Early radio, television broadcast stations in Maine, the history lesson.
In the beginning Maine news spread by papers. Everything was black and white with a crease to open wide and read read read. Top to bottom. Side to side. The reporting happening weekly, maybe daily and delivered in small intermittent installments.
Radio broadcasting started with crystal sets and eventually changed all that.
I remember my Dad sharing tales about his childhood experimenting overhead the milk house on the Maine farm with early radio receivers. Building them, learning about the antennae array that worked best for shortwave radio reception. I developed the same fascination with certain combinations of signal frequencies, power and antennae height. And how they all affect the broadcast radiation output of AM, FM and TV signals in Maine.
In the 1920’s, fifteen Maine radio stations went on the air.
By the end of the decade only three in the group remained live and broadcasting. Auburn Maine radio station WMB was the first in the state. At the time, nationwide, only twenty four federally licensed radio stations broadcast over the no so well regulated airwaves.
Early radio broadcasts had to transmit government reports, weather forecasts, crop reports. Local doctors providing tips on better health happened. Local bankers would share the importance of thrift. Local music orchestras would provide live programming. No tape records, no CD burners or other devices were available for programming. Storage save it for later options, to be later transmitted as prerecorded events was not possible. Live and local without editing options meant here you go. Ready or not, like it or not. Not so polished and anything goes.
Licensed to the Androscoggin Electrical Company in 1922, Maine’s first radio station WMB broadcast baseball scores.
The correct time and local news happenings went out over the airwaves live and local. Early radio broadcasters in Maine not allowed to sell advertising or play records. The radio transmitter broadcasts were nightly. The signal dark and station off air during the day.
Meanwhile in Bangor, WABI licensed to the Bangor Railway and Electric Company in 1923 went on the air in the previous year under the experimental call signs of W1XC and W1XG.
The goal to create a transmission between Bangor and Ellsworth which was not so successful. The WABI radio station transmitter located on the fifth floor of the Graham Building at the corner of Central and Harlow Streets with a roof top broadcast antennae. The First Universalist Church, City Hall and Andrews Music House all had broadcast pick up circuits for the live programming feed.
Licensed in June of 1925, Maine’s first commercial radio station as a business was WCSH in Portland.
Henry P. Rines figured harnessing the radio signal was a good way to promote his Congress Square Hotel Company. Advertising dollars were needed to pay the electrical, equipment and talent bills. Early radio station enterprises used local newspapers as a news source. Early business use of radio station air time was through program sponsorship rather than individual ads. Churches would pay for half or hour long sponsorships of their live services.
WCSH radio was the first in Maine to become a network affiliate too. Over telephone lines, WCSH was able to broadcast NBC programming from outside the local Portland area. Meanwhile in Bangor, WLBZ radio went on the air December 30th, 1926. Early antennas were strings of wires prone to ice up and collapse. WLBZ radio had another studio sixty miles away in Waterville to expand its coverage area. It used Western Union circuit lines for the simulcast broadcast connection. Today smaller wattage translator radio transmitters helped boost the signal to extend coverage areas. Or to work around terrain geographical issues that hurt the broadcast signal array to allow more population service in rural Maine.
The first new Maine radio station in the 1930’s was WAGM in Presque Isle.
How the call letters were picked was often tied to the initials of the station license. Or in the case of WAGM, the Aroostook, garden of Maine was what came after the “W” stood for in the Presque Isle broadcast facility. National radio stations east of the Mississippi now start with a “W” and west of that watery dividing line are “K” with the following two or three more identification call letters.
Most broadcasting stations started in more populated areas of Maine but radio service to rural locations opened up with WAGM in Aroostook County in 1931. WRDO in Augusta in 1932. WGAN in Portland, WCOU in Lewiston went live in 1938 with AM radio frequency signals put on air. Both of these latter broadcast outlets founded by newspaper publishers.
In early radio, newspapers were encouraged by federal licensing bureaus to file for local AM radio broadcast frequencies.
Radio stations a little later in Maine history were favored and encouraged the same way to get television broadcast channels. To apply and do show and tell on the newly allocated television licenses. The first licensed Maine FM radio station was WGUY in Bangor in November 1947. WGAN-FM went on the air the next month. WCOU-FM fired up the transmitter wired to the nearby antennae to go live in Lewiston in February of 1948. The last Maine radio station to join the collection in the 1940’s was WIDE in Biddeford Maine.
In the 1950’s, WABM in my hometown of Houlton Maine went on air.
Owned by the Hildreth network that purchased WAGM in 1957, the Houlton station became WHOU when bought in June of 1959. Northern Maine Broadcasting. Buffalo Bob Smith, “Howdy Doody” bought WHOU. Smith already owned WQDY in Calais and purchased WMKR in Millinocket in 1967 along with WHOU.
That broadcasting facility was a brick square building with a hip roof located about where Tim Horton’s serves up the hot coffee and warm donuts now.
It is near the entrance to the north end of Interstate 95 that goes all the way to the bottom of Florida’s Keys.
RCA to sell their transmitters and broadcast equipment came up with a standard floor plan package complete with everything needed to construct the A to Z of a small local radio communication facility. It was like buying a house or anything your needed at the time from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
At fourteen, your Me In Maine blogger obtained a FCC broadcast endorsed, 3rd class radio license and went to work at WHOU.
Alone at the broadcast facility nights and weekends, broadcast duties of a small 1000 watt AM radio station were playing music, ripping and reading news from the AP teletype machine. Also taking broadcast transmitter readings, helping find listener’s missing pets and doing personal song requests. It was a great job that gained experience to be able to land a job after high school during college in the Bangor radio and television broadcast market.
Eddie Owen, an early Bangor Maine broadcast veteran was the second radio station boss I worked for in the 1970’s. WLBZ radio broadcast on the low end of the dial. Tune it in at 620 AM frequency.
The station located on Broadway in a 1960 vintage Eaton Tarbell architect design lots-of-glass broadcast studio. A big four legged self supported red and white antennae main stick went up around 1928. Another 125′ guy wire supported smaller tower beside it is used to null the signal away from the Boston market after sundown.
WLBZ radio, then call lettered WACZ was coming off an all news format that did not score high in the local ratings market share. Programming an easy listening, middle of the road music format after all the news all the time failed. Within two years I moved over to WABI radio. Up the dial to the 910 frequency that should never have been issued. The harmonic whistle is hard to over look when trying to dial it in clearly.
WABI’s broadcast outlet housed at 35 Hildreth Avenue at “Studio City” along with WBGW-FM at the time. A mostly automated country format station. Channel 5, the Telejournal News also produced its TV broadcast out of the same address.
George Hale was my boss at WABI radio and through college, nights and weekends. Spinning records, reading the news and weather. Logging off one by one the commercials was part of my broadcast job. Voice overs for the television commercials like Jac and Jean ads with a talking horse was also part my duties.
Steve Martin, the sportscaster at Channel 5 and who started out at WMKR radio in Millinocket. Martin went on to be the voice of the Charlotte Hornets. Gordon Manuel was the channel 5 news director and everyone wore a unique shade of yellow jackets.
The Maine television broadcast studio sets looked pretty crude up close and in person.
Because the resolution of television was not high definition and all those imperfections were lost on the big tube not flat screen television receiver sets. The big cathode ray tubes added an extra fifteen pounds to the broadcast personality at the time.
After college, while waiting for my new wife from Bangor to graduate from college, I shifted broadcast stations again to the number one rated WZON. Bought from the Maine Broadcasting system by horror writer Stephen King, money was invested for a great on air staff, new transmitter and sound processors. A reworked format at the old WLBZ aka WACZ 620 AM outlet back on Broadway is where I shifted.
Humble But Nonetheless Mighty John Marshall was the station program director.
His real name was James C Feury which I thought was a pretty neat radio name. He told me the C stands for cash. He changed my last name to Powers… Andrew Powers doing the news, Andy Powers when a record spinner (although we used mostly cart machines that looks the size of an eight track cartridge but with out multiple recording tracks.
Don Powers was the president of Maine Broadcasting, our parent company and Mighty John was trying to win brownie points on the name selection. All the jocks had an eight page “Bible” for announcing copied from WLOB and probably borrowed again from stints at WJBQ in Scarborough. WBLM, the Blimp was another neat station at the time in the Lewiston market.
One liners, color chart rotations of the music using the Drake format.
New popular records were reds and turned over every 2 hours fifteen minutes with 45 rpm songs cranked up to 46.5 and 47 revolutions per minute. So we could honest say we play more music… because the songs did not drag, were over quicker so you could play an extra one or two per hour. Or add one moire spot cluster to keep the lights on and the transmitter humming. We were fined a quarter for every second of dead air. That kept the music going, never stopping and very hot, loud, dancing the needle in the red on the VU not LED meters.
I eventually became news director full time, also did a weekend music jock shift at WZON. And and four o’clock each weekday, climbed in the Pinto to head for Mt Hope Avenue in Bangor.
Traveling across Bangor to Channel 2 at four o’clock to the WLBZ TV studios on Mt Hope. To run camera for Eddie Driscoll on the “Great Money Movie” and to daily help put out the six o’clock news broadcast. Eddie Driscoll wore his bow tie, was a local entertainer loved by many who had watched his antics for years.
“Chyron” was the nickname channel 2’s sports guy Bill Green gave me at work.
A Chyron is a broadcast character generator machine used for super-imposing titles on the television screen. For labels on who’s who underneath the talking head. For where’s the story originating from super-imposed during news, weather and sports broadcast segments. Our budget did not allow a machine so I was the human next best thing. Bill Green, then the channel 2 sports guy. Later moving south to do Bill Green’s Maine on sister station WCSH channel six in Portland.
There were two studio cameras and one would be tied up zooming in and locking on the words to be super-imposed. The supers for the nightly newscast were hand rubbed from sheets of white letters on to black poster board.
Each of the new maker’s name in the story and the town locations lined up on a chalk board to one by one zoom in, focus, center.
Then the program director running the Grass Valley switching board and three quarter or half inch video tape machines would announce in the headset that he is taking the super in 3,2, 1. And after making it appear as an overlay on the video, it would be faded out.
Then the camera operator would take turns. Setting up the next tight, medium or a long shot pulling out for commercial break. The fade to black to pause for the cause to runs some ads. Live television, where there is no editing, no second chance. You hope the commercial clusters are checked off the log as the show must go on.
Those commercials, the air time advertising rate dictated by how high in the viewer ratings the station showed for market share in the Neilsen or Arbitron survey.
Each Mainer radio or television broadcast station outlet held down a market share segment, niche audiences shares. Margo Cobb was the channel two television station manager.
An interview at WIGY FM in the Bath / Brunswick market went well. I was hired to be broadcast radio news director. Folks would tune in the news because real sound bites of news makers were used in the broadcast. Not rip and read without tailoring to the local market audience. The radio stations audience for quarter hours was higher because folks listened for the news that might dislike the rock format music. Or loved the music genre but were not turning in for the better delivery of recorded sound bite news products by the people reported on.
I did not take the WIGY FM job because the broadcast career dream changed gears abruptly.
Forty years ago, I got my Maine real estate brokers licensed from Bangor instructors Earl Black for practices, Ted Sherwood for valuation and Esquire Dana Devoe for the law course part of real estate licensing. The early broadcast training helps with videos we shoot, edit, upload and the copy in blogs like this we hunt and peck. That are easier thanks to broadcast journalism training in the Maine radio and television market.
When thinking about having and raising kids, suddenly doing that outside Maine was not what I wanted for them. Our four children I believe turned out better being raised in rural Maine. Instead of moving every two years to climb up the broadcast ladder. That assumed there was the sufficient talent to climb into larger broadcast markets.
“We will be back after a blogging break. To produce and share more.” (Fade to black).
They say blog about what you know. That’s a little bit on early radio broadcasting in Maine with a little added information from personal experience behind the 625A or RE 50 microphone.
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