AM in Boston after WW II was: WBZ-AM Allston backup is no more

John Andrews
Wed Oct 21 19:57:02 EDT 2020


Just some thoughts on WTAG-TV and WTAG-FM, based on my time with WTAG-AM 
and dusty old files I recovered at the time of the sale to Knight in 1987:

There were four incarnations of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette going 
after a TV slot.

The most famous was Channel 5, and they actually had the construction 
permit in hand at the end of WWII into (I believe) 1946. The obvious 
reason for giving it up was that they couldn't arrange a network 
affiliation. Of course, the TV networks didn't amount to much in 1946, 
and a lot of local programming would have been needed, given the absence 
of syndication, movies, etc. But there were other reasons. We have to be 
careful in applying our knowledge of what later happened to the 
situation the T&G found itself in!

1. The Channel 5 construction permit was for ridiculously low power, 
16kW ERP, if memory serves. This would not have served the Boston market 
with a transmitter site in Paxton. They were pinned down by another 
station (on Long Island?) at the time, and it looked like no power 
increase was possible. Of course, things turned out differently.

2. WTAG became a CBS affiliate during WWII, partly due to CBS Radio's 
program schedule at the time, and because, unlike NBC, they allowed some 
FM simulcasting. So, the WTAG folks paid the most attention to CBS at 
the time of the Channel 5 decision. And CBS was convinced that color and 
monochrome TV would use incompatible systems, and that color would be 
done on UHF, leaving the VHF channels for B&W. Of course, the color 
would be done with the old CBS "color wheel" arrangement. Not wishing to 
be burdened with a monochrome signal, the WTAG folks saw less value in 
Channel 5. As we know, that situation went in a whole different 
direction shortly after.

3. Installation of TV facilities in the old 18 Franklin Street building 
was going to be quite a project. I have seen the blueprints for the 
proposed facility. One of the major problems was the afternoon Evening 
Gazette run on the old press setup, which was basically under the the 
proposed TV studios. Let's just say that they would have to have 
shock-mounted the whole facility at no small cost. A milder version of 
that had been done two floors up for WTAG in 1939, but this would have 
been a bigger project. Also, there was no possibility of a microwave 
shot from there to the Paxton site on Little Asnebumskit Hill, so 
another rooftop would have had to have been rented.

All of this clouded the crystal ball enough that they decided to drop 
the Channel 5 approach and try to get something with more power. There 
were three remaining tries for a T&G TV station:

I wish I had access to the files (I left WTAG 24 years ago), so what 
follows is just from my failing memory. I believe the first step was to 
get Channel 11 (the monochrome/color thing having been worked out by 
then), but some deal would have to be arranged with 10 and 12 in 
Providence, and that proved impossible. They then went after Channel 20 
and I think 53, the latter process being abandoned around 1954. In both 
cases they reached points were the lack of any network willingness to 
settle for Worcester, and they had to give up. Lots of bucks were spent 
with lawyers and consultants in all of those approaches, so it's tough 
to fault their judgement.

To my knowledge, no TV allocations were pursued after that.

Regarding WTAG-FM, a couple of thoughts.

First, the decision to sell WTAG-FM to Knight Quality Stations was 
entirely made by the board of directors of the Telegram & Gazette. With 
the possible exception of Robert Booth, the WTAG radio people were not 
consulted. The directors of the T&G were certainly not radio people, and 
this was primarily a financial decision. To illustrate the depth of 
their radio knowledge, one of them later referred to WTAG-FM as "that 
short-wave station."

Second, clearly WTAG-FM (and W1XTG which preceded it starting in 1940) 
never made any money. Depending on FCC and network rules, various levels 
of simulcasting were possible over the years. Toward the end of the T&G 
ownership, considerable capital expenses were made for a new 
transmitter, conversion to stereo, and remote control of the Paxton 
site. I never realized, however, the depth of the financial losses until 
we had to clean out some storage space in 1987. I came across a set of 
ledger books for WTAG-FM which clearly showed years of applying failed 
WTAG-AM activities to the FM side. While the books were properly kept, 
and nothing really nefarious was done, the board of directors must have 
only seen financial summaries that did not attribute the losses. I'm 
sure this colored their opinion of the viability of WTAG-FM.

Third, the newspaper business was going through a big upheaval in the 
early 1960's. Unions had just come in, and there was a long strike by 
the folks that ran the Linotype machines right around that time. Major 
capital investments were being made with an uncertain future.

Anyway, those are a few of the things that must have gone into the 
decision to sell WTAG-FM. It was a stupid move by any measure, and they 
should have dug into not only the local situation but the 
already-started move to FM within the industry. But they chose not to 
take their heads out of the sand, and later paid the price as FM won out 
in the 1970's. The WTAG folks were appalled when the decision was 
announced. Norman Knight got a good deal, and was willing to weather 
some non-prosperous years right after. He deserves credit for that, and 
for his eventual moves with WSRS.

Hope this helps, and that my memory hasn't wandered too far from reality.

John Andrews

On 10/21/2020 9:04 AM, Doug Drown wrote:
> WTAG was, under the Telegram & Gazette and later under Knight, a 5 kw
> regional station that operated as though it were a 50 kw clear channel
> station --- a class act in every respect, with an excellent news staff
> (including a Boston bureau), a longtime NBC affiliation, engaging air
> personalities, and a strong signal that easily covered the whole county
> plus well into western Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont ("NBC for
> Worcester and all of Central New England").  All that having been said,
> during the period of its newspaper ownership the station made a couple of
> colossal blunders by not pursuing the Channel 5 allocation and then, ten
> years later, selling off WTAG-FM, which became WSRS and almost immediately
> became a huge success with its new Muzak-connected format.
> In short: great management but lacking in foresight.  A bit of an enigma.
> Go figure.

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