The following article appeared in the Washington Star, October 1 1972. It was contributed by Bill Halvorsen. Don't miss the Joy Boys mention, and photo, near the end of the article.
By Bernie Harrison, Star-News Staff Writer
Within the next two weeks, or possibly sooner, the metamorphosis of NBC's WRC-AM from a generalist, middle-of-the-road music, entertainment and news station to a "rocker" will be complete, and once again, there is shock and dismay in the community.
It's happened before. Most recently, it happened when RKO-General, owners of WGMS AM and FM, attempted to turn the AM classical music station into a top 40 rock and roll station, but that had a happy ending. A combination of outrage from listeners, plus a decision by the Federal Communications Commission that made it possible for management to program simultaneously on AM and FM (a rule prohibits more than 50 percent duplication), saved the day there.
Actually, it's an old story on radio. Another recent example was WTOP-AM's decision to go to an all-news format. The reason is simple in most cases -- economics. But there is a larger, more compelling reason, the trend in radio broadcasting is away from stations that attempt to reach a diverse audience and toward specialization.
There are stations (WPIK and WDON) that feature only country music; there's all-gospel (WUST), several rock and rollers (WEAM and WPGC), rhythm and blues (WOL) and so on. WGAY AM and FM in Silver Spring, which programs standards and Broadway album music, is one of the radio scene's most remarkable success stories. In the latest rating books, it is a strong second, just behind WMAL. Connie B. Gay, the former owner, sensed the trend, borrowed the formula from successful stations elsewhere and stuck with it through those difficult first years until that much-prized "identity" had been established.
That has been one of WRC-radio's problems -- identity. How do you establish an identity when, on weekends, the station must turn away to take the network's New York-originated "Monitor?" Or when the network requires the station to carry a number of deadening news features, particularly its "Emphasis" series?
But why to rock? Aren't there enough rock and roll stations on the band already? And what makes the metamorphosis particularly shocking, to many, is that this is no ordinary management, this is the National Broadcasting Company, a prosperous entity with a high-flown opinion of its record in public service.
The separation of the present staff, in view of the changeover, was inevitable. The change actually dates back a few months, with the cancellation of the 6 to 7 p.m. news block -- Morrie Siegel came back from vacation to find his sports show had been dropped -- and the Betty Groebli Show, a vibrant, chatty, one-of-a-kind talk program.
There was a new general manager at the time, Peter O'Reilly, brought in to supervise the changeover. O'Reilly showed me the figures, which are no secret. In 1967, the station made half a million dollars; the graph, since then, showed a steady decline to 1972, where the estimate was that the station would lose half a million dollars. the "Joy Boys" in the afternoon, to drop their comedy features, including their marvelous soap opera spoof, "As the Worm Turns." O'Reilly first assured me that Miss Groebli would stay on, doing personality briefs, but she's gone; and that Walker and Scott would be retained. O'Reilly resigned two weeks ago, Bruce Houston moved up to general manager, and last Monday, the ax fell. The station gave four weeks notice, as it is required to do, to contract performers Larry Walton (the morning man), Stan Karas (the all-night man), and Johnny Wilcox (10 to 2). Ed Walker, out of the office because his wife was undergoing an operation, got his notice the next day.
Willard Scott, Ed's partner, Mac McGarry, Paul Anthony and others are staff announcers, which means that four-week notices are not required. They are simply reassigned.
WRC-FM, incidentally, will be "spruced up" a bit, according to one management source, but the programming (jazz) will stay as is.
What happens to the current performers? They are looking.
Walton already has landed a
job on WCBM, Baltimore, from which he came a few years ago.
Willard Scott will
continue with his TV weatherman duties for NBC-4, but both he and
Walker are looking
for a new spot for their show. "It won't be easy,"
Walker was saying the other day.
"There are few stations that can afford a two-man team."
Walker was cheerful, buoyed by the hundreds of phone calls that
are coming in daily
from fans of their zany humor, judged "too old-timey" by NBC management.
"When I got my notice," Ed said, "I wished them well --
NBC has been good to us, we've had a
better run than most. But honestly, I think this is going
to lay the biggest egg in town."
Walker was cheerful, buoyed by the hundreds of phone calls that are coming in daily from fans of their zany humor, judged "too old-timey" by NBC management. "When I got my notice," Ed said, "I wished them well -- NBC has been good to us, we've had a better run than most. But honestly, I think this is going to lay the biggest egg in town."
He could be right. NBC, which has a "for sale" sign on its radio stations and would get a better price with higher ratings, has switched to rock in other cities with indifferent results. One of its midwest properties is thinking of now going to an all-talk format.
The fact, I suspect, is that WRC should have moved long ago to shore up its local programming, with innovative personalities. The tragedy here is that NBC invested so much time and years in the development of a first rate-comedy team which -- by the way -- has an enormous following with young people.
Other radio personalities don't usually comment on what's happening at other stations, but this is an exception. WWDC's Johnny Holliday expressed his shock, pointing out that his station gives him carte blanche to entertain in the mornings. Jackson Weaver, of WMAL's Harden and Weaver, the top radio show in the Washington area, expressed it simply: "We need entertainers. Who needs another glorified jukebox?"
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