Blues fans in town can rest a little easier now that WBFO-FM 88.7 has launched a search to replace Jim Santella, the longtime blues host who will retire Dec. 1.
"There is a job listing up, and we talked to some folks already," said Jim Ranney, WBFO news director. "Ultimately we want to find the right person. Obviously, the blues will still be there on Saturdays, even if it's not with a permanent host quite yet."
Santella, who currently hosts the blues show from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, started on the program Nov. 22, 1997. Known in Buffalo as the "Father of Progressive Radio," Santella began his radio career as a student DJ at WBFO when it was affiliated with the University at Buffalo. He originally hosted five hours of jazz.
Blues programming on WBFO had featured five-hour shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Santella hosted both days up until six years ago when Anita West took over as host on Sundays. Her show runs from 7 p.m. to midnight.
For music fans in Buffalo, the weekend blues shows have become a tradition, and when WBFO was sold to WNED in March, the community feared blues would disappear entirely from the format.
WNED Buffalo/Toronto purchased WBFO for $4 million. The two stations – WBFO-FM and WNED-AM 970 – combined operations and began running identical schedules. Much of National Public Radio programing was retained and some programs were added, but more than 20 programs were dropped.
After an active campaign waged by listeners, the weekend blues programs were not dropped. But they were shifted to nights.
"We ran a pretty hard campaign," said West. "We were disheartened it went to nights."
Shifting blues programming to nights made perfect sense, Ranney said.
"We just felt we wanted to include more of the NPR news/talk format on the weekends, and we felt music programming made sense in the evening," Ranney said. "That's why we decided to move the blues to Saturday and Sunday evenings."
On Saturday afternoon, WBFO programs include "Day 6," "Moneyplace Money," "People's Pharmacy" and "Zorba Paster: On Your Health." Sunday's offerings include "A Prairie Home Companion," "The Splendid Table" and "Bob Edwards Weekend."
"It may be a bit early, but clearly it's not the same audience," said Don Boswell, president and CEO of WNED Buffalo/Toronto.
"We want to start building weekend nights as a time when fans can expect live entertainment. We want to bill it as a destination for blues listeners."
Boswell is moving forward on plans to broadcast live blues shows from WNED's downtown studios.
"We're working with the Western New York Blues Society and BPO Nation, a concert promotions company," said Boswell. "And we plan scouting talent at the blues festival in Memphis for acts we can bring into the marketplace."
Local band Dive House Union will perform the first concert early next year, confirmed Boswell.
In August, WNED sold the AM station to Crawford Broadcasting Co., headquartered in Denver, for $875,000.
The sale, subject to regulatory approval, should have no impact on staffing, on-air programming on WBFO-FM or the 24-hour jazz service, JazzWorks, on WBFO HD-2, said Boswell."We are awaiting approval from [the] FCC to release the license to the new buyer," Boswell confirmed. "The comment period is over, and we'll have some time before we transfer the signal. When we do, we'll alert the public weeks before with a day-by-day countdown."