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Massena recognizes 40 years of the Morning Extravaganza

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MASSENA - When the Massena Rotary Club hosts its annual Pancake Breakfast each spring to raise funds for its programs, Sanford T. Cook is there to promote the event.

When the Massena Memorial Hospital Foundation holds its annual radiothon to raise funds to buy equipment for the hospital, Sanford T. Cook is there to promote the event.

When Massena’s Meals on Wheels has its annual Keep the Wheels Rolling radiothon each fall to raise funds for the program that provides meals for the elderly and disabled, Sanford T. Cook is there to promote the event.

When the Salvation Army holds its annual toy drive each December, Sanford T. Cook is there several hours a day for a week to promote the event and encourage the community to donate toys and money to assist those families facing financial challenges during the holiday season.

And that’s just the beginning of the list for the morning man who is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his hiring at WMSA Radio in Massena; a job where he has held the coveted morning drive spot since Jean C.L. LaPage’s retirement in 1982. He’s also been the voice of Massena Central High School football for the past several years and is the public address announcer for the Section 10 basketball tournament as well as Massena High School hockey games at the Massena Arena. He’s also been known to sing the National Anthem at those events as well.

This week the community had the opportunity to thank Mr. Cook for his service to the community during a Tuesday morning remote broadcast at Common Grounds, a restaurant on Willow Street, where dozens and dozens of community residents - many representing clubs and organizations that Mr. Cook has worked with over the years - stopped to give their thanks. There was also a song written to honor Mr. Cook by his friends and fellow thespians from Trinity Catholic School and a button awarded to the morning disc jockey by representatives of the Massena Rotary Club naming him an honorary Rotarian.

“This has been a wonderful event. It’s been an absolute blast, a humbling experience. I’m overwhelmed, quite frankly, by all this attention. Today has been very special,” Mr. Cook said as he signed off from his remote broadcast Tuesday morning.

It’s been a long and enjoyable trip for a young man who started as a part-timer at WMSA after graduating in June 1973 from Honeoye High School in the Rochester area. Following high school, he moved to the north country to join his parents, Stillman and Jane, who relocated to Akwesasne following his stepfather’s retirement from Kodak.

Victor A. Perry, who was an on air talent at WMSA and later became station manager, said Mr. Cook had a short training period. “He came in on about his second or third day and I told him I had some work to do on the tower, and he was covering my shift. It was baptism by fire,” he laughed.

Mr. Perry said Mr. Cook performed a number of different duties when he first started at the station - from writing copy for advertisements to reading news copy.

But when Mr. LaPage, long known as the morning mayor, retired from WMSA three decades ago Mr. Cook was selected to fill that slot. “Sandy had the personality to do mornings. He took it over and has done a fantastic job. He fit right in,” Mr. Perry said.

“He always wanted to be involved in everything we did - Salvation Army, March of Dimes, hospital...he never said no,” he added. “I feel we are very lucky in Massena to have someone like Sandy. There are not many people willing to give as much of themselves to the community as he does. He wants to be involved,” according to the former station manager.

Mr. Cook also replaced Mr. Perry as the voice of Massena High School football when the veteran play by play announcer stepped away from the microphone to assume his managerial duties.

“When he took over and started doing football broadcasts, it was something he wanted to do. He’s done a good job with it. He loves sports. I think his life’s secret ambition was to be the play by play announcer for the Buffalo Bills,” Mr. Perry said.

Ah, those Buffalo Bills. Mr. Cook’s listeners know about the WMSA morning man’s love for the Bills. “Let’s Go Buffalo,” a short song celebrating the Bills, is on the airwaves on mornings after Buffalo has had gridiron success. And, as has been the case far too often for Mr. Cook’s liking in recent years, when the Bills lose, the morning show will likely include a critique of the team’s coaches, play calling, personnel decisions and management.

The host of WMSA’s morning “Extravaganzas” says he loves his job, but he admits there have been a few days in his long career when work was the last place he wanted to be. “I’ve only had four days when I was hesitant about going to work. Those were the four Mondays after the Bills lost Super Bowls. I’m being facetious. I’ve never had a day I didn’t want to go to work,” he said.

Mr. Cook said his love for radio goes back to his childhood. “I’ve never wanted to be in anything else but radio since an early age. As a three year old I was chasing my mom with a vacuum cleaner hose that I thought was a microphone trying to interview her about current events. A few years later I got a two-sided chalkboard and drew a picture of what I thought was a map of the United States and started practicing to be a tv weatherman,” he recalled.

He has had the opportunity to live those dreams from the radio station’s studio on Route 420 just outside Massena. “I’m just talking to people across the table; people that are just getting out of bed and getting their day going. I try to give them a little news and information, the weather, play a little music. I’m just trying to get their day off to a good start and provide them with as much community service as possible,” Mr. Cook said.

The veteran announcer has served the station under several different owners over the past few years, and there have been some format changes along the way. But the Morning Extravaganzas has been able to maintain its own unique style - a style based on the tradition of the names that built the station from the day it first signed on in the mid 1940s.

Cook is now on the list of names like Garvin, McHugh, Frazier, Burgess, Nash, Gough, LaPage and Perry that are tied to WMSA’s history in the community.

There is high turnover in small-market media, and Mr. Perry acknowledges it is unusual in modern radio to find a 40-year man. Many disc jockeys started at small market stations and climb the ladder to medium- and large-market stations. Others tire of a job that requires their day to start when most people are still fast asleep. “We’re very fortunate. You don’t find many in small-town radio where an announcer stays for such a long period of time,” Mr. Perry said.

Mr. Cook said there is a reason he has stayed behind the microphone for the past 40 years. “It’s the people...our listeners. We have a wonderful community, and the north country is a great place to live,” he said.

The morning man said this belief was reinforced this week. “It was overwhelming to have so many come by with their good wishes and warm greetings. It was touching and humbling at the same time. It makes you understand what your job and the radio station mean to people and what the people mean to you,” he noted.

“I’d like to sincerely thank the listeners who have supported WMSA and me. Without the listeners and the sponsors, we can’t do anything. We do the best we can to keep WMSA community centered,” Mr. Cook added.

And that focus on the community will start this week with his morning show, and a September calendar that also includes more high school football games and co-hosting the annual Keep the Wheels Rolling, a day-long radiothon for Meals on Wheels.

“It’s been an absolute blast. I’m overwhelmed, quite frankly, by all this attention. Today has been very special. I’m looking forward to at least another decade,” Mr. Cook told his listeners before taking his headphones off at the end of his remote Tuesday.




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