After four years and against all odds, Gary James, WMEX keep the hits coming

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WMEX' Gary James interviews Michael Seavey, who plays Richie Cunningham in the Rochester Opera House's widely acclaimed current production of "Happy Days: A New Musical" Thursday.

GONIC - If you've been around Rochester the past four years here's one thing you can count on.

Every weekday from 6-10 a.m. you'll find Gary James playing "the most amazing oldies" on WMEX, Rochester's hometown radio station.

James, of Gonic, a career radio man who formerly worked for Rochester's WMEX at One Wakefield Street and the much-storied Boston WMEX of Woo Woo Ginsburg fame, now spends his time spinning golden oldies inside the Gonic Mill in the latest WMEX permutation he created four years ago, a low-power FM station that broadcasts from a transmitting antenna atop the mill.

James, between performing engineering checks on equipment and some announcing chores on Thursday morning, talked about the genesis of the current WMEX.

Gary James broadcasts community announcements on Thursday at the WMEX studio at the Gonic Mill.

He said it began about five years ago when the FCC reopened the window for licensing of low-power FM stations

"I said to myself I'd love to get a LPFM," he said. "I'd been a minority owner in the WMEX of One Wakefield with Dennis Jackson, so I called him up and asked him what it would cost.

"Well, he said he'd do the engineering for free so it might cost six more grand. So I'm a Rotarian and I went to Rotary and told them I needed $6.000, and they said apply for a grant, so I did and I got it."

He said once the engineering and transmitting bugs were worked out he began broadcasting from a studio behind his Gonic garage.

A short time later he was able to secure space at the Gonic Mill, and with the help of Derek Peters, an unfinished segment of the mill was transformed into the studio where James continues his mantra of bringing Rochester "the most amazing oldies" as well as other local programming.

After starting on a wing, a prayer and a shoestring budget, to say it's been a satisfying experience for James would be an understatement.

"A lot of people said 'You'll never make it,' he said. "Four years later, here we are."'

In fact, the station is flourishing with dozens of local businesses and organizations contributing to the nonprofit, often in exchange for being mentioned on air.

James and WMEX give back to the community as well.

On Thursday James was interviewing Michael Seavey, who plays Richie Cunningham in the Rochester Opera House's widely acclaimed current production of "Happy Days: A New Musical" now showing at ROH through May 20.

Beyond theater announcements and community goings-on, the station also carries other broadcasting staples like daily local sports with Gerry Gilbert and local weather with WMUR's Kevin Skarupa.

They also broadcast Red Raider football, hockey and boys and girls basketball, James said.

James, who admits he feels like he was born with a radio in his crib, loves all the aspects of the medium he's devoted his career to, but makes it clear his passion is the oldies, which he defines as the music from 1958-1973.

If you're an aficionado of the genre, James says you'll appreciate the playlist his station draws from

"Back in the 60s, radio stations played the top 40 hits every week," he said. "I still play those 40 hits. Most oldies station today play the top 10 from each year over and over."

To break it down, he says run of the mill franchise oldies stations plays from an overall list of 300; WMEX draws on 3,000, he said.

Asked how he manages to correlate and keep track of all those songs and how and when they play, he smiles.

"The computer does it; it's very smart."

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