WINS History: The Early Years From The Airwaves of New York
by Bill Jaker, Frank Sulek and Peter Kanze
Newspapers were among the earliest broadcast operators, but no major metropolitan daily entered the field in New York until William Randolph Hearst, owner of the New York American and the tabloid Daily Mirror, purchased the Gimbel’s Department Store station WGBS. (The American’s interest in broadcasting can be dated from 1916, when it supplied returns to Dr. Lee De Forest for his experimental election-night reports.) The new call letters, WINS, stood for Hearst’s International News Service, then one of the nation’s three major wire services. In July 1932, WINS moved out of the WGBS studios in the Hotel Lincoln to a Park Avenue locale at 110 E. Fifty-eighth Street, the Ritz Tower.
Such well-heeled patrimony should have won WINS the role of New York’s premier information source. The Hearst station was even experimenting with television, operating the Jenkins mechanical scanner through experimental transmitter W2XCR. However, in the early 1930s, radio was still struggling for status against restrictions imposed by newspaper interests, who tended to accept the new medium as a promotional tool rather than a full-service news source. Also, WINS was initially just a low-power daytime operation, hardly in keeping with the Hearst image.
On 29 March 1941, WINS became a beneficiary of the reallocations caused by the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA), and it switched to full-time operation at l000kc (“Easy to remember, easy to dial”) with its power authorized at 10,000 watts. This was the widest of some eighteen NARBA shifts on the New York dial, the result of good planning and early application by Hearst engineers. It opened up 1190 for later occupancy by WLIB. WINS also moved to new studios at 28 W. Forty-fourth Street and began to live up to its name. Popular music and low-budget quiz shows highlighted the broadcast day. There was also news reporting by “Mr. and Mrs. Reader,” a couple who read the papers to each other every morning.
At about the time of its frequency and power change, WINS had to shut down its transmitter at Carlstadt, N.J., due to interference with WHN, 50 kilocycles up the dial but just half a mile away in East Rutherford. WHN let WINS move to its old transmitter site in Astoria till it could occupy a permanent plant in Lyndhurst, N.J. But signal problems caused WINS to temporarily return to daytime operation till it became full-time at l0l0kc on Saturday, 30 October 1943. The FCC also authorized an increase to 50,000 watts, but wartime equipment shortages delayed this until 1947.
In 1946, Hearst sold “New York’s Home Station” for $2 million to another media powerhouse, the Crosley Broad-casting Corporation, owner of the giant WLW in Cincinnati. In October 1946 Crosley began feeding New York programs from “The Nation’s Station.” From “Top o’ the Morning” at 5:45 a.m. to the dulcet late-night “Moon River,” New Yorkers could now listen in to some of the Midwest’s best programs. The schedule even included concerts by the Cincinnati Symphony. Yet New Yorkers responded weakly to being plugged in to WLW, and the Crosley network was phased out.
WINS needed little help from Cincinnati. Since 1946 it had been the outlet for New York Yankee baseball, with Mel Allen as play-by-play announcer. This was the first time any station had carried all of a team’s games live, home and away.
In 1953, Crosley sold WINS to the Gotham Broadcasting Corp.-despite its name, a West Coast organization controlled by Seattle businessman J. Elroy McCaw. “Ten-Ten Wins” entered one of the most exciting and tempestuous periods in any station’s history.
Stan Shaw conducted “The Original Milkman’s Matinee” at night. Veteran NBC sports director Bill Stern presented a breakfast-time talk show. Disc jockey Alan Freed and his record collection came to WINS on 8 September 1954. Often cited as the man who coined the expression “rock’n’ roll,” Freed was certainly a pioneer; he had already garnered an audience in the New York area through his Cleveland program syndicated through WNJR. He stayed with WINS through 1958, at a time when the station had one of the strongest program lineups in the city.
Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding moved over from WNBC in 1954 to fill the morning slot, bringing newscaster Peter Roberts with them. Deejay Jack Lacy played records on “Lacy on the Loose” and , “Listen to Lacy” (“spinnin’ the discs with finesse / just set your dial to 1010 awhile / to WINS”), and Bob Garrity presented live late-night jazz from Birdland. In 1956 Herbert G. “Jock” Fearnhead became general manager, and under his leadership and the efforts of programmer Rick Sklar, the rock-and-roll revolution seized complete control of WINS.
WINS Schedule for Monday, 30 September 1957: 6:00 a.m. Wake Up to Music-Irv Smith 9:00 Listen to Lacy 12:00 Orbit Universe with Stan Z. Burns (“The High Noon to 3 Orbit to Be for Stan Z”) 3:00 Listen to Lacy 7:00 Alan Freed’s Rock and Roll Party 11:00 All Night Show-Stan Shaw
In August 1957 WINS moved its studios to 7 Central Park West, overlooking the park and Columbus Circle (dubbed Radio Circle by WINS). It was a roach-infested building topped by a Coca-Cola sign and had been constructed, coincidentally, for William Randolph Hearst.
News director Tom O’Brien, Lew Fisher, Brad Phillips, and Paul Sherman reported the news at twenty-five and fifty-five past the hour. Each newscast opened with the words Sounds make the news!” and some significant noises. Les Keiter covered pro, college, and even high school sports.
Deejay patter was heard through a “Soundarama” echo chamber, which WINS introduced after surreptitiously operating on reduced power for a couple of hours to make the new sound even more impressive. A Western Union wire brought in record requests and dedications and WINS won listeners through a constant stream of audience-participation gimmicks and contests, like a trumped-up treasure hunt for silver subway token that supposedly kept Murray Kaufman living underground for a week. On April Fool’s Day 1958-the same day that WMCA moved to a rock-music format-”Murray the K” took over the all-night shift.
Burned by the payola scandal that threatened renewal of the station’s license and a four-month announcers’ strike in 1958, and losing its rock-and-roll audience to WABC and WMCA, WINS briefly stepped back to a more middle-of- the-road format. Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins inherited the 6:00-10:00 a.m. program in the autumn of 1959, and Cousin Brucie Morrow was on from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. Late in 1960, WINS briefly replaced WOR as Mutual’s New York outlet.
Westinghouse purchased WINS for $10 million on 28 July 1962. The original owner of WJZ had returned to the New York market after an absence of nearly forty years. As one of the Group W stations, WINS beefed up its news and public-affairs programming. In addition to five-minute summaries every half hour there was Charles Scott King’s thirty-minute “Radio Newsday” each evening at 6:00. John Henry Faulk-behind the mike again after his successful Blacklisting lawsuit-hosted a weeknight call-in, “Contact:’ Sunday evenings were four hours of public-affairs and cultural programming, including the “WINS Press Conference” and special reports on transportation, race relations, and science. There were even comedy and quiz shows from the BBC. WINS took full advantage of the 1964 Beatle “British invasion” when Murray the K befriended the group and milked as much publicity as possible from the arrangement.
On Monday,19 April 1965, the station shut off the music-its last record was the Shangri-La’s “Out in the Streets” – and became “All News, All the Time:’ Westinghouse had commissioned a study to ascertain the best-possible format for their New York outlet. The survey indicated a “talking newspaper” would have a good chance. Hearst’s foray onto the New York dial had evolved into the nation’s third all-news station and the metropolitan area’s twenty-four-hour radio news source. It was a service that would keep WINS consistently at or near the top of the York ratings.