Fry came to Cayuga Radio Group as a reporter in January of 2007. Before he left in mid-2008 he was Assistant News Director under Geoff Dunn, and anchoring the afternoon news. Now he is stepping in as Dunn's replacement. He will head the news/talk department, anchor news on Hits 103.3, Lite Rock 97.3, Q Country 103.7, I-100 Classic Rock), Progressive Talk 1470 WNYY, 98.7 The Vine, and News Talk 870 WHCU. He'll be the voice that chats with Lee Rayburn on the WHCU's Morning Newswatch.
"It's a great responsibility," Fry says. "I also have to move the station forward to what it should be in 2013. We've been here for 90 years and we're all very proud of that, but we also have to realize what news and radio is in 2013, and we have to move it forward with things that are evolving in radio news."
The stations share a newsroom, now Fry's command center. It is part office/part studio, next door to the WHCU studio Rayburn broadcasts from. Every hour news is broadcast first on one station, then the next and the next. From 5:30 to 9am Fry will juggle anchoring, composing copy, and talking about current events and sports with Rayburn on Morning Newswatch.
In recent years the newsroom has moved from an intense focus on local news and activities to a more national approach. Fry says there are many changes in radio news, technologically and stylistically, and he has been making a list of things he would like to accomplish going forward. But he says that doesn't mean the stations' local focus is diminished.
"There is a thought that if you provide a wider focus you're automatically neglecting Tompkins County and the local coverage people have known us for for so long. You can do both. We're going to get to (local news) as well, but also provide a little more. There are ways to do it that you couldn't do 25 years ago because of the technology."
That technology includes smaller recorders, smart phones on which you can record interviews, instantly transmitting them back to the newsroom for airing, digital sound and computers that have changed the way news is delivered.
Reporting on WHCU was his second job in a career his mother would say he began as a kid. Growing up in Norristown, PA Fry would play air hockey, placing hockey cards on the table, moving the cards around, and announcing the 'game' as he moved the player cards. His mother thought he'd end up as a sports reporter. That turned out to be prescient, but only part of the story.
After college Fry landed an internship at WCOJ where he volunteered to do whatever was needed. He was one of three of eight interns who survived the job in the first two weeks. Fry says he was pushy about asking what he could do, which included from picking up trash and everything else.
"I didn't want to move to New York City or do administrative work at a Philadelphia television station," he says. "I wanted to go to a place where I felt I could learn something and get my hands on things and really be involved. I knew that hard work would pay off for me in the end."
A couple of weeks later it did pay off when he got to fill in for one of the station's regular hosts. Headphones in place, he started enthusiastically. But after a few minutes he noticed he hadn't turned on the microphone. Silence is a cardinal sin in radio.
"We had dead air for two and a half minutes," he said. "But I was smart enough to come back on the air and say, 'Oh we must have had a technical problem!' That's when I learned you have to be on your toes at all times in this business."
It didn't slow him down. The station offered him a full time job when his internship ran out. He started producing the afternoon talk show, did a bit of news, and became the unofficial sports director, reporting on local sports, running the sound board for sporting events, and fulfilling his mother's prediction.
Two and a half years later he moved to Ithaca to come to WHCU. But in the summer of 2008 an opportunity to work at WGY Radio in Albany arose.
"I was in my mid-20s and was eager to find out what my next step would be," he recalls. "I knew there wasn't a whole lot of room for advancement here because I knew Geoff was entrenched here and loved this area. It was a chance to work in a state capital in a much bigger market, a 'top 100' market. I thought I would take a shot."
In the afternoon he worked as a general assignment reporter, covering capital news, governor's news conferences, and local news. He anchored the evening news spots until 9pm, and was the Sunday morning anchor on the Joe Gallegher Show. Since then he has worked for a number of radio stations and weekly newspapers, and as a bureau chief for the Albany NPR station.
He was working as the online editor for a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia when he got a facebook message from WQNY's Chris Allenger intimating a job was open. That quickly led to an interview.
"I walked into the building and hugged four people that day," he says. "People I hadn't seen in so long."
Three weeks later was offered the job. While some of the people are the same, the ones he worked directly with -- Geoff Dunn, Dave Vieser and the reporters of that day -- are all gone. But Fry says the culture in the studio building remains warm, welcoming, and supportive.
"Of all the places I have worked, this is the place that always felt like family," he says. "I always felt I had support. People here meant it when they asked how you were doing. I still feel that when I walk in this building. There are some different faces and some familiar ones as well. This building is really made by the people who are inside it, and the people here care about the product they put on the air."
Returning to Ithaca gives Fry an advantage in that he knows the market and the area itself. But he says that things have changed since he worked here before so he has spent this week relearning the community, dealing with the chaos of moving and working every day. He loves the mix of old and new, from Rudy Paolangeli, an early host of Morning News Watch who began broadcasting in the 1950s and still broadcasts a Sunday music show, to Lee Rayburn, who joined WHCU last June.
"The first time I was here I was working at a job and was happy to be a part of the community," he says. "Now I want to be one of the major parts of the community. I'm probably going to be here for a very long time. I am probably going to raise a family here. Those things make you more interested in what's happening in the community and when I have a microphone in front of somebody I think I'm going to care a little more about what that person is saying. I don't want to move away from here again."
As News Director he'll be on-air, but also has off-air responsibilities. His first live broadcast will be on Morning Newswatch at 5:30 Monday morning. He met with his team for the first time Monday, and spent this week getting to know them. That will be important because he is going to need an instant on-air camaraderie with Rayburn first thing Monday.
"The communication has been great thus far," Fry says. "Lee has a great personality and is great on the air. That was one of the deciding factors for me. I knew it was going to be easy to communicate with him on-air and off-air as well."
Brendan Callahan and Pete Blanchard complete the news staff along with a part time producer. Callahan has been filling in at the anchor desk since Dunn left. Starting Monday Fry will anchor mornings, and Callahan will go back to anchoring the afternoon news. Blanchard will be the primary reporter, gathering stories around the county.
Fry moved here Saturday and started work Monday. He is looking forward to be moved in, both in his new home, a few minutes from the studio, and at work. He is itching to try out new ideas, while maintaing the high quality of news reporting Tompkins County has relied on for so many years.
"We can talk all we want about how to make our news product and make the station sound the best that they can, but if it's not having an impact in the community and people don't like listening to it, then we're not doing anything," Fry says. "The people who are listing to this place are the people who run this place. We are reminded of that every day. We know that our listeners are why we are here, and that's something we will never forget."