Mark Turcotte will host his final Breakfast Club for Maine’s Big Z – WEZR 105.5/96.9 in Auburn on Friday morning. Gleason Radio Group will go silent at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Turcotte has been the Breakfast Club host since December 2018. “That’s it,” he said. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — On Maine Big Z’s “The Breakfast Club,” Mark Turcotte interviewed local business owners, entertainers, activists, and once last summer, a mixed martial arts cage fighter and state senator one hour apart.

“Had to shift gears pretty quickly that morning,” quipped Turcotte, the morning show host since December 2018.

On Wednesday, he was abruptly down to two final shows.

Gleason Radio Group announced that its five stations will go off the air at 7 p.m. Sunday. They include Norway, Paris, Rumford, Mexico and Auburn.

“This feels like the end of an era in Maine radio,” Turcotte said.

Kathy Gleason has run the business with WOXO station manager Vic Hodgkins in the year since her husband, founder and former Auburn Mayor Dick Gleason, died.

“I feel that I tried very hard to keep it going and at the same time have it be for sale,” Gleason said. “It didn’t sell, it may sell. The coronavirus was kind of like the last straw as far as finances go.”

Hodgkins said a combination of low receivables and slow payments, combined with a projected drop in advertising because of COVID-19, has resulted in the need to close the stations.

The group owns seven signals and five stations best known as WOXO 92.7/100.7; Maine’s Big Z – WEZR 105.5/96.9 and WTME AM 780.

According to his obituary, Dick Gleason started working at WTOS in 1973 and began researching stations for sale, first landing on WNWY, now WOXO, in Norway in 1975. He built his radio group from there, eventually broadcasting from Kennebunk to Rangeley.

He was named the Maine Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcaster of the Year in 2003.

Kathy Gleason said radio was something her husband had loved since he was a kid.

“I think he did it his way, and he loved it, and he loved the community,” she said. “One of the brokers even said to me, ‘Oh my goodness, they’re losing their voice! Is there anything else you can do?’ I think it will sell and I think someone else will do it. It’s going to take a while for the economy to come back.”

Turcotte, who set Friday mornings aside for local musicians to play live in the studio, said he relished the range of voices and community groups he had in.

“Dick Gleason believed in creating and fostering local stations with local talent and serving their respective communities,” he said. “His vision was a reality for nearly 50 years. As an independently owned station, we were free from the corporate umbrella and able to take chances and experiment with programming.”

The stations were known for high school sports, NASCAR, country music and, for over 35 years, the Country Corner Show, a chance to buy, sell, swap or give a shout-out to a neighbor.

People called in selling everything from dogs to tires to old bathtubs, said Dawn Hartill, the show’s weekend host for two years.

“One guy called every other day for about three months trying to sell telephone poles he found on his land,” she said. “My favorite thing about Country Corner, though, was the sense of community. There were regular callers and I got to know each of them as they called in and they got to know me.”

She once had a regular show up in the parking lot on Presidents Day, when she was filling in for a weekday host, dressed as Abraham Lincoln.

“He said he just wanted to tell me that he enjoyed Country Corner and he listened every day because I made him smile and brightened up his day,” Hartill said. “He thought showing up dressed in costume would be a good way to return the favor and he was right.”

She said she was sad to hear about the station going off the air, adding, “I know it was a difficult decision.”

A.M. Sheehan, managing editor Sun Media weeklies, contributed to this story.

 


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