Monday, October 09, 2006

WEVD: Yiddish and Socialist

In 1932 the Yiddish newspaper, 'The Forward' purchased 1300 WEVD-AM in New York. Their goal was to expand the reach and availability of Yiddish Radio with their famous, long-running show, 'The Forward Hour'. I've previously written about modern Jewish and Yiddish cultural programming here and here.

By 1932, WEVD-AM had already had it's first life as a all-socialist radio station. What? Yeah, no kidding. At that time around the great depression socialism was pretty popular in the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of poor and unemployed Americans decided that rich people needed to share better. Wealthy people decided they should get better marketing for capitalism. A good solid effort was made to conflate socialism with communism; an technique that remained politically popular through the 1980s with president Ronald Regan.  (Nothing is new, just read more history)

So here is this huge socialist movement founding a New York City radio station. It was created in 1927 by the Socialist Party to honor its recently deceased leader, Eugene Victor Debbs. They ran the endeavor for only five years when the the leading Yiddish newspaper, The Forward took over. The Forward Hour, was a variety show that aired every Sunday morning at 11:00. Ironically, while hours of relatively obscure programs like Madame Bertha Hart's Talent Show have survived, only a few random moments of The Forward Hour remain. Among them is the show's remarkable theme song, with its musical allusions to the Socialist anthem "The Internationale" and "La Marseillaise." ... so it stayed red even then.

But later that Year N.A.R.B.A. changed everything. [more on NARBA tomorrow] In New York at the time on 1300 WEVD and WHAP were time sharing, possibly both as daytimers. But NARBA required a lot of stations change frequencies to cause less interference in Canada and Mexico. The two would have to move to 1330. WHAP became WFAB in 1932, which was then sold to WEVD and scuttled 1938. But WEVD and WHAZ shared 1300/1330 with yet another station: WBBR, of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the jehovas witnesses) up in Troy NY. WEVD operated 86 hours a week, yielding early mornings, 6-8 PM, and most of Sunday to WBBR, and yielding Monday nights. This arrangement continued into the 1970s, when WHAZ was taken out of the share-time and allowed to become a 1kw daytimer on its own WHEW!~

In 1979, WEVD-AM was sold to Salem Media and became religious WNYM. The WEVD calls and programming continued on 97.9 FM, which had been on the air since the 1950s. On the 1330 frequency Salem bought out WPOW in 1984, and in January of 1985 the two stations changed call to WWRV and the share- time ended.

In 1988, Emmis sold the 1050 frequency (now WEPN) and bought 660 from NBC, moving the WFAN calls and format to the former WNBC). The new owner, Spanish Broadcasting System, briefly operated 1050 as Spanish- language WUKQ before trading it to the Jewish Daily Forward. The Forward moved the calls and format of its WEVD-FM to 1050 AM, while SBS took over WEVD's 97.9 FM facility, which became WSKQ-FM.

The WEVD of 1050 AM was a shadow of it's former self. It eeked out a living as just another low-rated brokered ethnic station in the 1990s. In 2001 it then became ESPN sports radio. The rumors had begun months before and has caused a stir. You can read about it here.

In 1999 there was an application for a WEVD-LP in Dover, DE. I dont know what became of that. But nobody picks heritage calls by accident. This is too damn complicated. If you need to understand better go find the book "The Airwaves of New York" If you find one, let me know where. It's out of print. You can read a little more here, or for more on Mr. Debs, try here.


  1. Anonymous12:00 PM

    Air America in New York is on 1600 WWRL, a station unrelated to The Forward's history. 1330 WWRV runs a Spanish Religious format which is simulcast on 1310 WVIP in Westchester County to the north of New York City.

    Request: Less of your politics, more radio. We enjoy your radio history. Political views are a dime a dozen, and a distraction from what's important about your blog.

  2. oops on mixing WWRV with WWRL. I must be getting old.

  3. Henry Allen2:13 AM

    My great aunt was a child singing star on WEVD in it's heyday. Her name is Pearl Gefter, and was known for her songs in English, Hebrew and Russian. Our family has no recordings of Pearl, and I was wondering if you know where I might find any media documentation on her (recordings, photos, etc.) She is still alive and well, living in Florida, and I would love to give her the gift of bringing back to life her memories of happy times singing on WEVD. I would appreciate any help you can give. Thanks!

    Henry Allen

  4. I am confident that somewhere out there is a transcription disc. I dont' have one, but I'd recommend contacting the ARSC.

  5. WEVD's call letters were chosen to honor Eugene V. Debs, (EVD) the great leader of the Socialist Party, and four time candidate for President.

  6. ...and "Airwaves of New York" is back in print and affordably no less.