By Elsie Walker
Rev. Frank Fowler, a 1966 graduate of Hackettstown High School, recently reminisced about the town at that time, noting that it was “welcoming and a safe feeling place.”
The pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church remembers children going out to play without a care in the world. The landscape of the town was much different at that time. McDonalds was the only fast food place around. Route 80 only went as far as Netcong in those days and so Hackettstown’s roads would clog with commuters. Taking advantage of that was a bucket brigade which went out and raised funds for a hospital which one day would be the Hackettstown Medical Center.
However, as Wayne Cabot of WCBS radio notes, “the town had life, but no voice.”
Though plans were in the works, that voice would not come on the scene until 10 years later: as WRNJ radio. Broadcasting on 1510 AM and 92.7 and 104 FM, the station is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
As part of that celebration, Fowler, Cabot, and others reminisced during an on-air program about the station they know and how it is intertwined with Hackettstown. The celebration program also included classic commercial spots and music.
Recently, station president Norman Worth also shared his thoughts on the anniversary and the station’s history.
“Everyone loves the news of their town,” said Worth.
However, while Hackettstown had a local newspaper in 1966, it had no voice, no radio station. Enter Larry Tighe. Tighe was a former WOR engineer. He wanted to start a radio station, but getting one on the air is not an overnight process. Getting the various clearances (including FCC clearance), site, and putting up the building and broadcasting towers would take 10 years. Also, those two towers and building would cost about $150,000. Still, on Aug. 26, 1976, WRNJ finally made its debut, as an AM only radio station broadcasting daytime only.
After 10 years to get on the air, Cabot quipped that it only took 10 minutes before the first on-air stumble was made. However, the station was off and running.
At the time it started, Tighe was owner with two partners; that would change down the line with the appearance of Worth in 1977. Worth started as a news anchor, but took on many other jobs including selling advertising. In 1981, Worth bought in as a partner. Now he handles the day to day running of the station, while Tighe handles legal and engineering matters.
On air personality, Russ Long, is the employee who has been at the station the longest. On the air for 30 years, Long loves radio and being the voice of the community, and that is just what WRNJ is. The station’s format includes music with a more contemporary blend, plus as Worth describes it, “Local news, weather, traffic and a lot of interviews highlighting area happenings.”
Worth says, “I like to think people are listening because we’re talking about them and the communities in which they live.”
Worth also shared how the station cares about the community.
“WRNJ is a very community-minded radio station, helping raise nearly $7 million for local charities over the years,” he said. He also noted that while there’s many choices overall in radio today, there are not that many in local radio.
Technology has changed over the 40 years that WRNJ has been on the air. People are using tablets, laptops, smart phones and other devices to get information. How has that affected radio?
“We’re constantly on Twitter, Facebook, social media,” said Worth. The station has an employee dedicated to social media.
Through social media, the station gives the headlines, and then broadcasts flesh out the details. For example, six months ago there was a homicide in Panther Valley. The station put the headline on Facebook; 25,000 people saw that before the station went on with the story an hour later.
Worth also mentioned that technology allows people to listen to the radio through live stream on their tablet, etc. plus catch up on broadcasts they may have missed by listening to the sound files archived on the radio’s website. Those archives also have the anniversary celebration broadcast. The website is: https://wrnjradio.com/.
Reflecting on how radio has endured, Cabot shared that he believes it is the “intimacy of it.” People are commuting in their cars where they are one on one with the radio. As for WRNJ in particular, Worth feels that it is “all those things that weave the mosaic of the community.” WRNJ shares with its listeners those things that are important to them, those things that are happening in their neighborhoods and affect their everyday lives. Perhaps, that’s why WRNJ is aptly called: Northwest New Jersey’s OWN.