Radio, With a Side of Bacon
By COREY KILGANNON December 30, 2007
“1390-WRIV — your hometown radio,” Bruce Tria said, his voice coming through the car radio Tuesday morning, and you knew you were driving on the East End.
WRIV is one of the oldest stations on Long Island, and its homespun blend of local news, community announcements and oldies has been a soundtrack for a generation of locals out here for a half-century.
Mr. Tria’s morning show, “The Dawn Patrol,” delivers a style of local radio that is nearly extinct on Long Island: a neighbor’s lost dog, a birth or death in the community, and news from the schools, the police and Town Hall. It is a slow-drip blend of slow-paced life that seems meant to waft into kitchens and mingle with the smell of bacon.
To creak up the carpeted stairs to the third floor of 40 West Main Street, an old building in downtown Riverhead that houses the station, is to step back into the golden age of radio. There, through a labyrinth of empty rooms, Mr. Tria can be found in the control room, leaning into a microphone bearing the station’s call letters.
The show is filled with a steady stream of opinionated callers and Mr. Tria’s barbed wit and pragmatic commentary, the kind you might overhear at the local bar or barbershop.
“Hello, you’re on the air,” Mr. Tria said, picking up the phone. It was an East Quogue caller, angry about her tax bill — those darn school district coffers. That got Mr. Tria started — few things don’t — and in his usual diplomatic style, he said the East Quogue school district has “a bureaucracy worthy of the Pentagon,” and delivered a tart treatise on school districts with big budgets and low ratings.
For 27 years, Mr. Tria, 51, has been giving listeners the time, the weather and a piece of his mind. All interspersed with his favorite music: “nonrock hits” and the great vocalists doing standards, which he calls “the best music ever made.”
The station, on the AM band, broadcasts at 1,000 watts from a 133-foot-high tower and can be picked up for a roughly 20-mile radius — less over land, farther over water — from Rocky Point to Peconic on the North Shore and from Bellport to Amagansett on the South Shore.
The folks down at the Riverhead Sewer District keep it on. So do the people at Suffolk County National Bank. You can hear it in the caddy shacks at the big clubs in Southampton, and there is a core listener base among the thousands who live in the many mobile home parks in town. And there are diehard local sports fans who tune in to the broadcasts of Riverhead basketball and football games.
“Most of our listeners are 40 and older, and many people keep the station on for company — you’re their companion, their friend,” said Mr. Tria, who bought the station with his father, Vincent Tria, in 1987. “We survive and thrive because we’re community-minded. I like being able to communicate, and I couldn’t really do that at a station where I’d have to play five lite-radio songs in a row.”
A tall, handsome man entered the station, with very white teeth and hair and a quick, wholesome wit.
“Galla’s in the house,” Mr. Tria said over the air, referring to John Galla, who takes over at 10 a.m. for his “Radio Factory,” featuring “quips and quotes from Galla’s notes.”
Mr. Galla, 60, of Wading River, clutched his material for the show: his usual scraps of paper and printouts of trivia. Mr. Galla, who has been working in radio since age 15, carried a jar of homemade pickles given to him by a listener and opened a Christmas card sent from a local bank and signed by the employees, all regular listeners. He called them perfect examples of the small-town charm of the station and its cozy relationship with listeners.
“If you’ve ever seen ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with Jimmy Stewart, this is Bedford Falls,” he said. “Some people call it corny, but that’s what people want.”
“Look, our latest news off the wires,” he said, holding up a printout of the men’s bowling league scores, just faxed over from Polish Hall.
Mr. Tria was finishing up his show and put on “A Holly, Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives. With the song ending, Mr. Tria took the mike and said, “I think we all could use a little Burl Ives, don’t you?”
He mentioned the two-for-one drink specials at Gators Restaurant in Hampton Bays and told listeners that after confession at St. Rosalie’s, they could “amble on over” to Gators. Then he cued up commercials for Mastic Seafood and for the Robert James Salon in Miller Place.
The station survives through local advertising dollars. There are no national advertisers, but plenty of local restaurants and businesses buy on-air spots produced by the staff. Mr. Tria said there was a core of 250 steady advertisers over the course of a year. He said there had been estimates that the station gets perhaps 5,000 listeners at a time and maybe 25,000 tuning in at some point during the week.
Some people who have moved away listen over the Internet to stay connected to the East End, Mr. Tria said, after talking with a caller who lives in New York City but has a summer house here. He called to grouse about the mammoth indoor ski development proposed for Calverton.
Mr. Galla took over and took a call from a listener who had an opinion about what to put in the water in the stand to keep a Christmas tree fresh.
“Look at him,” Mr. Tria said. “He’s doing what we do best. He’s relating to the people out here.”