By DAVE DELUCA - For the Star Beacon
For Mix 97.1 radio's Jennifer Swickard, most days consist of long early morning commutes to Mentor. The on-air personality and deejay has been driving from Ashtabula for the last two months, ever since Ashtabula's Star 97.1 became the North Coast's Mix 97.1 on Aug. 1. She's glad to be in her new office digs at 9179 Mentor Avenue and doesn't mind the trip. Swickard is a recent Kent State bachelor's degree graduate in communications, and has been working for Star 97.1 FM for nine years.
For Swickard and the others who've had to commute to Lake County every day, the change doesn't mean Ashtabula has been abandoned. The same 50,000-watt signal emanating from Jefferson Road in Ashtabula still reaches some 150 broadcast miles in every direction. The new Mix 97.1 crew views the move as a step up.
"On August 1, Mark Allen and I opened our new offices in Mentor," Swickard said. "We didn't leave Ashtabula, we've just expanded."
Swickard said she gets up at 5 a.m. every weekday to appear on the morning drive time's 6-10 a.m. Mark Allen and Friends Show. To hit his marks on time, Allen has to get up at 3 a.m.
Swickard said 97.1's move to Lake County puts it in a good position to pick up new market shares in the Cleveland area.
"It's a great location," she said. "Our new offices in Mentor are perfectly situated for expansion. Our Jefferson Road transmitter still reaches all the way from Erie to Lakewood."
As far as broadcast goes, because of the info tech revolution over the last 10 years, studios no longer need to be adjacent to transmitters. Swickard said she still works out of Ashtabula, and still relies on Ashtabula talents like Paula Taylor for live remote broadcast, like the women's events at the Spring Hill Winery in Harpersfield.
"That's another great thing about the move," Swickard said. "We can broadcast form anywhere, and there are plenty of potential listeners in Lake, Ashtabula, and Cuyahoga counties.
She said the Mix 97.1 format can be described as music from the "80s, ‘90s, 2K and now."
Swickard appears with Mark Allen in the morning from 6 - 10 a.m. and then takes over the airwaves for her own midday show running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She said Ashtabula's Dylan does the 7 p.m. to midnight slot.
"The expansion was possible because of our loyal Ashtabula listeners and sponsors and Media One Group," she said.
Media Group is Mix 97.1's parent company. Swickard said the change also created a new station, Cougar 93.7 FM. Cougar is at the same offices in Mentor and is Lake County's first radio station. Cougar is a station with a women's slant.
"We're still alive and well in Ashtabula," Swickard said. "But we've expanded our marketing zone. Because of the possibilities of increasing the market shares in Cuyahoga and Lake, it's a business move that is well worth the effort."
Swickard said she will be doing a remote broadcast from the grand opening of Port Conneaut Federal Credit Union's new Ashtabula branch in November.
"Expanding into a Cleveland to Pennsylvania mode has been a big change for me," she said. "I'm still getting acclimated to the Mentor office and studios."
Swickard said she believes Ashtabula listeners and business people — as well as Media One Group — deserve thanks and praise for making the Star 97.1 to Mix 97.1 move possible. She said the station is already picking up new sponsors from its expanded broadcast area.
"It's a lot of cups of coffee in the morning and a lot of driving, but it seems to be worth the effort," she said.