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Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Sugar Baby Love" The Rubettes (1974)


A lost one hit wonder from 1974.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Mama Used To Say" Junior (1981)


Ever hear a song on the radio you haven't heard in decades and nearly completely forgotten about? And you just drop everything to rock out to it?

I once had this 45 too....Until someone "borrowed" it and I never saw it again. Jerk. I think an eBay purchase is due....

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Oso Landslide Disaster of 2014

I do not normally talk about tragedy on this blog. A fun pop culture nostalgia blog titled History's Dumpster really isn't an appropriate forum for that.   

On Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 10:37 a.m., a massive landslide devastated the tiny unincorporated village of Oso, Washington. With 26 confirmed dead and 90 still missing as of this writing.

Oso, Washington is located between the small towns of Arlington and Darrington on the north fork of the Stillaguamish River in north Snohomish County, near the Skagit County line in northwest Washington State. I've been through Oso several times and while the place looks very sparse (it's only retail is a tiny general store, with a lumber mill and some farms), it's population is near 200. Over half are missing or dead. And no picture can do this justice
What I do want to talk about is how you can help. The recovery effort needs your help. And so does Oso.

Here's how.


- Phone: 1-800-RED-CROSS (733-2767) Direct your donation to 'Snohomish County'

Or mail your donation to:

Red Cross Snohomish County 
2530 Lombard Avenue 
Everett, WA 98021

Thank you for your help.

  
   

What A Local TV Newscast Looked Like In 1965



KGO-TV Morning News, San Fransisco, February 8, 1965





Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Day After



You know? One of the TV movies I REALLY wanted to watch was "The Day After".

For those too young to remember, in 1983, The United States and the then Soviet Union, now Russia today, were at more or less the peak of the Cold War in the 1980s. And both were nuclear powers. And both were unflinching.

And they were the biggest. Ever. "The Arms Race" as it was known guaranteed something known as M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction.)  

It seemed like at the slightest provocation, no matter how minute, could set either side off. Sending unholy nuclear holocaust in either direction.

But the public reality was both sides HATED what their respective governments were doing. That's the odd thing about governments. They claim to speak for their respective people in international affairs, but they haven't the foggiest idea of what the respective people under them actually WANT.

Most of us back in high school wondered why don't we just simply get together over a beer and talk about it (The reality was we really wanted them to get together over a BONG and talk about it. In those days, the very subject of marijuana here in the very Land Of The Free was unspeakable in public high schools.) The mellowing effects of weed we felt would have been far more beneficial in that regard. After the language barrier, the rest would come easy.

ABC-TV aired this program on November 20, 1983 with much hype and it was THE movie to watch on that particular night. EVERYONE was talking about it. Be There...or Be There. That kind of thing.)

I never saw it.

My mom was content with what I thought was her "fuddy old people" shows and we argued for HOURS over it. I hated her for that. And EVERYONE was talking about it the next day after it aired and here I was, the lone idiot who never watched it. Costed me unbelievable high school social points for the next few weeks!

FINALLY, last year, 30 YEARS LATER. I finally got to watch that whole movie....On YouTube!


I am now complete.

The Ohio Art Mighty Tiny Record Player

Is it just me or does the girl on the box of the Ohio Art Mighty Tiny Record Player bear an eerie resemblance to comic strip character Nancy

In 1970, Ohio Art (famous for the Etch-A-Sketch) invented a new toy phonograph, named the Mighty Tiny Record Player, hailed as the "World's Smallest Record Player".


The Mighty Tiny used tiny 2" inch records custom recorded and manufactured for the Ohio Art Company specifically for the Mighty Tiny. The records had a playing time of a few seconds each.

The records were so small, there was no room for printed or etched information on the discs. There was only a number on them and you had to match them to a corresponding number on the disc's sleeve.
The playing system was essentially a steel needle attached to a thin steel bar, which vibrated against a thin inverted plastic dome, which acted as the diaphragm/speaker. There was no volume control. Power was activated when the record placed on the turntable and the lid was closed. Playing acoustically with no electronic amplification, there was no earphone jack.


The unit came with three randomly selected records.


The turntable was powered by one 'AA' battery and had an adjustable speed control. But the actual speed of the cheap motor was unknown (it's believed somewhere around 100 RPM!) and it was never constant and 'fluttered'. But hey, it was a cheap toy for little kids. Not a Bang & Olufsen audiophile turntable.

Another model of the Mighty Tiny was called the Stereoper, which resembled a console stereo. Contrary to what the name may insinuate, it did not reproduce "stereo" sound. There were also little storage cases for your Mighty Tiny record collection. 
The recordings themselves sold in packs of four. I believe there were somewhere around 60 titles (though the actual number is unknown.) None of these recordings have ever appeared in any other conventional format.



  


 


  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rula Lenska


Back in 1979, Alberto VO5 hair products made several American TV commercials with "superstar" Rula Lenska.


There was just one problem. While Rula Lenska was famous as a TV, film and stage actress in the UK, in America she was known as "that woman on the hair spray commercials nobody's ever heard of."


Monday, March 17, 2014

Corned Beef & Cabbage


It's the quintessential St. Patrick's Day dinner food in America, one as mandatory as turkey on Thanksgiving. But how did we come to eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day?

It actually might surprise some that this really isn't an Irish dish at all. 

The original Irish dinner actually used bacon in place of corned beef. And not the bacon strips that are a mandatory staple of American breakfast tables. Or even salt pork. 


In the 19th century, Irish immigrants to the United States began substituting corned beef for bacon when making the dish. Corned beef was more plentiful and cheaper than the bacon used to make the traditional Irish dish.

To make corned beef & cabbage is really simple.

You'll need:

3 pounds corned beef brisket with spice packet

This is a corned beef brisket.
This is not.
10 small red potatoes 
5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
1 large head cabbage, cut into small wedges
 
Place the corned beef in a large pot or Dutch oven, add water (just enough to cover the brisket.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 50 minutes per pound. Add cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions in the last half hour. Slice across the grain.

(Don't forget the horseradish, Guinness beer or Bailey's Irish Cream!)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


  
 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The History of UHF-TV


After television was launched to the public, there was a problem.

Everybody loved it. And they wanted in on it.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, radio stations began adding or moving to more spacious studio spaces in anticipation of the time they will be able to add the delicious letters "TV" to their station letterheads and business cards. They were assured that TV would eventually make radio obsolete. So they began planning for the jump to TV.

But there were only 13 original VHF channels originally assigned for television in the US.

And there WAS once a VHF TV Channel 1. The VHF dial didn't always start at Channel 2.

Here's what happened.

In the early 1940s, the FCC was in a pickle. They had to find spectrum space for FM radio, TV and early mobile phone/emergency radio use. They originally settled on 42-50 MHz for FM radio.

A 1940s radio with the original 42-50 MHz FM radio band.
But TV channel 1 used 44-50 MHz. So they moved the frequency range for Channel 1 around the lower VHF spectrum, causing confusion with viewers, broadcasters and manufacturers. Finally, they concluded there would be no Channel 1. And VHF TV channels would begin at Channel 2. The FM radio band was also moved to 88-106 MHz, then completed at 88-108 MHz.

But this now meant there would be one less channel for TV, leaving only a dozen channels. And the FCC was swamped in TV station license applications.

And more importantly, due to short spacing between stations on the same channels and unforeseen atmospheric conditions, there was interference. Lots of it. Especially in the Northeast. New TV spectrum had to be carved out to satisfy everyone.

Finally in 1952, the UHF TV band was created out of was once surplus radio spectrum for the military. UHF had 69 extra channels, boosting the overall TV channel selection to 82 channels (but later down to 81. In 1963, UHF TV Channel 37 was reserved for radio astronomy purposes and to this day, there are no UHF TV stations - or anything permitted to operate on Channel 37), but still enough for nearly every well financed radio station to have a TV station of their own. With room to spare for many others.

There was one little problem. People didn't know what UHF was then. And until 1964, TV set manufacturers weren't required to even include UHF TV on their sets.

So some enterprising electronics manufacturers invented the first "set-top" boxes, tuners for UHF TV





These were still made well into the '70s and even early '80s for older TV sets made before the All-Channel Receiver Act in 1964!
Most dealers offered them as loss leader freebies for your new TV set or as a low price upgrade for your existing set. You could set it up yourself (if you were more technically inclined.) Or have a serviceman from the dealer do it for you.

They were also sold by mail order.
This automatically created a new problem. Broadcasters began viewing UHF from the start as a lesser TV band. Most viewers still had VHF only TVs and didn't want too much fussing around with the adjustments (they weren't very stable in the early days of TV. As someone who's had to fix a wonky picture on an old 1950's black and white TV set, I can assure you they weren't much fun. There was a pretty good reason why parents rarely let their little kids near the TV in those days.)

And most were satisfied with that few choices they had. Adding a UHF converter meant more knobs and thus more things to go wrong.

And 20 years after the All Channel Receiver Act, some people STILL didn't know what UHF was!
Also, UHF signals by nature travel shorter distances than VHF channels. They also more easily blocked terrestrially by buildings, hills and even trees. To gain a similar broadcasting range as a typical VHF station, they needed 50x the power because of their higher frequencies.

For example, to get the same signal coverage as a VHF TV station on Channel 5 at 100,000 watts, a UHF TV station on Channel 22 needed 5,000,000 watts - that's right - FIVE MILLION WATTS.

That also appears the power bill of the station. Which means you had to sell more advertising and/or charge more for it than the VHF stations. And for a brand new TV station on a fairly unknown and problematic TV band and dubious programming with few, if any stars, the odds didn't look good.

So the many radio stations with ambitious TV plans that couldn't get a spot on the VHF-TV dial simply gave up on them. In fact, contrary to the predictions that radio would become obsolete after TV was introduced, radio simply moved into the era of the disc jockey and specialized music formats as the old-line network radio programming model moved off radio and onto television.

However, there were HUGE areas of the country that were too far from metropolitan areas with VHF stations. And adding stations to the already overcrowded VHF band would increase interference to the existing stations. Some areas, such as Yakima, WA, Peoria, IL and Huntsville, AL became UHF-only "islands", areas where all local broadcast TV is UHF. Public TV stations and upstart TV networks such as DuMont and the fledgling ABC network had no other option than UHF in most areas.

In the 1950s, some of the very first UHF TV stations often came on the air wealthy and often left the air broke - often within a year. These were often stations within the receiving area of VHF stations with established programming and network affiliations. Simply because no one was watching them outside of people who worked at the stations and their families. And even most of them were watching the other channels!

And that was another problem. When a major TV network initially affiliated with a UHF station in an area where a VHF station would later sign on or lose another network affiliation, the network would habitually create loopholes in their already lopsided affiliation contracts that allowed the network to end their affiliation with the UHF station with little notice to go onto the VHF station.

And this even happened with some higher number (Ch. 7-13) VHF stations in areas where VHF dominated. (NBC's original affiliate in Puget Sound was KMO-TV 13, and CBS was on KTNT-TV 11, both out of Tacoma, WA. And both lost to lower-number channels in Seattle.)

In fact to this day, lower number TV channels are preferred to higher ones with TV advertisers because most TV viewers tune from the lowest channel numbers up first. And more slowly and carefully than higher channel numbers, thus increasing the chances the viewer would see the advertising.

The great benefit of a network TV affiliation was the hardest part was already taken care of for you - programming. With the insertion of local TV advertising, a station can become instantly profitable with the big stars and professionalism of the major TV networks. Without a major TV network, you were scrambling for whatever you can get to put on the air. And there were only so many movies, kineoscopes and cartoons available back then. You had to quickly invent programming by the seat of your pants. And it became too much for the upstart UHFs.

So in most major cities, UHF stations were either non-existent or struggling public or even rarer, independents through the '50s, '60s and 1970s. In fact, Seattle only got it's first UHF TV station in 1985 (KTZZ-TV 22, now KZJO "Joe TV")

Most TVs weren't even equipped with UHF antennas (or new set owners didn't know what those little round wire things were in areas where UHF TV was largely unknown and threw them away), The simplest UHF antennas were small cheap loops you could affix to the back of your TV. They worked best in areas closer to the UHF station's transmitter and only fairly in outlying suburbs. I remember after Seattle's KTZZ-TV 22 went on the air installing one of these on my mom's console TV in Lynnwood, WA. But the picture was ghosty and variable and often fluctuated with things as simple as passing airplanes or even the movement of the metal wheels of my mom's wheelchair. That was the most apparent thing about over the air UHF-TV - nearly anything could interfere with the signal if you were beyond a point where you could visually see the station tower.    

UHF was coming to a slow painful death and it took an act of Congress to change that. It became known as the All Channel Receiver Act of 1964, which forced manufacturers to incorporate UHF tuners into their TV sets. This helped UHF TV on the consumer end, but programming, sales and merely staying alive without major network affiliations for the UHF stations were another. In fact, by 1971, there were only 170 full power UHF stations in the US. And over a 1,000 VHF stations. But UHF stations were still dying. Mostly because of the difficulty in getting major advertisers to take independent UHF TV stations seriously.

It was harder to get by on I Love Lucy and Honeymooners reruns and local used car dealership commercials than it looked.

There were attempts at starting a fourth major TV network. DuMont, ironically the very first American TV network, was struggling against better financed rivals NBC, CBS and the upstart ABC TV network and went off the air in 1956. Leaving only ABC, NBC and CBS as The Big Three (as the ABC, NBC and CBS TV networks came to be known for decades) commercial networks and by the '60s, NET (later known as PBS) for public TV.

That wasn't to say people were giving up on UHF TV. Cable TV was still in it's infancy and offered no exclusive programming. Just a clearer relay of TV stations already on the air. And most were required to carry the UHF stations, which actually helped UHF.

Enter The Overmyer Network (later known as The United Network.)

Some United Network affiliates were already established VHF stations with full major network affiliations (such as KOB-TV 4 in Albuquerque, NM, an NBC affiliate.) They just wanted in on the special deal United Network offered affiliates mentioned below
The Overmyer Network began as 5 UHF TV stations owned by Toledo based businessman Daniel H. Overmyer. It's flagship station was WDHO-TV 24 in Toledo, OH.

Overmyer was a social conservative who was against "smut". So there. But he also knew there were lots of entertainment starved independent TV stations across America. Ones that would do anything to move into the "affiliated" category.

And Overmyer gave them a sweet deal; an unheard of 50/50 profit share. Affiliates quickly began signing up.

The network launched nationally on May 1, 1967 as The United Network (and not related to the United Paramount Network or UPN of the 1990s/early 2000s.)

And exactly one month later, the entire Overmyer/United Network was history.

In the final autopsy, it was determined the launch of the network came at the worst possible time of the year. When major TV sponsors were at the end of their yearly advertising budgets. Had the network held out their launch until the new television season in September, they would have had a better chance when the sponsors were in a better spending mood. And since the station used costly proprietary Bell System video lines to relay programming to affiliates, that also ate into costs. It was one thing for 5 affiliates, entirely another for 35.

And more embarrassingly, the national United Network only had one show. A critically acclaimed, but publicly ignored daily variety/talk show called The Las Vegas Show.

The Overmyer/United Network was such a complete and thorough disaster that it was pretty much decided a fourth broadcast TV network was too many and was not attempted again until 1986 when Fox TV came on. And coincidentally, the headquarters of Fox are in the same New York City building that once housed the DuMont network 60 years earlier!

So UHF trudged along. Stations were still frequently sold, still went dark (off the air) or were converted to public TV stations. Outside of those "UHF Islands" mentioned earlier, there wasn't much money in UHF.

With not many stations on UHF, the uppermost channels of the traditional UHF band, Chs. 70-83 were reassigned for the fledgling cell phone industry (In the days before spread-spectrum analog cell phones, it wasn't unusual to pick up entire cell phone conversations on these channels!) But there were no actual TV stations that far up the spectrum (remember, the lower channels are the most preferred) and the various translator (relay) stations in that area were eventually moved to lower channel numbers. Few stations were ever licensed above Channel 69 anyway. And none existed at the time of this switch.


One early experiment merged the concept of pay TV with broadcast TV in 1977. A New York TV station WWHT-TV 68, owned by Wometco Enterprises, offered The Wometco Home Theater. It was essentially a video descrambler box and WWHT ran uncut, often first run movies and sports programming. And it was actually successful (WHT lasted until 1986 and even spawned imitators.)


(Click to enlarge)

The Wometco Home Theater box
The 1970s and 1980s also brought evangelical TV networks such as Trinity Broadcasting Network, Spanish language networks such as Univision and Telemundo and home shopping networks to UHF broadcast TV.

But most commercial UHF TV was still viewed by major sponsors and TV viewers as scrappy, unpolished, unprofessional and weird. The college radio of TV. A fact not lost on parody king "Weird" Al Yankovic who released a parody movie of UHF TV called, what else?, UHF.


In the 1980s, some markets such as New York, music video channels began appearing (After Wometco Home Theater folded, WWHT-TV changed to this format.) Boston and Atlanta, GA also had all music video channels on UHF. However, this proved to be problematic. First, cable video music channel giant (then) MTV flexed it's muscles with the music industry and by the late '80s, effectively cut off the flow of new music videos for these stations and these music video channels converted to the regular third or fourth rate programming of the typical UHF TV channel. Secondly, even with music videos, these few over the air free music video TV stations were still struggling.


It took Fox TV, with it's heavy roster of UHF affiliates and trendy hit shows such as The Simpsons and 21 Jump Street before the tide finally began to turn for UHF TV. The once scrappy programming of UHF began being replaced by more polished programming. Syndicated daytime talk programming such as Jerry Springer, Montel Williams and countless others came and replaced the boring afternoon movies.

And infomercials. LOTS of hour long, boring infomercials. often running 12 hours or more consecutively each day. Something had to pay the bills.

With the success of Fox, potential fifth and sixth major networks sprang up. Such as UPN and The WB (now merged as The CW), PAX (now iON) and expansion of the Spanish, home shopping and religious networks put more UHF TV stations on the air.

But a massive change was coming. A new system, known as DTV or "digital TV" began being implemented in the late 1990s. This system actually used UHF TV channels to relay higher definition programming and all but the smallest, low power stations made the upgrade. In 2009, most analog TV broadcasting came to an end in the US, and most TV stations now broadcast in digital on UHF. The low power stations must switch to digital in 2015.

The benefit of digital broadcast TV was it used less bandwith than analog broadcast TV, freeing up precious bandwith for first responders, wireless internet and other services. With the need for less bandwith, the UHF TV band was cut even further from Chs. 14-69 to 14-50.

The drawback is you really have to be in an area close to the TV tower, as over the air digital TV signals show absolutely NO mercy. In the analog TV days, you could watch TV with a slightly "snowy", slightly fluctuating, but fairly acceptable viewing signal if you were in outlying areas away from the TV station's tower. With over the air DTV, you have to be a LOT closer to get a perfect, interference free signal. Otherwise, the video would freeze in a pixelated mess and even the audio would cut out at times, something that never happened with analog broadcast TV.
   
And there's talk of cutting the UHF TV band even further. Or even ending all over the air broadcast TV, thus freeing up the entire UHF TV band for other, more high tech purposes.

(UPDATE: More on the history of UHF here: http://www.uhftelevision.com/ )

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Frankenstations


They're technical anomalies, transcending medium, legality and current technical standards to become something they were never meant to be.



They're called "Frankenstations". Or "Franken-FMs". Because while most FM radios can tune down to 87.5 FM, the FM radio dial in North America legally begins at 88.1 MHz and ends at 107.9 MHz.

However, 87.7 MHz (or 87.75 MHz to be exact), is/was the analog audio carrier frequency for VHF TV channel 6. Since the end of World War II until the DTV switchover in 2009, people who live in areas with a local TV station on Channel 6 could hear that TV station's audio signal on 87.7 on their FM radios, a fact not lost on the Channel 6 TV broadcasters (KHQ-TV in Spokane, WA promoted this for years.) And it was offered as a way to hear the audio portion of the Channel 6 TV station when you were in your car or away from a TV.

Bear in mind this wasn't a deliberate service the station offered. Just an anomaly of how the radio/TV spectrum was carved up. And unique only to analog VHF TV Channel 6 because the Channel 6 audio carrier frequency was coincidently in a tunable portion of the FM radio dial at 87.75 MHz.

However, in the early 2000s, several low power analog VHF TV stations began popping up on Channel 6. They weren't purposed as traditional TV stations, but as FM radio stations. This is why they are called "Frankenstations" An FM radio station using an audio frequency for TV.

The first Frankenstation was KZND-LP in Anchorage, Alaska. "87.7 The End" went on the air in 1999 and immediately outraged competing broadcasters who thought KZND was cheating and complained to the FCC. As it turned out, the station was using an overlooked loophole that allowed the audio portion of a TV channel to not be synchronized with a video image.

However, being an FM station on the TV band isn't as easy as one would think. First, you're technically a TV station. This means you must at least run some image on the video carrier. Which KZND was not transmitting, so the FCC forced them to start doing so. It wasn't enough the station had the ability to transmit a video image, but it had to actually do it to be within the law, as it was technically a TV station first. A simple graphic card to be broadcast over their video carrier was all the station needed to become legitimate.

Today, KZND now broadcasts on a real FM frequency (94.7.) 87.7 in Anchorage is now a jazz station called KNIK


WLFM-LP in Cleveland, Ohio actually used a Western Digital screensaver as their video carrier image!

Second, you have to be a lot more quieter than standard FM stations because you still must broadcast according to television technical standards. This meant a lot of the problems of a quiet uncompressed FM radio signal, such as "picket fencing", that "fwip-fwip-fwip" sound you hear on FM radio as you drive farther out of the station's primary service area is far more apparent well within the primary service area on an 87.7 Frankenstation. You can't broadcast in stereo either. While Zenith invented both FM Stereo and MTS Stereo TV transmission, the two systems are incompatible. All Frankenstations are mono.

And Nielsen Audio (formerly Arbitron), which measures radio ratings regards the Frankenstations as actual TV stations and doesn't count them amongst actual FM radio stations.   

However all low power analog TV stations, which had been exempt from the 2009 American digital TV switchover must change over to digital themselves by September 1, 2015.

Which will mean the end of the Frankenstations because the digital signals can no longer be received over standard FM radios.

However since the analog to digital TV switchover there's been talk of expanding the FM radio band down to 76 MHz (similar to how the AM radio band was expanded from 540-1600 kHz to 540-1700 kHz in the late 1980s.) Which would incorporate the Japanese allocated FM radio band (which runs from 76-90 MHz) into the American FM radio band and allow American FM stations to broadcast on those frequencies. But that's only going to happen when the current FM spectrum gets so crunched, there is no alternative.

And we're already pretty much there in some parts of the country.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The ChannelScan Remote Control


Sometime in the mid-1970s, somebody had a great idea.

Almost.

You see, while the very first TV remote controls came out in the early 1950s, they were seen mostly on the most expensive and highest end models.

The Zenith "Lazy Bones" Remote Control (1950)
And went wireless by 1956.

The worst thing about photocell remotes is when the sun reflected across the TV screen, the channel would suddenly change too.

They were featured throughout the 1960s, but it wasn't until addition of volume and finer tuning controls in the 1970s that they became a mandatory item to have.

And it was probably soul crushing to watch your neighbour brag about his/her new TV with a remote control while you're still getting up every half hour to walk seven feet or so to change the channel.

But even if they could afford a Zenith Space Command console with the full featured remote, they often also had to put up with a remoteless cable box like this every month too. Which seriously negated any real benefit from remote control TVs until full cable frequency tuning remote TVs came out in the '80s.
But thanks to our never ending source of modern miracles, the As Seen On TV commercial, now you can turn that clicky-chunky channel knob into a sleek remote control.

This beast operated by attaching onto the VHF channel selector knob, using an AC powered motor to physically tune the VHF channel knob. It also controlled power, but it did not tune the UHF selector knob, fine tune or control volume or picture adjustments. There was no on-screen menu. The remote used a switch button to move the selector up and around the VHF TV dial and to power off.


But unfortunately, it had one 25 foot drawback, it wasn't wireless. This presented countless hazard problems with the elderly, running kids and pets in the living room and accidents happened. Painful ones. (Zenith went to wireless for a reason, I guess.)

I remember seeing the TV commercials for this thing. I'm not sure how long this was available, but I imagine it was pretty much DOA.

Also see: Controla-Tone (1955)

Friday, March 07, 2014

WHER.....1,000 Beautiful Watts


Ladies, if you ever needed something to play on the stock car radio of your brand new 1955 Dodge La Femme, then Memphis was your kind of town.

Because also debuting in 1955 was radio station WHER. At 1430 on the AM dial, WHER was the first radio station completely staffed, programmed and operated entirely by women. The only Y chromosomes at WHER were there to write the checks and fix the transmitter whenever it got wonky. The women controlled everything else.

A terrestrial radio station with a mostly female staff is still a very rare thing. But in the 1950s, it was extremely rare to hear a female DJ with her own program. The 1950s were a pretty sexist time and the ceiling wasn't glass in the radio industry. Most women in air positions at that time were network voice actresses or they were local socialites who read recipes during the midday show. But most women overall however remained behind the scenes, doing office work.

WHER was owned by local record mogul Sam Phillips of Sun Records and Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson. Phillips used the money he got for Elvis Presley's recording contract from RCA Victor records as seed money for WHER.

But surprisingly, WHER played no rock. Probably because of the uncomfortably close link between Sun and WHER (the payola scandals around the country were just beginning to simmer.) The music on WHER was a mix of easy listening, jazz and country swing.


WHER became an instant sensation and inspired many imitators (including KPEG in Spokane, WA.)
An early press release for WHER described the station as this : 

“The studio and offices have been feminized from front door to rear exit. The disc jockeys are called jockettes, the studio is known as the doll’s den, the control rooms are called playrooms, the hallway is mirrored, the equipment room has been decorated with murals depicting the evolution of feminine clothing, the stationary is perfumed, the advertisers are listed in a date book, and the exit to the parking lot is labeled “Bye, Bye ‘Till Next Time”.

You were clearly in their world.

WHER was managed and programmed by Becky Phillips (wife of Sam Phillips) and Dottie Abbott. And from 1955 to 1966, WHER was exclusively operated by women. However after Abbott left, it seemed time to let the guys in. The station changed call letters to WWEE, or "We" radio.

1430 kHz in Memphis today is WOWW, a repeater for country music station "95.3/97.7 The Rebel" WEBL.  


More info on WHER:

WHER Radio Station

The Kitchen Sisters documentary on WHER (Complete with audio!)