Memories of WSTC
As a child, growing up in the Bronx in the late 1930s and early 40s, I developed a love affair with radio. As a family, we all listened regularly to the four New York network affiliates [WEAF (NBC), WOR (Mutual), WJZ (The Blue Network) and WABC (CBS)]. In addition, I had my own favorite stations which included WHN, WINS and, of course, WNEW. But that was about it. I was aware that several smaller stations existed but they featured mostly foreign language programming, which held no interest for me. These, then, were my windows to the outside world and I needed nothing more.
In August, 1944 we moved from the Bronx to Darien, Connecticut, just outside of Stamford. It was a whole new world for me. However, all of the radio stations I had listened to in the city were still there, as clear as ever.
About a month or so later, I decided to search the dial to see what else I could hear. Our 1938 Zenith floor model radio (12S267) had a motorized dial and a tuning eye that measured a station’s strength. As the motor hummed, the indicator, which looked like a clock turning at high speed across the large tear drop shaped dial , approached 1400 kilocycles. For some reason I stopped and hand turned the knob for finer tuning. Suddenly, what I perceived to be a powerhouse signal came through the radio. The tuning eye glowed a brilliant green. Where was this signal coming from? Soon, the station announcer gave the call letters – “WSRR, the Stamford Station”. I was amazed. Because I had lived in New York all my life, I didn’t realize that cities other than Boston or Chicago had their own stations. This one had to be located only a few miles from my house (on Stamford’s Shippan Point), which accounted for the strength of its 250 watt signal.
I soon became an avid listener of WSRR, which was named for its owner Stephen R. Rintoul. The station carried my favorite Blue Network serials in the afternoon, including Hop Harrigan, Dick Tracy and Jack Armstrong, and the Lone Ranger at 7:30 pm. Because NBC and CBS had the bigger nighttime shows, we would tune to WEAF and WABC, New York, occasionally switching over to WOR, for the rest of our night’s listening.
Some special memories of WSRR come to mind. On the night of August 14, 1945, following the announcement of Japan’s surrender, the station took its microphones to the street as people celebrated along Atlantic Street. My whole family listened in rapt attention to a table radio as we sat on the porch that summer evening.
In 1946 there was a freight train derailment just east of the Stamford railroad station. Several cars were hanging over the embankment and traffic on the New Haven railroad was at a standstill. We were glued to the radio all morning. By an odd coincidence, the station, which by now was owned by Western Connecticut Broadcast Company and had changed its call letters to WSTC, had planned to broadcast a local sports event that day, incorporating a live description from a chartered airplane. They pressed the aircraft into service early, flew over the tracks and broadcast a description of the wreck, using a shortwave transceiver. Local radio was great!
I had to see WSTC for myself. I talked about it with one of my junior high classmates who was also interested in visiting the station and together we headed to Stamford one Friday afternoon after school.
Filled with trepidation, we climbed the stairs at 270 Atlantic Street to the third floor. To our surprise and delight we were welcomed warmly and given a tour by the announcer on duty. I recognized his voice! I actually listened to his record show every night at 5:45! He asked us if we would like to sit in the studio with him as he did the show. You can’t imagine our excitement as we watched him cue up the 78s and introduce them on the air. I was most fascinated by the huge Western Union clock that ticked off the seconds with its red second hand. Any thoughts of becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a shoe salesman were blown out of my mind forever that day. This is what I wanted to do with my life.
Ernie Hartman was the program director. I know this because; about a year after our visit he was invited to speak at a Career Day function at Darien High School. Shortly after I recall that he joined the staff of WQXR in New York. Also working there at the time were Don Rustici (who as Don Russell would become chief announcer at the Dumont Television Network in New York), Frank Delfino (who as Dell Campbell would become a network staff announcer at NBC in New York and Harry Downey, who would enjoy a long career at WGY, Schenectady.
WSTC always had great announcers. I remember listening to the station one evening in 1947. When the announcer gave the local break I thought to myself (as a 16 year old) “I’ll never be that good.” I later learned the announcer was Bob Hall who went on to host American Airlines” “Music ‘Til Dawn” on WCBS. It seems that many professional and experienced announcers, looking to break into New York, would work at WSTC at night in order to pay the rent. After all, it was less than an hour from the city by train.
I didn’t audition at WSTC until March, 1954, when I heard there was an opening. Steve Phillips was the Program Director and he ushered me to a table in studio A, the station’s large audience participation studio. After the audition he told me that he had several other people to audition as well and that he would be in touch.
After about a week or so, I decided to call. I had to use a phone booth around the corner from WNAB in Bridgeport where I was currently employed. Steve said “I was just about to make a decision and inasmuch as you called you’ve got the job!” Talk about timing.
The station was accessed by two long flights of stairs. A receptionist greeted you as you walked in. Directly behind her were the executive offices and to the left was a long glass window that looked into Studio A which contained about 35 folding chairs, a table and several microphones, including a boom mic. Turning left 180 degrees, you walked down a corridor off of which on the right were the doors that led to studio B, which also acted as the control room for Studio A. Next was studio C, which acted as the control room for Studio D , located directly behind it and accessed by a side door. Beyond the studios was an open area that looked out onto Atlantic Street. On the right were the desks of the program director, continuity writer, and sales personnel. On the left, and enclosed by a partition, was the newsroom where two newsmen manned the phones and wrote local news stories for all shifts.
The transmitter was located on Strawberry Hill Avenue, having been moved there from Shippan Point in the late 1940s when WSTC acquired its FM frequency.
The starting salary for announcers at WSTC in 1954 was $60.00 a week. My recollection is that I worked 6 hours a day, six days a week. Because I had the night shift my hours were from 6 pm to midnight. My announcing colleagues were Jerry Damon who left a few months later to join NBC as a network staff announcer, and Scott Vincent, who later joined the staff of WABC radio and television, in New York. In the newsroom, working the night shift, were two full-time writers, Bob Meany and Don Caruso. Together they prepared the 11 o’clock News. Don (who later changed his first name to Dee for professional reasons) would go on to write the NBC series “That Was the Week That Was” and the Walt Disney movie “The World’s Greatest Athlete”.
WSTC attracted its large audience with extensive local news coverage which was overseen by General Manager Julian Schwartz.. It featured two fifteen minute newscasts in morning drive (7-7:15 and 7:45-8) another at noon time, a fourth at 6:30 and the wrap up at 11. These newscasts were taken directly from the police blotter. We reported every fender bender and local arrest in the area. I remember the writing style very well. “A car driven by John Smith of Stamford collided with a machine driven by Robert Jones of Darien last night. There were no injuries.” To avoid the repetition of the word “jail” the writers would substitute the words “hoosegow” or “clink”. One night I was reading a story cold when I recognized the name of one of the people in the lock-up. Well, it was still a relatively small town.
The newscasts also featured the obituaries of everyone who had died that day. The local funeral homes would provide this information to us in exchange for a trade schedule of one minute spots. Newscasts. Especially those containing funeral home spots, could sometimes be depressing to read.
The station was always responsive to important news stories and severe weather conditions. When Hurricane Carol struck in late summer, 1954, the station remained on the air throughout the night and I was assigned to cover the shift. Although Carol wreaked havoc in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island, western Connecticut was spared, except for heavy rains as I recall, and by about 3 o’clock in the morning it became apparent that nothing serious was going to happen. It turned out to be a long and, thankfully, uneventful night.
WSTC was still a full time ABC affiliate in 1954, although many of the shows, including The Lone Ranger, would soon come to an end and be replaced with local programming. The era of network radio was rapidly coming to an end.
I recall doing several live remotes for WSTC, including the 1954 Stamford High School graduation ceremonies and the triumphant return of the city’s Babe Ruth softball league. We had an announcer at the train station, another on Atlantic Street, looking out the window from our 3rd floor studios, and a third at city hall where the welcoming ceremonies were to be conducted. There was one hitch. Although they were supposed to go directly to city hall where I was located, they decided to tour through the town, which resulted in 40 minutes of adlibbing until they returned.
The station did its share of local sports programming too, although not one of its staff announcers had any knowledge or ability when it came to sports. Hank Katten, one of the news writers, was pressed into service to do play by play on a series of little league games and, when it became apparent that nobody else was available, they assigned me to do color on the Stamford High School football broadcasts. The experience was wonderful, even though I had no idea what I was doing or talking about.
Foreign language programs were still popular in the mid-1950s and dominated local programming on weekends. Local personalities would purchase hour-long blocks of time from the station and then resell spots to local sponsors eager to reach ethnic audiences.
In 1954 the record companies stopped producing 78 RPM records. RCA provided a clutch converter for their RCA 70-D model turntables which would allow us to play 45s. However, to change speeds you had to throw a mechanical gear shift which resulted in a loud clunk. Plus, you had to place an adapter ring over the spindle to accommodate 45 RPM records. The station decided to invest in only one turntable conversion kit. We were instructed to play a 45 on the converted turntable and a 78 on the other. This worked fine until we were playing more 45s than 78s. As a result, we had to talk straight into the mic while fumbling blindly as we pulled one 45 off the turntable to the left of the console and replacrd it with another. That, plus the frequent clunks that were now being heard regularly on the air, finally led the station management to invest in a second conversion kit. We still had to play 33 1/3 transcriptions, however, so it was sometimes a mechanical nightmare.
A few days before Christmas, 1954 each member of the staff received a two week bonus. Unbelievably, this was followed the next week by a three week bonus. It must have been a good year for the station. I know it was for us.
Announcer Bill Coddaire replaced Scott Vincent in 1955. Bill would later go on to have his own nightly music show on WHN, New York, playing his guitar between records.
I left WSTC in August, 1955 to join the staff of WGTH radio in Hartford where I worked until becoming a staff announcer at WTIC some eight months later. In the relatively short time I was at WSTC (16 months) I met some great people, and developed friendships that have endured to this day.