Bob Bittner is a maverick even among the stubborn owners of today's independent radio stations. While many of them count on community support to stay alive, Bittner is in it for himself. "You happened to [find] one of the few guys in America who does it for fun," he says.
Radio veteran Bittner stumbled across WJIB(AM) Boston in 1991, when station prices had sunk to alarming levels, and paid $277,115 for the then-gospel station. He estimates its worth today at some $3.3 million (he has had offers for that much). If he sold it, he allows, "I could really have a good life, but then I wouldn't have an FM station in Boston." (He also owns wjto[am] Bath, Maine.)
He holds on because "my thing is music." Officially dubbed easy listening, wjib's format is better described as two parts instrumental to one part light pop.
Bittner takes to the air whenever he feels like it and hosts his own Sunday-morning program, Let's Talk About Radio. Most weekend time is sold to ethnic groups, which pays for wjib's weekday commercial-free programming.
Weekend block sales also pay for Bittner's donation of four hours of airtime each Saturday night to Allston-Brighton Free Radio, which has such a small signal that it can be heard only a couple of blocks away. On wjib, Allston-Brighton can get a far wider audience for its high-quality public-affairs programming, which includes topics ranging from aging to pet adoption.
Boston's top 10 stations are dominated by four groups: Infinity, Clear Channel, Greater Media and Entercom. While some independents hang on in Boston, Bittner says, "everyday people who don't have stations won't be able to afford stations." His distaste for the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which launched the consolidation frenzy and boosted radio-station prices, is strong. He occasionally punctuates discussion of the topic on his Sunday show with the sound of a toilet flushing. "That is the sign of diversity going down the tubes," he tells listeners.