WYJK is a commercially-licensed AM radio station, licensed to operate at the federally-assigned frequency of 1340 khz, with a maximum power output of 1,000 Watts. WYJK is licensed to Connellsville, Pennsylvania; approximately 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
First coming on the air back in 1947, WCVI-AM was a typical radio station of its time, boasting a middle-of-the-road music format with local talk and sports broadcasts, serving Western Pennsylvania's fabled "Fay-West" area (southern Westermoreland and northern Fayette Counties. Founded by local physician Dr. Cam "Doc" Troilo, WCVI became one of the top stations in Western Pennsylvania, and best known for fostering the careers of local sportscaster legends Kevin Harrison and Jack Benedict.
In 1985, Troilo sold the station to Mar Com Broadcasting, owned by Marlene Hesler of Monroeville. The following year, an FM sister station joined WCVI into the fold. WPQR (now WPKL), a station licensed to Uniontown, had been acquired that year by Pittsburgh attorney Geoffrey P. Kelly, doing business as Kel Com Broadcasting. Though the licenses of the two stations were separately owned, both Heshler and Kelly were able to make a partnership work, doing business as Mar Kel Partners, Limited, reducing expenses through shared employee functions. After Kelly acquired WPQR, he moved the on-air operations of his station to the WCVI building, but maintained a satellite sales office in downtown Uniontown.
Things began to fall apart in about 1991, when the partnership was dissolved and Kelly acquired the assets of WCVI, though Heshler stayed on as General Manager for a year or two after its dissolution. Unfortunately, both stations fell on hard times throughout the 1990s, reducing the staffs of both stations to a skeleton crew, and WPQR being silent for almost a year due to a broken transmitter component and no money to fix it. The remaining staff, however, remained loyal to the station and stayed on (some even working for free), trying to keep their heads above water. Eventually this began to take its toll, as explained in this March 18, 2000 issue ("Tuned in: Connellsville community continues to support a struggling WCVI") by Jason Togyer of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Maybe it's a measure of Connellsville's affection for WCVI radio. But as soon as Jim Kenney unlocks the front door, three people enter the station, just up East Crawford Avenue from the McCrory's five-and-ten.
They clutch announcements or lists of items they want to swap on WCVI's "Tradio" show. Unfortunately, Kenney is there to read the news and obituaries. And each time the door swings open, a small metal bell tinkles.
Clutching his news copy in one hand, his other hand over the mike, Kenney turns and hisses - politely but firmly - "Shut the door!"
To residents of Connellsville, WCVI (1340 AM) is their radio station. It has been since 1947. And some, like Mike Molinaro, who owns a tailor shop in the same building, feel free to drop into the studios.
He comes to share a cup of coffee and pass the time with Kenney.
"They don't have any live programs anymore," said Molinaro, 83, a lifelong resident. "They're taking it all off the satellite. They're playing good music, though."
Like many western Pennsylvania towns, Connellsville has been knocked around, but it hasn't been knocked out. And neither has WCVI, though like Connellsville, it's seen more prosperous days.
WCVI and sister station WPQR-FM (99.3) once occupied the second and third floors of this 19th-century building. Colorful "WCVI" logos grace the upper windows, while on a sign above the sidewalk, neon lightning bolts shoot from the tip of a cartoon radio tower.
But the sign has been dark for several years. Letters along the facade that spelled "FIRST IN NEWS, ABC RADIO, MUSIC, SPORTS" have been removed, leaving ghostly impressions in the peeling paint.
The drafty studios upstairs, which once hosted live orchestras, are now much too big for WCVI's current needs. Earlier this year, the station moved downstairs to a first-floor storefront that housed an antiques store.
And WPQR has been off the air for months, its transmitter laid low by a broken component.
Yet with all of the marks against it, there are signs of new energy at this small-town radio station. Much of the credit must go to the station's only employees - Kenney and his fellow part-timer, Candy Lepre.
WCVI is Lepre's first radio job. But for Kenney, a 30-year career Army man, this must be a labor of love.
A supply sergeant at Connellsville's National Guard armory, Kenney hosts a morning show at the radio station, then goes off to work. Lepre takes the midday shift most days, though she's off this week, and Kenney is filling in.
Most of the time, WCVI plays a syndicated "music of your life" format, except on 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, when Kenney and his wife, Lou Ann, play oldies. On Sundays it carries church services, and in the summer, Pirates baseball.
At other times, Kenney and volunteers help the station's owner, Pittsburgher Geoffrey Kelley, keep WCVI's nose above water.
The hours are long. The pay is not great.
But Kelley, who will retire from the Army this year, doesn't seem to mind. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world," he said. "I enjoy this stuff, I really do. Would I like to go back to the 1960s? Yes. ... I still have the hometown radio station (mind-set)."
Stations in Charleroi, Uniontown and Brownsville were recently acquired by a Georgia company. But Connellsville's stations seem determined not to cash in.
"We call this paradise," said Stan Wall, whose WLSW-FM (103.9) sits on a hill overlooking downtown Connellsville. "I call it God's country. You can smell the flowers and the trees. I see deer, bears up here."
Big companies "want to control the market, and take as much business from you as they can," he said. "It's hard for individuals to make it."
Fueled by the Internet, rumors have swirled around WCVI lately - that the station is bankrupt, that the Federal Communications Commission has revoked its license.
The license question arose when WCVI missed the deadline to submit a renewal application to the FCC. The station is operating under temporary authorization pending an appeal. As for WPQR, Kenney says the FM station will be resurrected when its financial problems are untangled, including a dispute with the landlord who owns the property where its tower stands.
"We bottomed out, but we came back," he said. "I'm here for the long haul, to try to keep WCVI in Connellsville."
A visit to WCVI-Radio in Connellsville can be both depressing and exhilarating.
Packed into one small room on Crawford Avenue is the entire arrangement - microphone, rows of cassettes on shelving, dials, wires. The "studio" is cold, because the heat was turned off weeks ago. Candy Lepre - station manager, disc jockey, secretary and ad saleswoman - shivers, her feet cold.
To Lepre, WCVI - 1340 on the AM dial - is a labor of love. Her 15-year-old daughter, Nicole, testified to her mother's devotion. Dropping by after school one recent afternoon, Nicole noted that Candy Lepre spends most of her waking hours either at the station or thinking about the station.
"I love radio. And I care about the people of this town. And that is what radio is all about. Making money is important. But you have to take people into consideration, too," Candy Lepre said.
After broadcasting for better than 50 years, WCVI may be entering its final days - although Lepre is pretty sure the plug won't be pulled sooner than February. In part, she is counting on a groundswell of local opinion to persuade the new owners, Keymarket Communications, known for its "Froggy" stations, to keep WCVI on the air.
Keymarket executive Lynn Deppen did not return phone calls for this story.
WCVI also went silent in June 2001 after it and WPQR were acquired for $475,000 by Keymarket Communications of Carnegie in a January bankruptcy court sale, to satisfy more than a million dollars in debt incurred by Mar Com and Kel Com. After undergoing an extensive technical overhaul, WPQR finally returned to the air under the new call letters WPKL (99.3 The Pickle) and an oldies format. WCVI also returned to the air under the call letters WPNT, but only as a simulcast of its FM sister. The station recently changed its call sign to WYJK, but still had no independent programming of its own. A co-owned FM sister station licensed to Bellaire, Ohio is known as WYJK-FM, playing a variety hits format.
According to the FCC, Keymarket Communications applied for Special Temporary Authority on WYJK's behalf in November for a silent station, with reasons given as being technical in nature. Reporting silence since November 6, the FCC approved the request November 29, 2006
WYJK remained off the air for a period of more than two and a half years, returning to the air in August 2008. However, WYJK continues to simulcast FM sister station WPKL, and no plans have yet been announced for it to develop independent programming of its own.