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

Dave Doherty
Thu Oct 22 00:46:12 EDT 2020

It's possible that some or all of the missing records still exist at the WTAG AM site. The late Dan Kelleher gave me a tour of the place a few years ago. They still had logs from WW2, and cabinets full of old records.

I was involved in radio and TV in the Albany NY area from 1967 to 1972. Even then, the future was not clear. WFLY in Troy went rock during that time, and that made up my mind that FM was the future. A lot of people I knew and worked with thought otherwise. WGY (AM) alone was taking down something like 75% of the market's radio revenue as late as 1971. Their WGFM was dismal. "Music Only for a Woman" was one format they tried. Even as a naïve 20-year-old, that one gave me the creeps. 

When I moved to NJ in 1973, the FM future was manifest. WHTZ was the first game changer I found, and I subsequently discovered WNEW-FM, WPLJ and WPIX-FM during my time there. A young Don Imus was holding down mornings at WNBC, with Wolfman Jack in the late afternoon/early evening shift. They kept WNBC going for a while. When I found WINS had switched from rock ("1010 WINS Forever") to an all-news format to compete with WCBS, I knew all was lost for music on AM. WABC was holding on, and I loved the personalities, but I hated the way the music sounded when I could hear it on FM somewhere else. The personalities, in the end, could not overcome the limitations of the medium, and AM was doomed to news and talk.


-----Original Message-----
From: Boston-Radio-Interest [] On Behalf Of John Andrews
Sent: Wednesday, October 21, 2020 4:57 PM
Subject: Re: AM in Boston after WW II was: WBZ-AM Allston backup is no more


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.

More information about the Boston-Radio-Interest mailing list