After less than three days off the air, Merrill’s WJMT radio station started its new life Jan. 27 as “Bluejay 730” under the operation of Sunrise Broadcasting.
Both WJMT AM and its sister FM station, WMZK, were sold to Christian broadcasting group, WRMV. WRVM then sold the AM station to Sunrise Broadcasting, owned by Steve Resnick, who has a long history with the Merrill radio stations.
“I spent over 20 years here as program director, I was an air talent, managed the stations for 10 years and I learned from a lot of great people through the decades I’ve been here,” Steve said. “I learned about what it takes and what a radio station needs to do for its community.
“Don Roberts, who owned this radio station for many years, taught me that. A great tradition was built by wonderful people including Don’s son John, my dear friend, who was here for many years, Wayne Smith, Skip Schultz, Dave Cory and the incredibly talented dj’s… Dan Lee, Mike Wilson, Doug Williams, and the list goes on.”
After his lengthy stint in Merrill, Steve started Sunrise Broadcasting in 2008, and went on to purchase two stations in Wausau: SportsFan 100.5 ESPN sports talk radio and Cool Oldies WXCO.
A couple of years ago, Steve started talking to the previous WJMT/WMZK owners, Quicksilver Broadcasting, about the possibility of purchasing both WJMT and Z104 from them. But, a deal never materialized.
When Steve heard that Quicksilver had negotiated a deal with WRVM, he contacted the Christian broadcaster back in October to see if they would be interested in selling WJMT. At that time, they had plans to convert both Merrill stations to their own Christian broadcasting format.
Seeing an opportunity to maintain local radio in Merrill, Steve started working with the city and other entities to come up with alternatives.
He even explored the complicated and potentially problematic process of physically moving WXCO 1230 from Wausau to Merrill.
“I was committed in one way or the other to do what we had to do to ensure that Merrill had a radio station and had a voice,” Steve said.
As he was looking at moving WXCO, Steve got a call from a representative of WRVM, checking to see if he was still interested in buying WJMT.
“They wanted to make sure that Merrill had a local radio station and that the community was being served, and asked if we were interested in purchasing WJMT again,” Steve said.
The first week of January, Sunrise Broadcasting and WRVM came to an agreement on WJMT. WRVM completed their purchase of the radio stations on Jan. 24, and is the current official owner of WJMT. Sunrise Broadcasting has made their application to the FCC for approval to officially buy the station. That could take more than two months.
“In the meantime in order for the radio station to be on the air during this period with its regular programming, (WRVM was) very gracious in offering an opportunity for us to take over under a management agreement,” Steve explained. “That allows us, while they own it, to be able to continue with our normal programming during the transition period.
“They have been a great organization that allowed us to be able to do this, so I can’t thank them enough,” he added.
The transition was fairly seamless. While the station was off the air, they missed one Bluejacks hockey game, which was broadcast on 100.5.
Priority one for Bluejay 730 is to serve the Merrill community with a local voice, as WJMT has since 1960, Steve said. Other than a change in music format from classic country to oldies, listeners can hear all the local programming they’ve come to expect from WJMT.
“We have changed the music format to primarily ‘50s ‘60s and ‘70s favorites,” Steve said. “It’s the music that we always played on WJMT.”
Programs like “Community Scan,” “Swap Shop” and “Our Town” have transitioned through generations. Bluejay 730 also continues the tradition of local news coverage, local weather, obituaries and the Saturday morning polka show.
“We wanted to make sure all of these shows remain in place, and we’re looking down the road to expand out our avenues of local programming, making sure that the radio station is a vital part of the community, involved in all aspects of community activity,” Steve said.
Bluejay sports are all back on the air as well.
“We’ve retained all of the play-by-play talent, so it’s all business as usual,” Steve said.
Listeners are also hearing familiar voices on WJMT – Steve’s for one, as he does voiceovers for many of the commercials.
Lonnie Scott, who had been doing news and the Z104 morning show, has moved over to WJMT’s Bluejay morning show. Ken Runkel, who had been doing afternoons on Z104, is now the afternoon jock on WJMT.
“So far the responses I have received have been overwhelmingly positive with the music choice,” Steve said. “Everything else, it’s going to be just like coming home to an old friend.”
Even after leaving Merrill to start Sunrise Broadcasting in Wausau, Resnick was still a frequent figure in Merrill, DJ’ing and MC’ing at events from Crazy Daze to the Labor Day Car Show and special events at the Smith Center.
“All of these activities that I’ve been involved with all started while I was here at the radio station,” he said. “I enjoyed them so much over the years that I had to keep doing them.”
Being back in the WJMT studio is like coming home for Steve.
“I love radio,” he said. “I love being on the air and that’s why I do this.”