LOWELL – In 2007 Clark Smidt of Andover and Sam Poulten of Chelmsford bought 980AM WCAP radio in Lowell from longtime owner Maurice Cohen. At the time, the two pledged to expand the reach of the station and promised to keep the focus of the station “live and local.”
Since then the two partners have locked horns over the direction of the station and the use of local talent. At the time Smidt told The Valley Patriot that former owner Maurice Cohen had brought the two men together as they had both shared an interest in purchasing the station.
But the honeymoon didn’t last as the two disagreed over the local content and the running of the station, on air guests and the stream of complaints about Smidt’s on air behavior in the radio industry.
Just this year, Donna Halper author of “The Golden age of Boston Radio” was an on air guest with Jack Baldwin talking about her book and the radio industry when Smidt burst into the on air studio and began to berate Halper for not including more information about him in her book.
The radio industry blogs went wild as former employees of Smidt began to spread the word about Smidt’s latest on air tirade, sharing their “horror stories” about Smidt’s treatment of them at stations he had previously owned.
At the time, Smidt was majority owner of the radio station and soon filed a court action against Poulten to take full control of the operations of the station. Poulten filed his own court action asking the court to order “injunctive relief” and court papers show the Smidt had been negligent in paying the station’s taxes.
The two finally agreed to settle their dispute out of court
“There was a disagreement over some fundamental issues like the directions the station was headed in and our initial commitment to the listeners to keep WCAP “live and local,” Sam Poulten said in an exclusive interview with The Valley Patriot.
“My plan is and has always been to pass this station on to my children in the hopes that they will keep it “live and local” and make sure WCAP’s broadcast license stays in the Merrimack Valley. A year ago it was obvious we had a difference of opinion which Clark which he tried to resolve with a lawsuit.”
They eventually agreed that the issues would be settled in a mediation but in the meantime Smidt offered to leave and be bought out. On October 31st of this year the Federal Communications Commission approved the transfer of the WCAP broadcast license to Poulten. The license must be renewed every five years.
Poulten is now in control of the stations day to day operations and he says there are some exciting changes coming to station.
“We are now going to be expanding our news programming, we now have a news hour running during the day, which is a combination of regional news and a features of Jack Baldwin and Evan Heidenrich called “Ripped from the Headlines”. It’s a show where our on air talent combs through all the newspapers of the day and talks about the hottest stories of the day.”
“We are also pleased to report our rating have gone up,” Poulten said proudly, “… in August, September and October. That more people are listening to the radio station. That’s exciting. We are now focusing more on interactive radio, expanding our web presence, getting as many local people on the air as possible, taking many more phone calls, many more features and doing specialty programs like covering local elections in Lowell but also in Lawrence, North Andover, Haverhill and especially Methuen.”
Poulten also announced last month that Paying Attention! With Tom Duggan has returned to the airwaves, (noon-2pm on Saturdays) focusing on Lawrence, Methuen and the northern part of the Merrimack Valley.
Duggan had been fired by Smidt over the telephone a year earlier after broadcasting his show for more than seven years, preceding the change in ownership that had left Smidt in charge. Duggan also now has a much larger role in news production as the Valley Patriot is now part of the regular newscast.
“We not only brought back Tommy Duggan, who is a very popular on air personality and can help us with news gathering and other duties, but we have also signed on a new show featuring former WBZ sportscaster Bob Lobel who will start a daily show (from 1-3PM) after Thanksgiving.
“We have renewed our partnership with the Salvation Army to do the yearly radio-thon and even partnered up with (another newspaper). We have a brand new live, jazz show that’s already on the air every Friday night (from 10-midnight) sponsored by Lowell Bank and we broadcast that live from the Back Page Lounge on Merrimack Street in Lowell. We have a new Monday night sports program called “The Tailgate” airing from 7-9pm.”
Poulten says that they have signed on with the Lowell Spinners and UMASS Lowell’s Riverhawk Hockey and will air those sports events live, as well as expanded coverage of local restaurants, live music events and local charities.
“what’s probably most exciting is that we are now starting to reestablish our relationship with Sal’s Pizza and the great Sal Lupoli and we are planning on building a broadcast studio at Sal’s Riverwalk in Lawrence so we can bring what’s happening in that part of the Valley to the airwaves. We want to come into Methuen and Lawrence and Haverhill and bring people, live up the minute news and events as they happen just like we do with Yankee Doodle in Billerica, the Chelmsford’s 4th of July parade the Lowell Winterfest, and this year we broadcast live from the Feast of the Three Saints in Lawrence.
That is the direction I have always wanted to take the station in,” Poulten admits. It’s always been my vision to make WCAP not just a Lowell station but a staitopn the entire area can rely on when thinks like the recent power outages happened. WCAP really is live and local now and we are a family, we are all moving in the same direction, onward and upward.”