Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Radio-TV-Newspaper? I was there 39 years ago.


My second job in radio was with an FM station that, along with an AM and television station, was owned by a major daily newspaper.

The year was 1968. The newspaper was the Boston Herald-Traveler. It owned WHDH AM and FM.

The AM, FM, and TV were housed in the same building. The newspaper offices were miles away, downtown.

I never witnessed any relationship between the Herald-Traveler newspaper and the radio and TV stations. They were considered separate entities.

The newsrooms of the radio and TV stations and the Boston Herald-Traveler worked independtly of one another. In fact, so much so that there were frequent complaints from both the stations and the newspaper over not sharing exclusives.

Let me take it one step further. Back then, the Herald-Traveler was the Republican Boston Brahmins newspaper. The Boston Globe, which fueled the fire of its rival’s plight was and is the Kennedy-style liberal daily.

When we did our first ad campaign for WHDH-FM’s rock format, the advertising was distributed evenly between the Herald-Traveler and the rival Boston Globe.

The company purchased WHDH AM and FM in 1946 and signed on WHDH-TV in 1957.

The AM had a successful middle-of-the-road format. The FM was automated beautiful music and going nowhere. The TV station was the market’s CBS network affiliate at that time.

WHDH-FM, the station that hired me, changed format to album rock.

Though Boston already had an FM rock station, WBCN, which had signed on in March, three months earlier, the company believed the market could easily support two stations in the same format because of its large college population and young demographic.

WBCN, a former classical station (its call letters stood for the Boston Concert Network), was an independent stand alone FM, owned by T. Mitchell Hastings, a slightly eccentric an FM-radio technology pioneer turned broadcaster, who had signed the station on in 1958.

At the same time as WHDH-FM changed format, the Herald-Traveler Corporation was in court, trying to save its television license.

The FCC granted the Herald-Traveler a provisional television license due to a contentious matter dealing with an alleged coziness and influence peddling between a former FCC Commissioner and a former Herald-Traveler chief executive in the early ‘50s.

Challengers to the TV licensed claimed that illicit transactions between the two resulted in the newspaper winning the TV license over other applicants.

The snubbed applicants questioned the media concentration of a newspaper, two radio stations, and a television station and that, along with the alleged misdeeds, was enough, they claimed, to have the Herald-Traveler’s television license revoked.

Several companies that were hoping to seize the WHDH-TV license went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge it.

Because of that it was decided that WHDH-FM would remain automated - but in the new format until a court decision was reached.

At the time everyone at the stations and newspaper were confident that the Herald-Traveler would win.

So, in the interim, my responsibility was to select and program music, using the automatic racks, and filling any remaining time with instrumentals to round out the hour. I was only 18 and it was only part-time - but here I was selecting and programming music for a major market station.

I had a ball scheduling in Cream, Hendrix, Joplin, the Moody Blues, Iron Butterfly, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Steppenwolf, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Small Faces, and the other prog-rock artists of the time.

In early 1969, we got the news.

A rival company, Boston Broadcasting, Inc. was granted approval to replace the Herald-Traveler's WHDH-TV.

It came out of left field. No one anticipated it.

Without the TV station, the Herald, which was rumored to be losing $4 to 5 million a year, was put up for sale as distressed merchandise.

A few years later the radio stations were put up for sale. A dynasty dead.

What’s the difference between 39 years ago and today?

39 years ago a television station's profits could bolster a newspaper.

Today? Not a chance.
*
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The classic WMMS 1975 production of A Christmas Carol is now on line at http://www.buzzardbook.wordpress.com/

8 comments:

Splicer said...

Then what is the elation on the part of some folks towards this move? I read the New York Radio Message Board and there seems to be a feeling among some of the folks who fall on the corporate cheerleading side that this is a good move.

Are they merely supporters of Prince Rupert and all things Murdoch or is there something else at play? My feeling is that this will create another round of Karmazin-esque consolidation - buy something, cuts costs, then buy something else before the boost in profits flatlines.

Anonymous said...

There is NOTHING in common with the deal the FCC gave to Sam Zell and the way it was forty years ago.

Comparing today to then is ridiculous.

Despite the give away I do not beieve it will survive. You will get Zell and others like him to artifically inflate values and cut to the bone.

Then watch Zell sell everything off to unsuspecting fools.

He may even bring back Randy Michaels.

Anonymous said...

WHDH those were legendary call letters. Jess Cain did you ever get to meet him? It had to be a thrill to be your age and having the opportunity to work at a major market station in such a capacity.

Anonymous said...

You were 18 when you had your first full-time programming position? Cool. Especially in that era when the music was so good.

Anonymous said...

My view is that newspapers are more content oriented that the typical radio company. Take a look at any newspaper web site, and compare it to a radio site. The newspaper site has more unique and useful information. I think there is potential to create some real competition for these narrow, format oriented radio stations.

Anonymous said...

I remember WHDH-FM. I am in my fifties now. I remember it played better music than WBCN but I did not like it because it was automated. YOu did run a Dick Summer show in the morning if I remember that he did from WNEW-FM in New York. It is too bad you didn't get a chance to do it live in Boston. At least the people in Cleveland from what I understand enjoyed a wonderful, real progressive station.

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