By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO July 25, 2006 Lonestar came home to Thunder Country.
A year ago, the bands 1996 Number 1 hit, No News, blared on local airwaves to signal the format change for 102.1 FM from all-news to country music.
Saturday, Lonestar headlined a day-long birthday celebration for the countys best-listened-to station and Mighty M Gaming at Monticello Raceway.
The stations first attempt at bringing its fans together drew more than 4,000 Thunderheads to Mighty M back in March for Thunder Bash.
The demand has only gotten bigger radio ratings giant Arbitron released figures last week that place Thunder 102 atop all the other county stations.
WDNB has doubled its listeners since March alone.
Thats what prompted Thunderfest and Saturdays concert.
Everything goes back to being the number one station and trying to give something back to the community, said Paul Ciliberto, morning show co-host and head of promotions for Bold Gold Media, the Honesdale, Pa.-based chain that owns Thunder 102.
Lonestar making Monticello a stop on its Coming Home Tour is unprecedented for local stations, Ciliberto said.
The band is big time and Thunder 102 brought them here.
Bold Golds president, Vince Benedetto, has a home in Lake Wallenpaupack, Pa., and he purchased WDNB when it was still broadcasting news round-the-clock to residents of Sullivan County.
Bold Gold Media did a survey, Ciliberto said, and found that people really missed having a country station in the area.
It was a matter of just giving them what they wanted, Ciliberto said.
The change got a big thumbs-up from people like Sharon and Gar Mungeer of Parksville.
We really missed it when WVOS changed [from country] to regular music, Sharon said.
Ive been country my whole life, Gar added. Country and rock . . . [Thunder] is the only channel that stays on except CD.
Its the only decent country music in the area, said Cheryl Bartlett of the Hawks Nest area just over the Sullivan County line in Orange.
Bartlett takes advantage of a purchase Bold Gold made of a Port Jervis station in December, listening in on 107.7 FM.
Saturday, shed brought friend Ed Carr of Westbrookville along for the trip to see Lonestar in Monticello.
We prefer them here than in Alabama where theyre supposed to be! she said.
The band got a big welcome from Thunder listeners, who bombarded the stage with everything from bass guitars for the band to sign to black thong panties.
Singing not just No News but power ballad Amazed and recent hits Mr. Mom and Lets Be Us Again, the foursome from Nashville rocked Mighty Ms grandstand for an hour and a half.
Seven-year-old Kimberly Kelly got the thrill of her life when lead singer Richie McDonald pulled her onstage to tell her about his own little girl.
The Grahamsville youngster, with cotton stuffed in her ears and a blue Lonestar hat pulled down over her eyes, clung to a hand-lettered sign. Im the blue-eyed blonde with her shoes on wrong, it said.
It was a take-off from the lyrics to Lonestar hit My Front Porch Looking In, which McDonald wrote about his family.
Jennifer Miller of Livingston Manor, the bride-to-be in the front row with her raucous bachelorette party in tow, was pulled up onstage by McDonald only to have her t-shirt (which said The Future Mrs. Bull on the front, I Tamed the Bull on the back) signed by every single member of the band.
McDonald who remained the gracious star, signing even as he sang climbed over seats and ticketholders to croon Amazed to one set of lovebirds, then got the crowd laughing as he took pictures of keyboardist Dean Sams behind with a digital camera he borrowed from the crowd.
With Thunderfest behind them, both Thunder 102 and Mighty M are promising more for music fans in Sullivan County.
Thunder Bash made us realize what a market there was for country music, said Cliff Ehrlich, senior vice president of Mighty M.
We are being recognized now as a major venue for entertainment, he added. Lonestar is a major act . . . we want to do more entertainment at different times of the year.
Next up is Thunder Jam, set for September 2.
Country legends Sawyer Brown will take over the stage at the grandstand along with X Country, the Pennsylvania band that packed Mighty M for Thunder Bash.
This is only the beginning, Ciliberto said. The acts and the quality of the acts . . . its only the beginning.