Friday, February 05, 2016

1600 WWRL and the Death of AM Radio

(Note to readers: this being the 1600th in this series of posts, time to reflect on the station whose frequency shares the number.)

The radio station you could receive with a crystal set and a “cat’s whisker” may be a living symbol of AM radio’s ninth and final life.

1600 once was the highest legal frequency on the AM radio dial.  It was the most local of local stations in New York City’s borough of Queens and in the 1940s, represented the then burgeoning diversity of what now is the city’s most diverse chunk of geography.

The programs were in English, German, Polish, French and every other Euro language that came out of any Euro mouth.

All this originated from the area called Woodside, and specifically from a cute little house on a block of other cute little houses. Except this one had a cute little transmitting tower in the back yard and the block could hear WWRL not only on its radios but on its telephones, its toasters and the fillings in its teeth.

Pretty good if you spoke Czech or Lithuanian.  A lot of people spoke Czech or Lithuanian.

But the station gained little traction until 1964 when its founder and the resident of the cute little white house, William Reuman sold it -- house and all -- to Egmont Sonderling, who turned it into a powerhouse of African American music and real local news.

Famous or soon to be famous disc jockeys made their way to Woodside… Jocko, Frankie Crocker, Gary Byrd, and more. Many ears followed. Even those not near enough to receive ‘RL on their teeth.  

In those days AM radio was king of the dial.   And with far less free floating interference than we have now, you could hear it far and wide.

But as FM gained traction, most AMs lost listeners. Evolution. ‘RL devolved, appealing to smaller and smaller niches within African American and Caribbean communities.  Air America occupied a lot of its airspace for much of its mercifully short life.

And now, it’s focusing on programs that appeal to people from the Indian subcontinent.  There’s plenty of audience for that.  But not nearly as much as there was for Frankie and Jocko.

AM stations are going dark all over the country, usually the ones that try to stay “local.”  

AM is running out of steam.  And no one seems to have a solution.  Infomercials, plug-in talk shows, maybe a local weather report.

Have these facilities outlived their usefulness?  Here’s hoping the answer is no.  And if the answer is no, this is the time to buy because there’s a lot available at fire sale prices.


-The Democratic debate last night sounded like a leashed Yorkshire Terrier snarling and barking threateningly at a distant bear who doesn’t notice.

-Will Sick Rantorum apply for unemployment comp?

-Fiorina has been dropped from an upcoming Republican debate and must now return to her first love, destroying reputable corporations.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.  ®
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© WJR 2016

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