Talk of regionalization brings thoughts of WARM dynasty

June 27th, 2015 1:24 am

First Posted: 6/5/2013

It is with great interest that I read recent letters sent to the newspapers that regionalization is the life blood of our future.

Also, I noted that, on Thursday, May 23, the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development reported population gains for the first time since the 1950s in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre sector.

Some say “the future is in the past.” With that in mind, let’s go down memory lane recalling June of 1958 and the “New WARM Radio.”

Until May 1 of that year, WARM was operated by Northeastern Pennsylvania Broadcasting Inc.

The principals of that corporation were William W. Scranton and Martin F. “Bud” Memolo. They sold WARM to York, Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna Broadcasting for $195,000. The Federal Communications Commission approved the sale on June 11.

Shortly thereafter, “The New WARM” rose phoenix-like out of old ABC network programming into top-40 radio with its live mix of music, news, public service and sports.

Rapid fire changes came to WARM under general manager Art Carlson, program director George Gilbert and chief engineer Charlie Morgan.

In June 1968, for the 10th anniversary of WARM, announcer Jack Murphy proclaimed, “The Susquehanna idea was to create a sound that could start like a rumble in a coal shaft and skyrocket to the heavens — it would be in the air everywhere — but more than that it would be a harbinger of things to come.”

Thus, WARM, then licensed to Union Broadcasting, which went on the air June 19, 1940 at 1370 AM with 250 watts, moving to 590 AM with 5,000 watts in 1952, was now grasping for the ultimate in technological achievement, the sound of the future. Station operations director Don Stevens called it a “Superior sonic sound,” the mighty 590 with five towers of power.

Well, you might be saying, “What does this have to do with regionalization?”

WARM was the first media outlet, electronic or print, in this market to use the concept of regional selling. Before Susquehanna, people in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre only listened to the radio stations, read the newspapers and watch the television stations in their hometowns. And merchants only advertised in such. But the new WARM strip-marketed those two cities and consolidated the areas around Binghampton, Elmira, New York, Carbondale, down to Hazleton and the Poconos into “Warmland.”

The innovation of Warmland was of no small importance. In the mid-1960s, then-Congressman Daniel J. Flood used the Warmland of ideas as his basis for having the U.S. Census Bureau give official status to Warmland by calling it “Northeastern Pennsylvania,” avoiding a touchy proposition of having one city’s name listed second if a hyphenated designation using both names were chosen.

With this month being the 55th anniversary of “The New Warm,” please let us reflect on some of the things that station brought to the area.

Prior to “The New Warm,” of the five radio stations in Scranton, only WICK, under Joe Dobbs, was playing rock. Within six months, WARM was in full force and by the start of 1959, WARM was the dominant No. 1 listened to station in the region. The dial position, power and profitable call letters were now known far and wide. The nighttime rating posted above the 70 percent mark.

The impact of the original “Sensational Seven” - Harry Newman, Don Stevens, George Gilbert, Jack Murphy, Vince Kierney, Jackson Gower and Len Woloson - was overwhelming. Those disc jockeys and others that followed always had contests and promotions running, whether it was Lucky Birthday, the WARM news tip or tie-ins with sponsors, Chrystal Club Beverages and Williams Baking Co., to see The Beatles over in London with Tommy Woods in 1965. Excitement prevailed at the new WARM.

WARM’s blockbuster event in the summer was “WARM Day” at Rock Glen Park in Moosic. That free gig was tantamount to a legal holiday. WARM ran events at the park for about a decade. Two major ones were 1962 and 1965. In 1962 they had eight of the top 10 national acts. Bobby Vinton, Freedy Cannon, The Dovells, Brian Hyland, Dee Dee Sharp were all among them.

On July 28, 1965, the park burst at the seams. Amusement Business, a trade paper, estimated the crowd between 50,000 and 75,000 throughout the day. Ben Sterling, Rocky Glen owner, called it “(His) biggest day ever.”

The previous one-day attendance record had a radio connection, also. It was held by the radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons headlined the nighttime show, along with the Beau Brummels, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Chartbusters, Joe Nardone’s All-Stars, Eddie Rambeau and Mel Wynn and the Rhythm Aces.

The rating service at the time, Hooper-Pulse, crowned WARM the highest-rated radio station in the country at its peak. One reason would be the Susquehanna commitment to news and public service. The new WARM was the first ratio station to develop a separate news department so the on-air personalities wouldn’t have to do re-writes from the papers or rip and read wire copy. “First News First” is where people found out what was happening in WARMland.

Operation Contact, Operation Snowflake, Flashback, P.S.B.B., Look Up To Learning, Sound Off and Viewpoint, the editorial voice of Warmland, served the community for following WARM’s civic duty.

WARM introduced outside weather service to the market with “PinPoint Weather” in the late 1960s to enhance the National Weather Service.

In 1971, WARM became the charter radio outlet for the State College private service “AccuWeather.” WARM, though, never copyrighted or trademarked “AccuWeather” and founder Joel Myers did.

As a standalone news operation, WARM proved its worth doing the coverage of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. In a business where the average employment is three years, it is a tribute to WARM that personalities Ron Allen, Bobby Day, George Gilbert, Jerry Heller, Ray MaGwyre, Terry McNulty, Joey Shaver, Harry West and Tommy Woods are remembered to this day because of their long tenure there.

Announcers wanted to be at WARM. Many aspired, but few attained a spot on the staff. Proudly, after being a journeyman outside and within this market, I was hired by one of my mentors, program director George Gilbert.

In 1983, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of “the New WARM,” one of the Scranton newspapers, not always friendly toward the station, call WARM a “dynasty,” noting, “That no one, not anyone, had been able to garner more listeners than WARM.”

Since that time will never be equaled again, let’s have a toast and raise our glass to the legacy of WARM.

Joe Middleton lives on Haverford Drive in Laflin.