Written By Patricia Rouzer

Tinsel Town has come to Carroll County. So far, no one has really noticed. Nor are they likely to.

On February 1, Pat Sajak, “Wheel of Fortune” game show host and Severna Park resident, took ownership of WTTR – Carroll County’s homey, folksy community AM radio station. And from the Farm Report to play-by-play of local high school football games, Sajak likes it just the way it is.

Listeners who anticipated the Hollywood mogul would switch the station from its current “Golden Oldies” format to shock jocks, hard rock or political call-in vitriol so common in the homogenized world of mega-market radio, are doomed to disappointment. Sorry, they’ll be no Rap, Gangsta and R&B here.

“Mr. Sajak got his start in community radio–he grew up in it,” said Stephen Hopp, Vice President and General Manager of Sajak Broadcasting. “He is committed to the kind of community service radio that has always been WTTR’s hallmark.” WTTR is the second Maryland radio station to be purchased by Sajak. He took ownership of WNAV in Annapolis several years ago.

“WTTR is an old fashioned radio station–it has always served the community with local news and sports,” said Hopp. “We only plan to take what the staff at WTTR has always done well and give them additional staff and some additional equipment so that they can do it better.” Although Sajak now owns the station, he is not involved in its day-to-day operations.

“I’ve always liked broadcasting–I got my start there,” said Sajak in a phone interview. “I bought WNAV because I spend a lot of time here in Maryland and I was interested in having some local business interests.”

He notes that when radio stations change hands there is always some uneasiness about what changes will come as a result of new ownership. “In this case, I don’t anticipate there will be many. If anything, we hope to give them (WTTR) the resources to increase their coverage a bit,” he explains.

“I didn’t buy the station to start a media empire–OK, maybe a miniempire,” he quipped, adding, “WTTR is basically the same kind of station as WNAV. It is a real community station. Given the price tag and what it means to the local community, it seems like a good investment.”

Sajak, who with his letter-turning partner Vanna White is wildly popular among the early-evening game show aficionados, is a decidedly low key, un-Hollywood, show biz personality. From his beginnings in Chicago as a “Guest Teen DJ” on WLS to winning his Star on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame,” he has remained understated and relatively low profile.

Something of a Hollywood iconoclast, Sajak has on occasion been an outspoken critic of the entertainment community’s self-absorbed, insular environment.

“You see, one of the dangers of my business is that it has the potential to fill you with a distorted view of life and your importance in it,” Sajak told a 2002 convocation at Hillsdale College where he is Vice President of the Board of Trustees. “And it’s understandable in a way. If you are part of a successful enterprise, people treat you very well. They pretend the most outlandish or inane things you might say are important and quotable. You go on ÔOprah’…you cry…people call you heroic for being so open…and your career soars to new heights.”

The winner of three Emmy Awards and a People’s Choice Award, Sajak has a number of enterprises in addition to his two radio stations, including his own production company P.A.T. Productions, a recording company, BoJak Records, as well as The Golden Baseball League, a minor league organization with teams in California, Arizona and Mexico, due to begin operations this year. Although he works in Hollywood, he, his wife and their two children maintain their permanent home in Severna Park.

Sajak clearly enjoys old fashioned radio. And old fashioned is the perfect description for WTTR, tucked away in a small brick building down WTTR Lane off of Uniontown road on the outskirts of Westminster. Blink and you’ve missed it.

The 52-year old station was started by Russell H. Morgan, who owned a station in Chestertown, MD, and decided Carroll County, a sleepy rural county of 80,000 just being touched by development, might be a lucrative market. Morgan sold the operation in 1981 to Shamrock Broadcasting, according to Dwight Dingle, WTTR’s program director and on-air personality, himself a genuine fixture on the county scene.

The station has gone through a number of metamorphoses in its long albeit simple history. In the fifties WTTR featured the popular music of the day–Sinatra, Como and the Big Bands. Then it was on to country music, “beautiful music,” adult contemporary, talk to its current formula of local talk programming, play-by-play sports broadcasts and “oldies” music.

WTTR’s sister FM station–variously known throughout its history as WGRX, Froggy, WZA and The Bay–was sold several years ago and long since moved out of the county to Baltimore and an audience with big city tastes.

Referred to in the trade as a “daytimer,” WTTR originally signed on the airwaves in the morning and off at sunset–a mode of operation that fit well with the then largely rural county’s “up with the sun, to bed with the chickens” lifestyle. In 1983 the FCC licensed it as a 24 hour station, but WTTR still ends its broadcast day at midnight.

With a staff of five full time and 10 part time employees, WTTR specializes in local news, sports and community programming, including lots of “location” broadcasts of store openings, the county 4-H, FFA Fair and other special events. Although its signal does not travel far past the county line–unless the wind is right and the sunspots are firing–it is not a technological dinosaur. The station still creates its own local advertising announcements, but several years ago foreswore magnetic recording tape for computer generation and digital technology.

“When you work at a station like WTTR, you have to wear a lot of hats, and that’s what makes working here fun,” said Dingle. “So many stations have been gobbled up by large broadcasting companies that standardize and simulcast programming. That hasn’t happened here and, from what we’ve heard, it isn’t going to. Mr. Sajak bought WTTR to preserve it as the voice of the community it serves. And we’re all very pleased about that.”