kalin of WBTA.
Billed as a competition, our goal is to raise as much money as possible for local arts, so come, be merry, enjoy a few drinks, leave tips on the bar.
First Presbyterian Church of Batavia along with The Visual Truth Theatre Ensemble presents a special literary event called "Good Bread in the Darkness" on Thursday, June 28.
It will be hosted by Lucine Kauffman from the WBTA Radio Show Genesee Life (FM 100.1 and AM 1490) and will feature local and regional writers with a focus on nature, spirituality and community.
The event will be held at the First Presbyterian Church in Batavia. It is free and open to the public.
Readers include: Terry Abrams, Sue Briggs, Byron Hoot, Bill Kauffman and Eric Zwieg.
"You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water," ~ Rabindranath Tagore.
Good Bread in the Darkness
Thursday, June 28
7- 9 p.m.
The First Presbyterian Church
300 E. Main St., Batavia