Monday, June 17, 2019

The Fate of WGSA-AM

1310 WGSA-AM is an obscure little AM station. It existed for about 30 years but it's difficult to find any information on it beyond a few radio boards. It's listed in a Radio Annuals with varying sign-on dates in 1955 or 1956 under the ownership of Gardenspot Broadcasters. The real date is July 26th 1955. The American Radio History website even has a QSL letter [LINK] from September 1955 which refers to it's recent sign on. It started with 500 watts and jumped to 1,000 watts in 1956. It was operating at 5,000 watts by 1964.  Gardenspot also owned WIOV and WCBG-AM in Chambersburg. A 1962 issue of Broadcasting Magazine specifies that Samuel H. Youse (of Gardenspot) owned 33% of WABW in Annapolis, 25% of 1590 WCBG-AM and 90% of a then-unnamed application in Lebanon, PA.

Publication list WGSA as in directories as late as 1990, but it appears they went dark prior to 1988 while owned by Joel Michaels Media. LNP Columnist Larry Alexander described their playlist as "All elevator music, all the time" but he also praised their local programming. It's unusual for the era,  but Sam Youse had started out at 104.1 WLAB-FM in Lebanon, PA. He was there as early as 1950., possibly earlier as that station signed on in 1948.  Pennsylvania celeb DJ Dave May worked there from 1958 to 1972 and has great first hand information in the following account:
"The station went on the air in July 1956 as a 1KW directional day timer located on top of Ephrata mountain with a two tower array. The original owner was Garden Spot Broadcasters and the managing partner was Sam Youse. Sam was an engineer (1st class phone license). In that time, it was required to have a First Class License physically on duty whenever the station was broadcasting. The chief engineer was Ralph Haneman, a WWII vet with myriad experience in all phases of electronics. The two of these persons manned the station in shifts whenever the station was on the air. Some early personnel included Johnny Wells, Lee Scott, and Ed Loder, who along with Ralph comprised the announcer/DJ staff. With great support from local business advertising, the station was profitable from the start but the workload on the staff was enormous. I was hired in January 1958 when the station was but eighteen months old."
Early staff in addition to Sam Youse, and Dave May also included chief engineer was Ralph Haneman,  Johnny Wells, Lee Scott, and Ed Loder.  I don't know that it's related but after Dave May left WGSA, Sam Youse posted a help wanted advertisement in Broadcasting Magazine "Immediate opening experienced broadcast engineer to assume duties of chief AM/FM/Stereo knowledge able automation and solid state electronics. Need good technician, good maintenance. Call or write Samuel Youse, General Manager WGSA/WIOV Ephrata PA 17522"

The station had limitations from the beginning. In 1962, the daytimer was able to increase power form 1,000 watts to 5,000 watts with a three tower directional array. But their new more powerful signal was directional to the West to protect co-channel 1310 WEMG-AM in New Jersey.

I want to state for the record that "Entertainment Radio" is not a good brand. But it was 1975 so there's some context there. Though only a minority owner, Sam Youse was still managing the station until the sale of WIOV in 1984. By then WGSA-FM had been WIOV-FM for 15 years and had dropped Easy Listening for country at least 10 years earlier and their transmitter moved to a new site to accommodate their 50k watts.

In 1984, WGSA was sold by WIOV Inc. (then owned by Brill Media) to Joel Michaels Media. Brill had only purchased WGSA and WIOV in August that same year, only waiting 4 months to dump the aging AM station. At the time Brill was more focused on getting WAGO-AM up and running in Reading, PA. That enthusiasm eventually was recorded in case law as the WAGO Vs. WEEU legal kerfuffle which is also worth reading. [LINK]
Whatever Joel Michaels Media may have planned for WGSA, they had difficulty keeping the station on air. It's listed on an old tripod site as "Off Air" [LINK]  Then in the May 1997 issue of R&R is the following sad announcement:
"Condolences to the family of Mike Rubright, who was killed in a motorcycle accident Sunday (5/11). His wife Patty who was riding with him, is in critical condition at Reading Hospital. Rubright is survived by three teenage sons."
Dave May summed up the fate of WGSA as follows:
"[The] sale of the stations and deregulation of the industry probably spelled the decline and demise of WGSA AM, and indeed the continued success of WIOV made it the desirable station purchase. AM went dark and the transmitter and towers were dismantled. WIOV continued to use the studio space and eventually scrapped the automation system... I'll always have a soft spot, though for WGSA and WIOV where I got my first full time radio job in January 1958."

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