By Marilyn Honahan
There’s a new kid in town. Actually, not quite a kid, but a new radio station which has been broadcasting right here on Marco Island for less than a year. Although other stations are licensed by the FCC to broadcast their signal to Marco Island, 96.1 WGBY is the only radio station currently operating its broadcasting studios right here on the island, in fact, that is the station’s name, ” 98.1 The Island”.
It’s been a long time coming, but perseverance has paid off for co-owners, Bob Ladd, Michelle Higgins and Paul Lethbridge. I had an opportunity to speak with Paul Lethbridge about how he became involved with the station. Paul is originally from Toronto, Canada where he was a national television news anchor with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In fact, this November, Paul will be celebrating forty years in broadcasting.
In 1997, Paul and his wife, Michelle had the opportunity to take a trip around the world. When they returned home and evaluated their lives, they decided. “Let’s try something different”. They moved to Naples shortly after and Michelle, a medical laboratory technologist, found employmentat the Marco Healthcare Center. Paul continued to commute from Toronto.
After 9/11 Lethbridge said, “no more commuting by air”, resigned his position and on September 19th, 2001 was on the first flight allowed to take off from Toronto bound for SW Florida. Paul and Michelle have since become US Citizens and are now proud to call themselves Americans.
Bob’s path took a slightly different direction. He was the longtime owner and personality of a radio station in Bellevue, Ohio. He sold the station and moved to our area in 2000. He and Paul met when they both worked at radio station 1660 AM and its sister station 1480 AM. In 2004, they partnered in the purchase of a radio license in Everglades City at 88.1 FM, followed by another frequency at 98.1 FM.
Once they had decided to move 98.1 to Marco Island, the path was anything but smooth. Hurricane Wilma knocked down the 88.1 tower in Everglades City and they had to seek permission from the FCC to stay off the air until they could rebuild and restructure. They remained off the air from October, 2005 until 2011. Meanwhile, theyapplied six times to the FCC for permission to move 98.1 to Marco Island and in April, 2011 the partners received government approval and selected their antenna site on the island.
However, just as things were about to get started, their transmitter malfunctioned. They had to take it to Miami for repairs where it sat for a month and a half. Unfortunately, the transmitter was manufactured in Italy and the parts had to be sent from there. The problem was that many manufacturers in Italy close for the entire month of August. Once that problem was resolved, the partners realized that due to an oversight, they hadn’t renewed their 88.1 FCC license and now had to wait another five and a half months until they finally were able to receive permission to broadcast WBGY. The brand new “98.1 The Island” debuted In Everglades City and Marco Island on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012.
The station broadcasts what Bob Ladd has called a mix of Hot Adult Contemporary music, local news and sports. “98.1 The Island” simulcasts in Marco Island and Everglades City from studios at the Sun Trust Building.
For more information please call 239-642-0981.