Bruce James has had a few successes – ownership of six successful radio stations across the region, induction into the Vermont Association of Broadcasting Hall of Fame, not to mention an accomplished career as a baseball umpire and public servant.
Not bad for a kid who grew up in the woods of Groton.
He remembers being about four or five years old and listening to his parent’s radio in the living room with his mother. They heard performers like Patti Page (of “That Doggie in the Window” and “Moon River” fame) and events like the Thunder Road stock car races. “We were enhanced by the entertainment it brought us,” he said.
During a third-grade trip to the WSTJ studio in St. Johnsbury, he got a glimpse into his future. Many years later he would buy that same radio station, along with five others.
He has fond memories of the trip to WSTJ. “To a kid from Groton it was like going to New York City,” he said.
When James was a few years older, he listened to AM radio stations – WKBW out of Buffalo, N.Y., and WPER out of Albany, N.Y. They broadcast top 40 music and shows intended for teens. That model would later shape the programming of Magic 97.7, a station he built from scratch in Lyndonville.
When James was in high school, his family moved to Fair Haven, where he began playing drums in the school band. At the same time, he and several friends put together their own band to play at dances and parties. One of his high school teachers invited him to join his band as well. Music gave him a steady income and an appreciation for the business at a young age. By the time he was a senior, James was teaching drumming and had met his future wife, Nancy.
After high school, he and Nancy attended Lyndon State College and liked the area so much they never left. They married after their freshman year. While at LSC in the late 1960s, James had his own radio show and played for a rock and roll band called “the Dayze of Time,” which toured all over New England.
He was making so much money with the band that he decided to leave Lyndon State. James began working as a booking agent, and during the 1970s, he handled bands such as Aerosmith and the Cars, as well as hundreds of unknown bands all over the East Coast. While he produced concerts, Nancy stayed at home, earning her teaching certificate and having their first child in 1974.
Because his work required extensive travel and time away from his family, James started his own booking agency in 1980 in the Northeast Kingdom. That same year he decided to run for state senate. Campaigning took him to various radio stations, including WYKR, owned by Rick Davis. James lost the senate race, but meeting Rick Davie marked a turning point in his life. Davis invited him to participate in a new venture, an application for a radio license in Lyndonville.
“When you see that the door on the bus is open, you should just get in,” he said of his decision to join Davis. By 1985, their application was approved, and Davis and James moved into the old East Burke School House and started Magic 97.7.
They built the station from the ground up, with Davis as the morning announcer and James taking over the microphone at mid-day. By 1993, Davis asked to be bought out so he could move away, leaving James to run the station by himself and needing a new crew. James noticed property on Church Street in Lyndonville had been changing tenants, so he went to Fred Bona, the owner, and asked to lease the building. In 1994, Magic moved to its current Church Street location in Lyndonville where James rebuilt everything from the ground up again.
By 1998, he had proven himself as a very successful broadcaster. When local stations WSTJ and Kixx came up for sale, he felt he could create something for everyone – with news, sports and oldies on WSTJ and contemporary country on Kixx. He also purchased The Notch, located in Littleton, N.H., to round out offerings with an oldies station.
Over the past year, he turned his attention to Newport. “I felt we could be relevant to the people in the Newport area and give them music they would really like,” he said. “So my business focus has been to do that by building a new transmitter outside of Newport and by buying the two existing stations, WMOO and WYKE.” Those stations will provide modern country music, pop music and news and sports.
Right now, James employs 30 full-time and part-time employees and expects to add at least 15 more employees at the new Newport stations. He foresees big things on the horizon, especially with Jay Peak President Bill Stenger’s announcement of a $500 million economic development plan for the Northeast Kingdom.
“Stenger and Jay can rebuild Newport,” he said, “making it an exciting and vibrant place to work, and I will promote it.”