WGH History

The earliest ancestor of WGH Radio was WPAB, granted a license by the Radio Division, Bureau of Navigation, United States Department of Commerce on December 4, 1926.  The licensee was the Radio Corporation of Virginia, who operated the new station for the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Norfolk.  On December 6, 1926, WPAB signed on the air at 1040 kilocycles with a power of 100 watts.  WPAB later became WRCV and broadcast programming mostly of a religious nature.

In January 1927, the Radio Corporation of Virginia put another station on the air, WSEA, which transmitted on the frequency of 1370 kilocycles with a power of 500 watts.  In April 1927 WSEA began broadcasting from the brand new Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach but was dark by the middle of 1928, the Radio Corporation of Virginia having gone bankrupt.  WSEA, however, had one shining moment on June 10, 1927 when Norfolk Mayor S. Heth Tyler became the first American to extend coast to coast radio congratulations to aviator Charles Lindbergh after his successful solo flight from New York to Paris.  Lindbergh heard the message on WSEA as he was passing over the Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Tom Little moved the WSEA allocation to Newport News and changed the call letters to WNEW (signifying its new city of license, Newport News) on August 8, 1928.  Facilities were in the Tidewater Hotel at 2400 Washington Avenue in Newport News.  The studio was on the ground floor, directly behind the front desk and switchboard for the hotel, and the transmitter and antenna were on the top floor.  Shortly thereafter  a new licensee, Hampton Roads Broadcasting Company, changed the frequency  to 1430, and government authorization came through on October 8, 1928.

The WNEW calls lasted for only a few weeks, when they were changed to WGH ("World's Greatest Harbor").  The WGH call letters had originally been assigned to the first radio station in Alabama, put on the air by The Montgomery Light & Water Power Company in 1922.  It was also among the first 100 radio stations on the air in the United States.  By 1928, however, the station was gone and the available WGH call letters were requested by Hampton Roads Broadcasting.  An application to the Federal Radio Commission was approved on November 19 of that year and the station began identifying itself as "WGH" the next day.  The abandoned WNEW call letters were later picked up by a Newark, New Jersey radio station on 1130 kilocycles.  WNEW became famous as the medium's first successful "Music and News" formatted station and home of Martin Block's "Make Believe Ballroom" and Stan Shaw's "Milkman's Matinee."

One of WGH's first employees was Malvern Powell.  Mal was also employed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at Langley Research Center in Hampton.  The NACA preceded the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Mal was part of a team at Langley that worked with the world's first wind tunnel that used the principle of variable density air pressure to test scale model aircraft.  The variable density tunnel was built by the Newport Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.  Mal doubled as salesman and announcer in the early days of WGH and held nearly every position at the station until his retirement as an account executive in 1969.  Mal continued working in sales part time into the late 1970's.

On November 11, 1928, the frequency of the station was changed again, this time to 1310 kilocycles, with a power of 100 watts.  A few weeks later, on December 20, studios were opened on the third floor of the Hotel Warwick on West Avenue in Downtown Newport News.  The transmitter and antenna were located on the top of the seven floor structure, which was the tallest building in the city.  In the early days, WGH began its broadcast day at 6:00 PM and aired a half hour of news, followed by some recorded music and live local entertainment programs.

In early 1930, Hampton Roads Broadcasting Corporation was purchased by the Newport News Daily Press and Times Herald newspapers.  E. Elsworth Bishop was named Managing Director for the station.  Programming included frequent dance band remotes from the Naval Reserve Hall at 29th and Huntington Avenue in Newport News as well as pavilions at Ocean View and Buckroe Beach.

A studio fire in the Fall of 1931 necessitated a temporary move and broadcasts originated from the home of WGH employee Hunter Copeland.  This continued until late September 1931 when studios were completed in the Metropolitan Building on Washington Avenue.  In 1932, auxiliary studios were opened in Norfolk's Flatiron Building.

A construction permit was filed with the FCC in 1934 to raise the station's daytime power to 250 watts.

In the mid-1930s, the Norfolk studios were moved to the Banker's Trust Building and moved in 1938 to the Portlock Building.  1938 also saw the opening of a studio in Portsmouth, in the American National Bank Building.

In 1938, WGH became a CBS optional affiliate and cleared a limited schedule of CBS Radio Network programs.

In the late 1930's, a number of newspapers around the country experimented with radio delivery of newspapers.  It was done by a facsimile (fax) machine that was placed in a subscriber's home.  The newspaper would transmit to the facsimile machine via a local radio station.  Since most stations at the time stopped their programming at midnight, the transmission would take place between midnight and 5am.  When the facsimile subscriber awakened in the morning, their newspaper would be waiting in a pile of paper on the floor.  One of the few newspapers involved in this experiment was Hampton Roads Broadcasting's parent company, The Daily Press, which delivered the faxes over WGH.  The transmissions continued for a short time and were stopped in 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II.

By the late 1930's, a new transmitter building and free-standing tower were constructed in Newport News at the starting point of Jefferson Avenue alongside the Small Boat Harbor.  In 1939, the station's fulltime power was authorized by the FCC to be increased to 250 watts.

Early radio programming was heavily influenced by musical acts.  Disc jockeys were nearly non-existent, even though the disc jockey's roots were formed early on when experimenters would play Victrola recordings during their broadcasts.  Recordings played on the radio, however, would be frowned upon until the late 1940's.  Live musicians dominated the WGH schedules on both local and network broadcasts.

In 1940, network negotiations with the dominant music licensing agency, ASCAP (American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers), broke down and broadcasters formed their own music licensing agency, BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated).  As BMI signed a group of second-tier songwriters, ASCAP composers pulled their compositions from the airwaves, leaving only public domain and BMI selections available for play.  Listeners' patience wore thin after hearing "Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair" and "Little Brown Jug" over and over.  By mid year, the networks and ASCAP reached an agreement.

1940 also saw the relocation of the WGH main studios to the Portlock Building in Norfolk.  Some broadcasts, however, continued to originate from the Hotel Warwick in Newport News.  Another major event in 1940 was a "Mutual" agreement to begin  fulltime affiliation with the Mutual Broadcasting System.

In March 1941 the dial position of WGH became 1340 kilocycles following a massive Western Hemisphere frequency shift, the result of treaty agreements among the United States, Canada, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean.  Lower band stations were unchanged, but mid to upper frequency stations shifted their dial positions by as much as 30 kilocycles.

In 1942, the American Federation of Musicians, under the leadership of James Petrillo, became upset about the increasing number of recordings heard on radio stations around the country.  Petrillo argued that whenever a record was played on the radio, or even in a jukebox, AFM union members received nothing in return.  He commented that if the trend toward recorded music continued, musicians "would be playing at their own funerals."  Petrillo told the major record companies that unless AFM members received a higher royalty payment to compensate for their losses, the union would not produce any more records after July 31, 1942. The companies initially refused to pay the increased royalty, and stockpiled performances and concerts.  The strike lasted two years and ended when the record studios agreed to make payments to a Music Performance Trust Fund to support live public performances employing musicians.  Nevertheless, up through the 1940s, most radio stations, including WGH, had their own house musicians on the payroll.

The big radio stations in each market were affiliated with one of the major networks, the National Broadcasting Company (with its Red and Blue networks), the Columbia Broadcasting System, or the Mutual Broadcasting System.  Stations without network affiliations ("independents") were deemed "inferior" and "second-rate."  In 1942, WGH dropped Mutual and joined the NBC-Blue Network, which became ABC in 1945.

In 1946, the Hotel Warwick studios were closed and all programming was originated from the Portlock Building in Norfolk.  Chief Announcer for the station was Harrol Brauer, Jr.  The station employed a staff of 19.

In 1947, the FCC authorized a frequency change to 1310 kilocycles and an increase in power to 5,000 watts, with a directional antenna array.

In 1948, WGH-FM debuted, the area's first FM radio station.  It would simulcast the WGH-AM programming for nearly ten years.  Transmitter and antenna were co-located with WGH-AM at the Small Boat Harbor facility in Newport News.  The station's effective radiated power was 74,000 watts and covered most of Eastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina.

The WGH Program and Promotion Director in the early 1950's was Bob McBride.  The General Manager was still E. Elsworth Bishop; the station's Sales Manager was Eddie Edgar; the on-air music critic was Warner Twyford; and one of the disc jockeys on the staff was Ambert Dail (later to become General Manager).

In 1953 studios were moved to 739 Boush Street in Norfolk and moved again in 1958 to 711 Boush Street, across from the WTAR Radio-TV complex.

Listeners to WGH on a typical day in 1955 heard such programs as "Don McNeill's Breakfast Club", "My True Story", "Modern Romances", "Whispering Streets", "When a Girl Marries", news from Paul Harvey, "1310 Clubtime" (an afternoon music and news program) and miscellaneous music and news programming through the evening hours. By the mid 1950's, however, big time network radio was ending its run.  Many industry leaders felt that the electronic eye of television had placed the "whammy" on radio and that the medium's days were numbered.  A number of smart radio operators, however, followed the lead of WNEW and began airing "Music and News" formats.  The era of the disc jockey as an entertainment guru was about to commence.  By 1957, WGH was airing mostly local disc jockey shows, with the records spun by performers such as Ambert Dail, Lee Alan, and Bob Calvert.  Other than hourly news, "Don McNeill's Breakfast Club" and Herb Oscar Anderson's midday disc jockey show were the only ABC network programs left on the schedule.

In 1957, WGH-FM began airing its own programming for much of the broadcast day.  This was a somewhat unusual concept at the time, since separate programming on co-owned AM and FM stations did not become mandated by the FCC until 1966.  The station's programming included jazz, easy listening, show tunes and classical music and programs.

On July 31, 1958, WGH was authorized by the FCC to broadcast with a non-directional daytime pattern (from the Newport News Small Boat Harbor) and a directional nighttime pattern (from the Military Road transmitter site in Hampton).  By now, programming was originating from studios constructed at the Hampton transmitter site.

The affiliation with the ABC Radio Network was dropped in late 1958, and in early 1959 Dan Hydrick was named General Manager succeeding Edward Elsworth Bishop, who had managed the station since 1930.  A new era was ushered in with a switch to "Top-40" programming under the "Color Radio" banner.  Late 1950's performers included Jim Stanley, Jack Fisher, Lou Nelson, Dick Lamb, Jack Krueger, Frank Drake, Bob Calvert, Dean Collins (who went on to WPGC in Washington as Dean Griffith and later to New York as Dean Anthony, one of the WMCA "Good Guys"), Don Owens, Roger Clark, Bob Calvert's alter ego (and the inspiration for Wolfman Jack) "Baron Bebop", Throckmorton Quiff, and Gene Creasy.  Early newscasters included Ed Meyer, Dick Kidney, Pete Glazer, Bud Buhler and Art Merrill.

In 1960, Ambert Dail was named General Manager, having served as Program Director since 1953.  Additional studios and offices were added at the Military Road transmitter facility in the early 1960s.  By now, the station was broadcasting at 5,000 watts from a non-directional daytime tower at the Newport News Small Boat Harbor, switching to the three-tower directional site in Hampton during the evening hours.

1960s on-air performers included George Crawford, Dave Cummins, Bob Calvert, Gene Loving, Keith James, Dick Lamb, Roger Clark (Program Director until 1967), Glenn "The Turtle" Lewis, Russ Spooner, Chuck Adams, Don Robertson, Bob Chesson (Production), Jim Lawrence, John Garry (who was also Program Director from 1967 until 1970, when he left WGH to program WIST-AM in Charlotte), Larry O'Brien, Tom Scott and J.J. Bowman. 

In 1965, Raymond B. Bottom, Jr. was named Vice President of Hampton Roads Broadcasting Corporation.

In 1966, WGH-FM became a full-time stereo station.

In late 1968, the nighttime directional antenna site was relocated to Main Street/Todds Lane and Willow Drive in Hampton, near the Newport News-Hampton line.  In the early 1970s, the Mercury Boulevard towers were dropped to make way for the construction of Todd Center and new WGH studios and offices.  At about the same time, new showcase studios and offices were constructed in Military Circle Mall in Norfolk and the 711 Boush Street facility was closed.  By 1972, WGH AM-FM had a staff of nearly 70 employees in brand new studios and offices in Hampton and Norfolk.

For many years, the WGH News Department was honored by the Associated Press as the Best News Operation in Virginia.  For most of the 1960s and well into the 1970s, Jim Moore was News and Public Affairs Director.  The award-winning news staff included such names as Ed Meyer (former News Director), Dick Kidney, Eric Aucoin, Ira Hull, Carlton Shrieves, Pete Glazer, Wayne Combs, Gene Galusha, Jim Clarke (who secured a taped interview of Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 spy plane pilot who had been shot down over Russia), Frank Currier, Allan Pressley, Joe Lowenthal, Michael Rasnick, Boyd Harrier, Brad Face, Edwin Carlyle, Darrell Hosack, Christian Walters and Carl Hollander.  George Passage, Editorial Director of The Daily Press, presented his nightly commentary on the air from 1960 into the early 1970s.  The Edward Travis Report was a daily offering on the schedule at 12:25 PM until Mr. Travis' retirement in 1972.

The WGH Sales Department over the years included professionals such as Bill Walker, Al Nelowet, Margie Nelowet, Kay Foulkes, Howard Jernigan, Jack Whitehead, Betty Whitley, Bobby Fox, Roger Clark, Lew Matthews, Betty Verell, Jane Lippincott, Judi Sedell, Richard Winstead, Steve Witt, Gary Romska, Mercer Collins and Roxanne Miller.  Earlier, we mentioned Malvern "Mal" Powell, who earned the distinction of becoming the first WGH employee to retire, after almost 41 years of service.

In 1970, WGH-FM became a full-time concert music station.  The station was nationally recognized as a leader in classical music programming, with a library of over 25,000 albums.  The fine arts programming continued until the sale of WGH AM-FM by Hampton Roads Broadcasting corporation in the 1980s.  The late Vianne Webb was Program Director and joined the station in 1963 as Librarian and, later, host of a morning classical music program.  Chuck Adams was the Operations Manager and Public Service Director as well as a popular on air host.  He joined WGH AM-FM in 1965.  His was also the last voice heard on WGH-FM before new owners CommCor unceremoniously pulled the plug on the station so quickly that they interrupted Johann Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major" in mid-track.  Other WGH-FM hosts included Tom Morgan, Art Jones, Dwight Davis, Rollie Bristol, Inge Fisher White and Raymond Jones.

The 1970s talent lineup on WGH-AM included such names as George Crawford, J.J. Bowman, Rob Wayne, Sean Grabowski, Lee Fowler, Scott Christensen, Ron James, Tom Scott, Dale Parsons, Jim Stewart, Jim Conlee, Jeff Davis, Mike Patrick, Neal Steele, Bill Tucker, Nick O'Neil, Dan O'Brien, Pat Holliday, Bob Canada, Pat O'Day, Ed Rodriquez, Bill Jordan, Jon St. Jon, Pat Banks and Phil Beckman.

A top-notch engineering staff kept the stations sounding clean and clear.  Chief Engineer Joe Looper, Dave Desler, Ken Stark, Herman Wood, Sam Joyner, Leo Sulik, Tom Inman and Dexter Phibbs were a few of the talented and dedicated technicians.

The success of WGH AM and FM over the years was built on the hard work and talent of the people named above, as well as employees such as the indispensable George Crawford, Jr., Betty Blinco, Wally Hankins, Wheless Johnson, Tiny Hutton, Mary Ann Jennings, Anita Williams, Helena Holmes, Jack Black, Cheryl Cook, Irvine Hill, Pam Hart, Ed Ivory, J. Hunter Todd, Joel Carlson, Phyllis Smith, Sally Marshall, Marie Arnold, Sandy Crawford, Linda Turner, Bobbie Hand, Sid Oman, and Production Director Herman King.

In 1983, the stations were sold to an Ohio company, CommCor, whose management changed the call letters of both WGH AM and FM to WNSY and instituted a soft rock format.  In 1985 the station was sold to Susquehanna Broadcasting and the WGH call letters were restored to both stations.   During the late 1980s WGH-AM aired a simulcast of the WGH-FM Top 40 format.  In 1990, WGH-AM broadcast CNN Radio News during the Gulf War, with a switch to country in 1991 and then to all sports in 1992, becoming Virginia's first all sports radio station. 

WGH was sold in the mid-1990s to Barnstable Broadcasting, which also picked up other stations in the area. One of the stations they purchased, WCMS, was later sold to Davidson Media.  Barnstable didn't want to lose the WCMS call letters, so they assigned them to 1310 AM, which became known as ESPN Radio 1310 WCMS.  The WGH call letters remained with 97.3 The Eagle.

 

In 2005, Max Media purchased the stations owned by Barnstable Broadcasting and the call letters WGH were restored to 1310.  On October 5, 2009, WXEZ-FM (94.1) swapped formats with WGH-AM (1310).  WXEZ-FM adopted the sports programming and changed their call letters to WVSP-FM ("ESPN Radio 94.1").  As a result of the switch WGH-AM became Gospel formatted "Star 1310 AM".

Information for this history came from a number of resources, including research my wife Ginny and I conducted for the radio special "WNBC-The First 66 Years".  The New York Public Library, Library of Congress and the NBC Archives were invaluable in our research.  We were also blessed to have the cooperation and assistance of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Fred DeCordova.  Individuals such as Peter Kanze and Gene Garnes offered their collections, as well.

A great deal of WGH information came from Internet and FCC research, my collection of Pulse Ratings books, Bunny McBride (daughter of Bob McBride), Roger Clark's WGH 50th Anniversary program, and an excellent aural history of the station prepared and voiced by Chuck Adams for the WGH reunion.

 

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