Monday, January 29, 2024

WDEL and WJIC in Salem NJ

Caveat: I do not normally watch this Youtube channel. This was sent to me in the form of a clip showing the inside of an abandoned radio station in New Jersey. From that clip I found this original video source (above). Salem is a depressed area with many abandoned buildings including this old radio studio.  The sequence is only a few minutes long. They seem to have a local contact who tours them in the rotting shell of it's rooms and equipment. There they briefly examine a record by McSweet that came out in 1989, the newest release seen on camera. The stacks of CDs are shown only in side view and probably are from the 1990s. 

I cringed every time one of the teenagers refers to a stack of LPs as "vinyls" but the station itself is interesting all the way down to the moss and mushrooms growing out of sodden record sleeves. But in in the end I had to watch on mute. The site appears to have become a stop on the urban explorer highway appearing in multiple other videos.

The segment that I saw starts around the 8-minute mark. The brand name KISS 101.7 FM actually refers to WDEL-FM licensed to nearby Canton, NJ. With the transmitter that far into South Jersey, the coverage area shoots across the Delaware Bay and into the Delmarva peninsula blanketing parts of both Delaware and Maryland. Only about half the coverage area is in New Jersey at all, and  Salem is quite north of the epicenter. Our first clues are the logoed items shown on camera. On a desk they find a 1150 WJIC-AM branded folder on a desk, in another room a WJIC 1510 AM News talk radio bumper Sticker adorns an equipment rack, a plain red "15•X" sticker is seen briefly on another door.

So lets look at the history of these two stations and find the connection. They start as brand new CPs under Vernon Baker. The FM stick signed on in January of 1972, the station signed on as 101.7 WNNN as a Vernon Baker station. Baker was based on Blacksburg and ran mostly Christian Contemporary stations. He was an engineer and a bit of a character, I will probably do a bio at some point. WNNN also was a contemporary christian station and in 1978 P.J.F. Broadcasters Inc. bought both WNNN and WJIC from Vernon Baker. Baker remained active in radio for decades after this. Why did he sell out? Well, there is a whole story there.  

There was a FCC case in 1975 that didn't go well for him, in FCC Docket 20268. Vernon was also 75% owner in Town and Country Radio inc. There were two mutually exclusive applications for a radio station in Suffolk, VA between T&C and another company Tidewater. That's Vernon's backyard. Tidewater had some pretty notable funding issues but Baker became the focus of the case. The case basically said that Vernon's staffing practices were racist enough at WNNN and WJIC that the FCC should not award him the CP. It starts with a EEO complaint from a community group named Voice of the People, Suffolk VA. I'll quote the relevant section here:
"Voice alleges that serious questions are raised as to whether T&C will operate its proposed facility in a manner consistent with Section 73.301 of the Commission's R in light of the past employment practices  at seven other broadcast stations in which Vernon H. Baker, 75% over of T&C, holds ownership interests. In support of its request, Voice attaches the Annual Employment Reports (FCC Form 395, 1971-1974), of broadcast stations wholly or partly owned by Vernon H. Baker. Voice points to the fact that the employment report reveals an absence of any full-time minority persons at any of these stations while the minority population statistics for the communities range from 12.5 percent to 52.7 percent."
The Commission didn't mince words at all in their decision. They put the burden of proof on Town and Country, and granted the request from the Voice of the People. Round two was in 1977, the FCC found Bakers EEO efforts to be wanting to say the least. The short version is that T&C lost the CP bid because Managers under Vernon Baker had been refusing to hire black people.
"...the record does indicate that Baker's stations have made a sorry and ineffectual effort at affirmative action, and that only under the pressure of events... Yet, he did little or nothing to correct the situation... It is concluded that this record fails to demonstrate that Town and Country will actually operate it's station in a matter consistent with rule 73.301, and, in light of that conclusion, it is further concluded that Town and Country lacks the requisite qualifications to be a Commission licensee.
Anyway, back to New Jersey. In 1992 Steve Hare [SOURCE] came a long and started 89.1 WXHL in Christiana, DE broadcasting the same format as WNNN with less preaching and in stereo. It killed WNNN's listenership on that side of the river. So QC Communications purchased the station from P.J.F. in 1997 and flipped the station to urban adult contemporary format as "Kiss 101.7", using the call sign WJKS. That's the banner we see in the main room, roughly dating the time of the studio's closure. In 2015, QC Communications sold WJKS to Delmarva Broadcasting, who had already been operating the station under LMA for a year. Delmarva flipped WJKS to a simulcast of 1150 WDEL. The call sign flipped to WDEL-FM to match expanding the coverage of that news-talker. That's the latest possible date I imagine for the studio closure.

The AM stick on 1510 started in 1966 as WJIC ("Jersey Information Center") broadcasting an MOR format at 250 watts. It's important to note that WRAN-AM signed on in1964 [SOURCE] also on 1510 but out of Dover, NJ blocking it's coverage to the north, focusing WJIC on South Jersey and the Delaware bay area. Most of Vernon's stations were Christian music so this one stands out as an oddball. In 1978 P.J.F. Broadcasters Inc. bought the station with WNNN. Lets ignore the period of time it spent as a country station as Country WJIC from 1981 to 1990-ish. Jersey Country is a think we don't talk about. Like most MOR stations it migrated to a News/Talk format by the 1990s. According to a cache of the old Pirate Jim Page in late 1997 QC Communications flipped the station to a Christian format as "Faith 1510" and adopted the calls WNNN and in 2001 changed the calls to WFAI to match. 

In December 2014, QC Communications sold both stations; WFAI and WJKS to the Delmarva Broadcasting Co.  The story keeps going of course. Forever Media bought Delmarva Broadcasting in early 2019. In October of 2019, WFAI-AM flipped to urban AC and the Jammin' 96.9 brand returned to Salem now simulcasting on translator W245CJ, with the new calls WVJJ. In 2021 WVJJ changed again becoming a simulcast of country-formatted WXCY-FM 103.7 FM out of Havre de Grace, MD with yet another set of calls WXCY. It's somewhat of a return to that unmentionable "Just Country WJIC" format in the 1980s.  They tried another change just this year. In October of 2023, Forever Media leased WXCY to the Voice Radio Network. It's now simulcasting their "Maxima 104.1" Spanish CHR programming. That originates at 99.5 WVCW in Wilmington. That begat a call sign change to WOCQ.

There's a little footnote to this story. The station is currently simulcast on a little 250 watt translator, W281CM at 104.1. That translator too has been around the block. Originally operated by Maranatha Ministries, as W289BY on 105.7. It was transferred to Ritmo Broadcasting in 2015 and began broadcasting Spanish CHR “Ritmo 96.9/105.7” from the HD3 subchannel of “Mix 99.5” WJBR-FM. They did the CP to move the translator to 104.1. In August 2023, Beasley agreed to sell WJBR-FM to VCY America, after the sale, the station turned off the HD channels so there's no going back. Ritmo sold W245CJ to Forever Media to simulcast their gospel station “Faith 1510” WFAI. More here.

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