Monday, August 09, 2010

WLIB gets soul

Long before WLIB-AM was the Air America flagship station, long before i even carried the call letters WLIB. Back in 1926 it signed on as 1030 WBKN-AM.  the station was owned by and built by engineer Arthur Faske and his brother Dr. Leo Faske. It's first studio was at 1525 Pitkin Ave. in Brooklyn. the building is there but it's been chopped up into retail space and offices. In 1927 the FRC ordered them to move to 1210 to share time with WBMS, WIBI, WWRL, and WJBI.  It was about as much fun as sharing bunk beds in a closet. It was inauspicious, but it was the beginning of what was probably the most important black radio station in America.  More here.  In the 1940s the problem was still rolling. Time magazine mentioned the clusterfuck in an article in March of 1941:
"Promptly the trio began to squabble, resorting to any device to make their chunk of time more profitable than their rivals'. Jam-packed with advertising, loaded with corny stuff, their programs brought little pleasure to the listening public"
In 1928 they moved the station out to Long Island, probably trying to tap into a different set of local advertisers with the new call letters WCLB.  It must not have gone so well because they let their license lapse and had to go get it back from the FRC in 1930. they promptly moved back to Pitkin avenue under the call letters WMIL on the new frequency of 1500. Then in 1933 WMIL changed call letters to WCNW. But this was yet another share time arrangement. On that frequency they were now sharing with WMBQ, WLBX and WWRL. It would all be sort of sorted out by 1941.

In 1936 The FCC improved the situation a bit (FCC superseded the FRC in 1934).  It was in that year that WMBQ fell into receivership. the ugly share-time on 1500 Mhz got it's attention.  Without WMBQ the share could be between only two stations, but who would get the newly available airtime?  In it's ruminations the FCC found that WCNW could barely mange it's own operation.  It's transmitter was wandering off its center frequency.  The FCC granted WWRL sole right to the frequency; deleting both WMBQ and WCNW.
This event defined WCNW. It had been a really varied station over the years with a loose focus on ethnic programming.  The New York Post went on a rampage defending the legacy of the now deleted WCNW. They assessed the decision as political.  WWRL had been airing the seminal right wing nutter Father Coughlin and WCNW has been airing Chinese and black oriented programs. WCNW may or may not have been political before, but it was now. Exploiting the pressure, Faske filed an appeal and the station was reinstated still sharing with WWRL on 1600. that share continued until N.A.R.B.A. (North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement)  reshuffled all frequencies in 1941 and WCNW was granted a frequency of 1490.  it was a year later they finally became WLIB.

Faske sold the station to Elias Godofsky in 1941. They rapidly became a more ethnic radio station. By 1949 they'd dropped their classical programming and beefed up on Jewish and black oriented programs. At the time there were only 3 all black radio stations in the US: WERD, WEDR, and WMFS. if that gives you some context.