Monday, April 27, 2020

WUSS: The United States of Soul!

The radio metro Atlantic City - Cape May is a mixed market. The chart is a top 15 and in addition to local stations, a third of the list are stations which also chart in Philly and then a few radio stations Trenton. But that's a geographic problem with New Jersey. Most of their radio band is sandwiched in between the major metros of New York and Philadelphia, and in addition to Trenton also the Allentown-Bethlehem, Sussex and Wilmington MSAs.  The markets are easily 85% rimshot. So I'd like to zoom in on the history of a station that's 100% Atlantic City and always has been: WUSS.

In 1940 the local Atlantic City radio market was just one station 1200 WBAB-AM. There were no other local stations. Actually, at the time there were only 11 radio station in all of New Jersey, and some of those shared time. See below:

City Frequency Call sign Licensee
Asbury Park 1280 WCAP Radio Industries Broadcast Co.
Atlantic City 1200 WBAB Press Union Publishing
Bridgeton 1210 WSNJ Eastern States Broadcasting
Camden 1280 WCAM City of Camden
Jersey City 940 WAAT Bremer Broadcasting Corp.
Jersey City 1450 WHOM New Jersey Broadcasting Corp
Newark 1250 WHBI May Radio Broadcast Corp
Newark 710 WOR Bamberger Broadcasting Service
Redbank 1210 WBRB Monmouth Broadcasting
Trenton 1280 WTNJ WOAX Inc.
Zarephath 1350 WAWZ Pillar of Fire

As you can see above WTNJ, WCAP and WCAM had a three-way share time agreement, but in addition to that WHBI and WNEW has a share-time arrangement as did WBRB, WFAS and WGBB. But before the end of 1939 WBAB was part of a lawsuit with WILM and WAZL to stop Neptune Broadcasting from executing a CP for a new station on 1420 kHz in Atlantic City. (that station would be WFPG) Their entire basis was "economic injury", essentially arguing the metro can't support three stations. This would turn out to be prophetic. Strangely the FCC docket claims there are 12 radio stations in New Jersey, listing WPG as the only other stick in Atlantic city. Regardless of the other merits of that lawsuit, 1100 WPG was off air by 1940. The station was owned by Atlantic City municipal government and was on a share-time arrangement with WLWL in New York. It was sold in 1937 to John Iraci and Arde Bulova, who were trying to consolidate radio properties to make WOV a full-time station.They shuttered it and gave those hours to WLWL, later becoming WNEW.

So from the sign off of WPG in 1939 to the sign on of WFPG in 1941 WBAB was the only radio station in Atlantic City. They operated as a CBS affiliate in the 1940s and in the broadcasting annual of 1941 you can see that they're moving to 1230 kHz, but by the time the 1942 annual was published they were already on 1490. It was a clearly a quick frequency shuffle. It wasn't until 1947 that another local CP was approved and 1340 WMID made them a trio, unless you also count 100.7 WBAB-FM which had signed on in May of 1947.
WBAB went off the air in 1949. (Some guides list them as late as 1951.) But the cause was litigious. The Press Union lost the licenses of WBAB-AM and FM due to "unauthorized transfer of control" of the those stations. The case was notable enough to be referenced in multiple subsequent FCC rulings.

In 1955 a new CP was granted to Atlantic City Broadcasting for 1490 in Atlantic City. This station was to be WLDB. This is where the history gets really interesting. As late as 1974 WLDB was just another NBC affiliate playing a lot of country music.  But I noticed that in the 1956 Broadcasting Annual the station was listed as airing 10 hours of "Negro" programming. That's certainly not the most in New Jersey, but it was the most in Atlantic City. Perhaps that was something that foreshadowed the station's future. 

City Frequency Call sign Hours of Negro Programming
Atlantic City 1450 WFPG 4 hours
Atlantic City 1490 WLDB 10 hours
Atlantic City 1340 WMID 7 hours
Bridgeton 1210 WSNJ 1 hour
Camden 1310 WCAM 77 hours
Camden 800 WKDN 0.5 hours
Newark 1280 WHBI 19.5 hours
Newark 1430 WNJR 130 hours
Trenton 1260 WBUD 7 hours
Trenton 920
2.5 hours
Wildwood 1230 WCMC 0.25 hours

In November of 1974 WLDB was bought by the Atlantic City Community Broadcasting Inc. (ACCBI). In come documents they are listed as the Atlantic Business Community Development Corporation (ABCD). The corporation was owned by a group of local African-American businessmen. The station went dark in April and 2 weeks later a soul station debuted. By 1976 they had changed the callsign to WUSS which stood for ("We're the United States of Soul!") and the format was changed to focus on the black community. The station was a member of both the Mutual Black Network and the National Black Network but so were WNJR and WTNJ by 1977.

This 20-year stretch was the stations strongest period, lasting into the 1990s. The ringleader of the group was Larry Hayes. He had been a DJ at WFOX in Milwaukee, WI;  KFIW in Fort Leonard Wood, MO; WJLD and WENN in Birmingham, AL;  WGPR in Detroit, MI; and both KALO and KOKY in Little Rock , AR. Hayes left his career in Birmingham under strange circumstances. A big Atlantic City property owner Jim "JC" Cuffee helped make the arrangements. How J.C. and Hayes connected I don't know. But I do know Jim Cuffee is a man who should have a book written about him. His name comes up in news articles about Liberia, the infamous Klinic Hotel, Black nationalist movements, and the civil rights movement. He's a ghost in the machine.

WUSS attracted star talent like Larry Hicks, Larry Hayes, Lee "Brown Sugar" Sherman, Ron Allen, Eddie O'Jay, Stan Brooks, Cooks Books, Kingsley Smith, Ellis B. "Bruce Ellis" Feaster, Vernon Robbins, Cleo Rowe, and William K. Fisher. DJs Vernon “Boogie Child” Robbins, and Curtis Grey were former WLDB staff they inherited. But they also reputedly inherited a debt of $300,000 from WLDB. There was a sheriffs sale of some of their equipment, which was bought up by rain-maker Jim Cuffee; thus settling their legacy debt. Nonetheless the station never did well financially. More here.

Most station histories attribute the fall of WUSS to the general trend away from music on AM band. That certainly didn't help. However, WUSS actually lost their license in 1990 at renewal time. The owners of ACCBI; Larry Hayes, and Fred "Eric" Anderson, had some hard questions from the FCC about their EEO policy. They had complaints, and had been sued and then had subsequently concealed it in later FCC filings. This is very naughty. In 1990 the Commission made a decision which included the most cutting remarks I've ever seen in one them publish:
"The facts surrounding Mr. Hayes failure to report the case are not the only issue of concern. The Commission has long had rules that prohibit broadcasting stations from discriminating against female employees... Mr. Hayes ultimate fall back position was that he thought that the only discrimination that the Commission cared about was race discrimination. There is overwhelming evidence that he knew this was not the truth... During his testimony Mr. Hayes was untruthful and withheld true facts about his conduct. He frequently had to be confronted with objective evidence before he would agree to the facts as they really were... he engaged in conduct as a station manager which is contrary to Commission rules and policy, and he lied in the course of a Commission proceeding about his conduct. ACCBI is not qualified to become a Commission licensee."

Lenore Frazier had filed suit against the station, the company, GM Larry Hayes and 10 John Does in a 1985 lawsuit for sexual harassment, and for unlawful termination over those very grievances. The Superior court in New Jersey ruled in her favor and awarded compensatory and punitive damages.  On May 15, 1986 the ACCBI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Their landlord/benefactor Jim Cuffee tried to evict the radio station and padlocked the doors. WUSS went dark and ACCBI had to sue him. Eventually Cuffee won out, probably as their main creditor. In 1991 radio guides list him as the station president. But by the 1996 guide the station is listed as silent.

To his credit, Jim tried to run the station for years. The station rebranded as "1490 JAMs" but continued to decline. After a short period of running satellite-fed programming, it went silent in late 1995. WUSS was in the hands of court-appointed trustee Allan B. Mendelson by March of 1996; Cuffee was selling. South Jersey Radio already owned WOND in Atlantic City, so to buy WUSS they required a waiver, which the FCC granted.

South Jersey Radio changed the station's city of license to Pleasantville, NJ and relocated its antenna to the WOND broadcasting site. The call letters were changed to WGYM and the format flipped to sports talk. Things declined more. In 2001 the WUSS calls returned and they tried a gospel format. they tried simulcasting WTKU, WIP, WOND, even WBON. In 2005 they tried the Air America network and the new calls of WTAA. Today they are running syndicated "sports betting radio" as WBSS. Where is Jim Cuffee when you need him?

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