It is with great interest that I read recent letters sent to the newspapers that regionalization is the life blood of our future.
Also I noted that on Thursday, May 23, The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development reported population gains for the first time since the 1950’s in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre sector.
Some say the future is in the past, with that in mind, let’s go down memory lane recalling June 1958, and the “New WARM radio.” Until May 1 of that year WARM was operated by Northeastern Pennsylvania Broadcasting, Inc. The principals of that corporation were William W. Scranton and Martin F. “Bud” Memolo. They sold WARM to York, PA based Susquehanna Broadcasting for $195,000.
Shortly there after, “The New WARM” rose Phoenix like out of old ABC Network programming into “Top 40” radio with its live mix of music, news, public service and sports.
Rapid fire changes came to “The New WARM” under Art Carlson, general manager, and Charlie Morgan, chief engineer. In June 1968 for the 10th anniversary of “The New WARM’ announcer Jack Murphy proclaimed “The Susquehanna idea was to create a sound that would start like a rumble in a coal shaft and skyrocket to the heavens, it would be in the air everywhere, but more than that, it would be a harbinger of things to come.
WARM went on the air June 19, 1940, at 1370 AM with 250 watts, moving to 590 AM with 5000 watts in 1952, was now grasping for the ultimate in technological achievement, the sound of the future, what Don Stevens, station operations director, called superior sonic sound, the Mighty 590 with five towers of power.
Well, you might be saying, what does this have to do with regionalization? “The new WARM” was the first media outlet, electronic or print, in this market to use the concept of regional selling. Before Susquehanna, people in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre only listened to the radio stations, read the newspapers and watched the TV stations in their hometowns, and merchants only advertised as such. But, “The New WARM” strip-marketed these two cities and consolidated the areas around Binghamton, Elmira, New York, Carbondale down to Hazleton and the Poconos, into “WARMLAND.”
The innovation of “WARMLAND” was of no small importance. In the mid-1960’s then Congressman Daniel J. Flood used the “WARMLAND” idea as his basis for having the U.S. Census Bureau give official status to “WARMLAND” by calling it “Northeastern Pennsylvania,” avoiding a touchy proposition of having one city’s name listed second if a hyphenated designation using both names were chosen.
With this month being the 55th anniversary of “The New WARM,” please let us reflect on some of the things that station brought to the area.
Prior to “The New WARM,” of the five radio stations in Scranton, only WICK, under Joe Dobbs, was playing rock. Within six months “The New WARM” was in full force. By the start of 1959 WARM was the dominant number one listened to station in the region. The dial position, power, and call letters, were now known far and wide; the nighttime ratings past the 70 percent mark.
The impact of the original “Sensational Seven”; Harry Newman, Don Stevens, George Gilbert, Jack Murphy, Vince Kierney, Jackson Gower and Len Woloson was overwhelming. Those disc jockeys and the others that followed, always had contests and promotions running, whether it was lucky birthday, the WARM news-tip, or tie-ins with sponsors Crystal Club Beverages and Williams Baking Company, to see the Beatles over in London with Tommy Woods in January 1965, excitement prevailed at the new WARM.
WARM’s blockbuster event in the summer was “WARM Day” at Rocky Glen Park in Moosic. That free event was tantamount to a legal holiday. WARM ran them at the park for about a decade. Two major ones were 1962 and 1965. In ’62 they had eight of the top 10 national acts performing; Bobby Vinton, Freddy Cannon, the Dovells, Brian Hyland, and Dee Dee Sharp, among them. Wednesday, June 28, 1965, burst the park’s seams. Amusement Business, a trade paper, estimated the crowd between 50,000 and 75,000 throughout the day. Ben Sterling, park owner, called it “His biggest day ever!”
The rating service, Hooper-Pulse, crowned WARM the highest rated radio station in the country at its peak. One reason would be the Susquehanna commitment to news and public service.
“The New WARM” was the first radio station in this region to develop a separate news department so the on-air personalities wouldn’t have to do re-writes from the papers or rip and read wire copy. “First news first” is where people found out what was happening in “WARMLAND.” “Operation Contact,” “Operation Snowflake,” “Flashback,” “P.S.B.B.,” “Look up to learning - soundoff, and viewpoint” were all part of the editorial voice of “WARMLAND” serving the community and fulfilling WARM’s civic duty.
WARM introduced outside weather service to the market with “Pinpoint Weather” in the late 1960’s to enhance the National Weather Service. In 1971 WARM became the charter radio outlet for the State College, private service they named “Accu Weather.” WARM, though, never copyrighted or trademarked “Accu Weather” and founder Joel Myers did so.
As a standalone news operation WARM proved its worth during the coverage given the 1972 hurricane Agnes flooding.
In a business where the average employment is three years, it is a tribute to WARM that personalities Ron Allen, Bobby Day, George Gilbert, Jerry Heller, Ray Magwyre, Terry McNulty, Joey Shaver, Harry West and Tommy Woods are remembered to this day because of their log tenure there.
Announcers wanted to be at WARM. Many aspired and a few attained a spot on the staff proudly. I was hired there by one of my mentors, program director George Gilbert.
In 1983, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of “The New WARM,” one of the Scranton newspapers, not always friendly toward the station, called WARM “a dynasty,” noting that no station had been able to garner more listeners than WARM.
Joe Middleton lives in Wilkes-Barre. He worked at WARM-AM and other radio stations in the area and is very familiar with the history of popular music of the 20th century.