Tube City Almanac

January 14, 2008

Up and Down the Dial

Category: History, Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

I'll wager not many McKeesporters know this, but there are two AM radio licenses allocated to Our Fair City --- WEDO (810) and WPTT (1360). Both originally signed on the air just after World War II, when hundreds of new commercial radio licenses were awarded by the FCC.

Of the two, WEDO arguably does more for the Mon-Yough area, while WPTT has a larger measurable audience.

Today, Tube City Almanac looks at WEDO, which comes first in McKeesport both alphabetically and numerically.

. . .
WEDO is one of a shrinking class of "daytimers," North American AM radio stations forced to sign off at local sunset. AM radio stations broadcast at long wavelengths and low frequencies on the dial --- thousands of cycles per second ("kiloHertz"), versus millions of cycles per second ("megaHertz") for FM stations. That causes AM signals to bounce off the atmosphere at night and travel hundreds or thousands of miles.

To limit interference, U.S. and Canadian broadcast officials require many stations to cut their transmitting power at night and clear the frequencies for older, more powerful stations. In WEDO's case, it clears the 810 channel for Schenectady, N.Y.'s 50,000-watt WGY.

(And in case you're wondering how Schenectady, population 60,000, rates a 50,000-watt, "clear channel" radio station, well, in the 1920s it was the headquarters of General Electric, which owned WGY. Then as now, it's not what you know, it's who you know.)

In the 1950s, WEDO was the training ground for a lot of great Pittsburgh broadcasters, including Adam Lynch and Al McDowell. Later in the decade, it picked up Pittsburgh's CBS Radio affiliation, carrying the network's ever-diminishing schedule until the bitter end --- 1972, when Arthur Godfrey's daily talk show ended.

For a brief time in the 1970s, WEDO carried a mix of Top 40 hits and "oldies," but its daytimer status meant that for at least half the year, it didn't have a morning show or anyone in afternoon drive.

. . .

Since the 1980s, WEDO has carried a mix of ethnic programs and paid talk shows. Indeed, for a while it had trademarked the phrase, "Your Station of Nations." At any given time of day, you might hear Polish polkas, Slovak chardas, German waltzes, or Italian pop. Or you might tune in and hear an alternative medical practitioner dispensing health advice, or a Catholic priest discussing theology.

Most of WEDO's shows are "brokered" by the hosts --- they buy the time from the station, and then sell commercials or solicit donations to cover their expenses. Any excess money is profit for the host; any deficits must be made up out of their own pockets, or they lose their time slot. In an era where giant monopolies own most radio and TV stations, WEDO remains independently owned by a Florida woman, Judith Baron.

During most of its history, WEDO's studios were Downtown, first on Fifth Avenue near the present location of the Senior Care Plaza, then on Locust Street, and finally in the Midtown Plaza Mall. It's now based in White Oak's Rainbow Village Shopping Center, in an office building next to the old Rainbow Theatres (now a Dollar General store). The transmitter is on Foster Road in North Versailles Township.

. . .

Almost all of WEDO's programs are produced by Mon-Yough area residents, so you can't fault the station for not carrying local content.

Of course, you might say that not many people want to hear polkas or health talk, but someone does, and that's a niche WEDO's hosts fill. WEDO's shows are real do-it-yourself citizen media, years before anyone had heard of the Internet or had a "blog," and if the programs sometimes sound a little bit "quaint" technically, well, most of the hosts are not professional broadcasters by trade.

From time to time, WEDO covers local events, and has aired things like debates between the candidates for mayor of McKeesport, or interviews from International Village. If the station isn't well known in the city and suburbs, chalk that up to limited resources, a limited broadcast schedule, and the difficulty of operating a stand-alone AM station when 80 percent of the audience has moved to FM.

Perhaps the current WEDO show that's most likely to attract a "mass audience" is the oldies block hosted by "Big Ray" Edwards from 2 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. (Another program with "mass appeal" is the daily Catholic Mass, which airs at 8 a.m., ha ha ha.)

. . .

No, WEDO doesn't stream its signal over the Internet, but it is available on a wireless device anywhere in the 412 area code.

In fact, WEDO receivers cost only a few dollars at any store, run for several days on flashlight batteries, provide instant access without buffering delays, and can be carried anywhere. They're called "radios."

So, this week, flip the "band" switch over to "AM" (you haven't done that in a while, have you?) and try tuning down to 810 once in a while. You might be surprised what you hear.

. . .

(Tomorrow: The long, winding history of the 1360 spot in McKeesport)

Your Comments are Welcome!

Wheeling, current population under 40,000 (but larger than Our Fair City), still has (for now) WWVA, AM 1170. Legend has it that Pittsburgh could have had more than one 50,000-watt fulltimer when all stations in North America were shifted to new frequencies on the eve of World War II, but the only company that seemed to think that necessary was Westinghouse and KDKA.
Does it matter - January 14, 2008

When you write that “In fact, WEDO receivers cost only a few dollars at any store…” you mean except for that national chain of stores whose name includes the word which is synonomous with receiver?
Bulldog - January 14, 2008

Heh heh heh. :-)

Actually, almost any retail store — Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Sears, Dollar General, Family Dollar — should have a selection of reasonably priced interfaces for receiving WEDO.

Kmart has one that starts at $7.99 (I’m sure you get what you pay for, of course):

But as for the retail chain you mentioned, it’ll be a cold day in Hell before I buy anything from them.

By the way, I would up buying my brother a Uniden Bearcat BC340CRS scanner radio … it receives AM, FM, police/fire/911 calls, CB, and weather band, and it has a built-in clock radio.

It finally arrived last week, and it’s a pretty slick little unit, especially for the price:

I might buy one for myself.
Webmaster - January 14, 2008

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