Leaning back comfortably in a well-worn chair, Jim Bleikamp describes how he has gone “über-local.”
The president of Radio 9 WCME, housed in the heart of Fort Andross and found at AM 900, he says, “You could tune in to the station every hour and figure that the Northern boundary of the world is maybe Rockland and the Southern boundary is Freeport. That’s how we operate.”
The station, which began in 1955 and broadcast into the 1970s, was on hiatus until Bleikamp decided to start it up again in 2012 after 12 years working for the Wall Street Journal’s radio news in New York City.
“Ever since I was a little kid I was fascinated by radio,” he said. “On several levels, I was always interested in these people you heard that you couldn’t see, and the sound coupled with imagination.”
His experience with the medium shows. Bleikamp runs much of the station’s day to day operations, and his comfort behind a switchboard is immediately evident upon walking into the small office on the first floor of the Fort. In fact, he is so deeply concentrated when I arrive that he snaps “what?” as I walk through the door. Bleikamp is no nonsense, but after I remind him of our interview time, he lightens up and recounts how he came to his location by happy accident.
“I’m from away,” Bleikamp says like someone intimately familiar, at this point, with the customs and speech patterns of his listeners. “So it was kind of an accident initially that I landed here in Fort Andross. I was actually just with somebody who pointed out the building on the street and said, ‘That’d be a nice place for you to be.’ My initial thought was that we might not be able to afford to locate it here.”
He couldn’t be more pleased with his choice.
“I mean, we’re right here in what may be the most prominent building in town. We’re pretty happy,” he says.
The Fort, and its prominence in the Brunswick community, has an inverse relationship with WCME. As the radio station was thriving in the 1950s and 60s, the Fort was becoming barren. The Verney Corporation ceased operations in the Fort in the mid-1950s, putting 900 people out of work. 60 years later, the two are thriving together, and helping one another do so.
For its part, WCME has plans to expand, moving onto an FM frequency in addition to the existing AM channel. According to Bleikamp, he can do so because of the local nature of the station, and because even in a rapidly shifting media climate, people still listen to the radio.
WCME is a bit of an anomaly in the radio world. About two decades ago, the FCC significantly pared down ownership restrictions, which allowed big conglomerates to buy up huge numbers of stations.
“Now, you have three or four large companies that own hundreds of stations,” Bleikamp says. “Interestingly, virtually all of those companies have been through at least one bankruptcy. Radio works best when it’s done like we’re doing it here, on a very local level, where everything is locally handled and locally controlled. We keep a very close watch on what we do here. You’ve got people running some of these big companies right now who are not even sure about what they own.”
As a counterbalancing measure, Bleikamp has decided to stay local in midcoast Maine and continue to shuttle in and out of his little Fort Andross office, attending every community function he hears about. He has even begun to don the unofficial uniform of white-collar, working Mainers—the reliable polo shirt and khakis combination. Today is Sunday, and he is leaving soon to attend a meeting at the Brunswick Masonic Lodge. It is clear that in his six years at the helm of WCME, Bleikamp has put down deep roots in the community. Despite his serious nature and voice filled with gravitas, likely from years of speaking to the airwaves, he has found simple joy in his locale.
“We plan to be here for a long time,” he says. “This is the last station I expect to work at and the last place that I hope to live.”