Wednesday, August 15, 2012

1057 The Real Housewives of New Jersey

1057 The Real Housewives of New Jersey

Mitt Romney, the most boring presidential candidate since Walter Mondale, now stands to benefit from the sale of the most boring major radio station of all time, WOR, nominally licensed to New York but actually serving only the real housewives of New Jersey, and not the ones on the TV show, the ones who are over 80.

Women over 80 who want radio that’s older than they are certainly entitled to have a station all their own and they do.  With its origins in Newark, WOR has never really left New Jersey.  Women from New Jersey who want a radio station that’s Jersier than they are likewise entitled.

WOR, est. 1922, has been sold to Clear Channel, a company that owns about 1200 other stations, most of which it has gutted and run on the cheap -- even in unionized major markets like New York.  The major investor in this outfit is Romney’s Bain.

Of course, we all know that even though he was CEO until very recently, he had “nothing to do with” the company.  And the checks?  It’s said they’re still arriving pretty regularly and in fairly decent amounts in Mitt’s mailbox.

When the sale goes through, as it will, Clear Channel will be only the fourth owner of this station, started by Bamberger’s department store as a gimmick to sell radio receivers, a fairly new idea in 1922.  When Macy’s bought Bamberger’s WOR came along with the deal.  So that counts as one.  

Owner two, General Tire and Rubber, a company whose ownership was on the right side of Ronald Reagan but often on the wrong side of the law, was forced to sell.  The buyer was Buckley Radio, whose top guy, Rick Buckley bet the family farm on the purchase and maybe broke even, eventually.

Rick was a good fellow and great fun at a party. When he passed away earlier this year the family decided to sell.   At this point in the deterioration of AM radio, there aren’t many willing buyers.  So, here comes Clear to save the day!

WOR positioned itself as a “news” station and to prove it, they had a pretty big and decent news department.  There were reporters and editors and writers and all kinds of good instincts.  And they had these endlessly long newscasts which were a pleasure to listen to because there were virtually no gratuitous and meaningless sound bites, and painful to listen to because most of the readers had these huge, old fashioned voices of the kind you hear on the tape recordings insomniacs buy to avoid medicinal sleeping pills.  Another break-even.

RKO General wrecked all that, and then Buckley’s company disposed of the editors, reporters and other riffraff.

The rest of the programming was equally sleep- inducing until recently, when they went full bore (excuse the pun) by putting on such head spinning luminaries as Glenn Beck and Michael Savage to go along with an eclectic mix of cooking shows, consumer shows, storytellers, vitamin salesmen, preachers and financial advice, much of it legal.

The morning show started with an exercise maven who was followed by three generations of men named John Gambling... father, son and grandson.  Only one of the three managed a consistent ratings win because he was (1) very good, (2) had far less competition than he would today and (3) cornered the market on weather related school closing announcements with the help of a bluff and funny Irishman, Bill M, who never got much credit.

For reasons like that, I have for years called WOR the longest running B-movie in radio.

Those women in New Jersey keep listening.  It may be because the radio is on a shelf too high for them to reach and turn off.

(Disclaimer in the era of self-plagiarism : I have used the B- movie reference previously in other forums.)

(Other Disclaimer:  I am a disgruntled former employee and my experiences at WOR were mostly negative.  But that was largely the fault of a few small men.  There were many good people there.  You know who you are and you know who you aren’t.)

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to
© WJR 2012


Lil' Joey said...

Hi Wes! First time here, via the NY History Message Board.

WOR needs a book. Has there ever been one written that you know of?

Its history and Mutual's deserve more than mentions than the old time radio books of others. Jim Cox has written about Mutual as has Elizabeth McCleod, but not entire books, I believe.

Arlene Francis herself deserves a book. She was a great broadcaster, whose airchecks I would love to hear. But, alas, I cant find them.

Great post. Thanks,

Joe Postove

Mike McCann said...

While the current WOR is far from a "must listen," the station's heritage is rich. Yes, Rambling with Gambling forged the original blueprint for a local information driven-morning show. Several long-ago WOR hosts (Arlene Francis, Long John Nebel, Dorothy Kilgallen, Jack O'Brien, Barry Farber) did interesting, compelling shows in a more genial era. It was also the last stop in the radio road for legendary DJ Martin Block, who hosted weekend afternoons in the 1960s.

In an era when all news was as futuristic an idea as man on the moon or a computer in every home, WOR's stylish 15-minute hourly newscasts, by such stentorian voices as Henry Gladstone, Harry Hennessey, Lyle Van and John Scott stood out from anything else on the local dial. They were likely a throwback even in the '60s. Once all-news came on in force on 1010 and then 880 -- and, after WMCA converted to news-driven talk -- the 15-minute casts shrank to 10... The classic "commentators" retired and WOR's distinctive (and apparently highly upscale) style began to melt away.

What's amazing during my five eras of radio listening (and four of professional involvement), was that WOR always seemed to be the radio station for the generation older than us. Understandable when I was a kid and Dan Ingram, Dan Daniel, Jack Spector and Bill Mazer were my heroes (along with a versatile ex-place kicker who popped up all over the place at 880 named Summerall). Amazingly, WOR, whether it's 1962, '82 or 2012, remains the station aimed a generation older than me. Talk and information can be younger and fresher -- look at NPR.

So, yes, an era ends -- as did that of the model T, the Smith Corona typewriter and the daily home delivery of bottled milk and baked goods.

Peter S. said...

I'm still glad you let me into the studio when I buzzed at 3am ...

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