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Fans of KBOZ radio — wondering if the longtime Bozeman station will return to the airwaves to replace the current static — will just have to stay tuned.

KBOZ-FM and four sister stations owned by Reier Broadcasting Co. went off the air last Friday.

Bill Reier Sr., 78, reached by phone, told a reporter Tuesday and again Wednesday that he was in the middle of something and to call back later, but further attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Ed Donohue, operations manager until last week, said Wednesday that he had worked for Bill Reier on and off for 28 years and had been associated with KBOZ since 1994.

“It’s sad,” Donohue said. “I’m out of a job and so are others. As a broadcaster, it’s sad to see a longtime local owner turn off his stations.”

The reaction he has heard from fans, he said, has generally been “sadness, to see such an iconic set of call letters as KBOZ going away.”

The five stations all operated from studios in southwest Bozeman at 5445 Johnson Road, on property owned by the sons and daughter-in-law of longtime Montana broadcaster Joe Sample of Billings.

The stations are KBOZ-FM (“Hot Country” 99.9), KBOZ-AM (“News Talk Radio 1090), KOBB-FM (“Good Time Oldies” 93.7), KOBB-AM (Sports ESPN, 1230) and KOZB (classic rock 97.5, Livingston).

Donohue said attorneys for the owners notified the station in early May that they had 30 days to vacate. There had been an issue with lease payments, he said.

“Apparently they haven’t been getting paid,” Donohue said.

On Friday, the owners’ attorneys took possession of the building, land and equipment, he said, though Reier Broadcasting retains the FCC radio operating licenses. Three people were working at the station at the end, he said.

Barbara Sample, widow of Michael Sample, a Montana photographer who was stabbed to death in 2014 in Billings, was reached at her home. She was asked if the radio stations are gone for good.

“I hope they’re not,” she said. “It’s just a process that became necessary. We made the decision to have the station go dark while we try to work out how to get them back in the light.

“We certainly have a great deal of respect for Bill Reier; he has been a good station owner. We hope we can work this out and get back on the air … We’re in the throes of trying to sort out how to get back on the air. That’s our absolute goal.”

Donohue said Reier first put KBOZ on the air on Dec. 16, 1975, and owned it for a long time. The station hired many well-known local on-air personalities, including Dave Visscher and Dean Alexander, “the voice of the Bobcats.” Reier sold the stations, but bought them back in 1994.

Three stations transmit from Johnson Road and two from the top of Bozeman Pass, Donohue said. Joe Sample was a good friend of Reier’s, he added.

Gallatin Country District Court records show that Reier and his broadcasting company have had issues paying bills, including $1,175 in back taxes owed to the state of Montana in April 2018; $11,085 owed to the state in 2016; $4,433 owed to the state for unemployment insurance in 2017; and $70,480 owed to Broadcast Music Inc. of New York in 2014.

Donohue said Reier has been bucking a huge national trend by operating local stations in an era when deregulation has allowed big conglomerates and corporations to buy up stations across the country and run the same programming out of one central location, eliminating many local jobs and local voices.

“It is my sincerest hope that whoever takes ownership of these prime radio stations, in a robust Bozeman market … is a Montana radio company and puts these radio stations back on the air,” Donohue said. “I’d love to be part of it.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

Gail Schontzler covers schools and Montana State University for the Chronicle.

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