Pictured above the stations' letterhead on the left, Washington's FIRST 50,000 watt stereo station had to be revised - originally the south-facing World Building sign said Washington's ONLY 50,000 watt stereo station, but as the 1960's progressed, we ended up with several stations with that much Effective Radiated Power (I'm told WGAY-FM was a 20,000 watt RCA transmitter equipped with multiplex capability but that combined with HAAT (Height Above Average Terrain) with the tower 10 stories up on top of the World Building, the ERP was 50,000 watts. I just know it had a great signal in Montgomery County. To the right, the 1950s with the original art-deco building at 11306 Kemp Mill Road (built in 1947) depicted with a car, I'm not sure of the make, painted brightly with the WGAY calls/frequency/etc.
5/17/2017 I fixed (I think) the great photogallery of the World Building installation, pictures provided (and the story) by Tom DeBray, click the link here to read, picture gallery link at top right of Tom's article:
Washington and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs had the greatest in radio talent. Here's Gordon Peterson with a series about Washington radio, and you'll recognize many of the stars, though it's a nostalgia piece, radio of today is "pretty lame" (per me). From 1981, thanks to Mark Rockman for the research!
4/4/2017, from DCRTV relayed to me by Bob Bell, a note on DCRTV from Bob Gotkin comes the sad news that Dave Deforest, heard for years on WGAY (and WEZR) has died at age 64; he had been with Voice of America for twenty years. Wow, it really brings back memories of hearing his name, I believe that at least on the half-hour news the announcer gave his or her name. I don't have any airchecks of "live WQMR/WGAY" except what's already here, but I certainly remember his name and voice.
I've been told that a lot of announcers at "non-rock" radio stations went to VOA as rock obliterated everything else. The fond memories are still there, I listened to WQMR on my first transistor radio circa 1960 (it wasn't very good, but I had an All-American 5 (tube) radio (Made In Japan) as well. It was always great to be able to have a radio station you could always tune in and hear "quality music" and the headlines on the hour, with a few actual minutes of news on the half-hour, the station really was a great service to the community. They even ran a sort of community bulletin board thing (I think it was about 5 minutes, at about 6am... I was rarely awake that early, but I did often hear "The Breakfast Table Edition of WQMR News" - I think that was 10 or 15 minutes of news at 8am... those were the days, great albums of beautiful music from the Connie B. Gay station(s) for Washington... (they played tracks, not albums, of course, but the meaning is still there; I used to have some mid 1950's WASH-FM listings where they DID play records straight through (Faith, Fiedler, Broadway,etc., I believe they did this a few hours a day but were classical the rest of the time. I just remember my father setting up an AM and FM radio for "simulcast stereo" experimental broadcasts on WASH and WDON. Memories!
Scroll down a way and see newly discovered Christmas WGAY-AM pix from (I think) 1951 9/3/2013
Detective Bell sent the above referenced Christmas card, as well as the letter that was a well-written "we want more business" promotional effort by Joe Brechner from 1954 (admittedly, at around a year and a half old, as old as I am, I was not listening to the station at that point... this isn't interesting but I notice in 1954 the phone number was 589-1050 so it got dialtone from the Silver Spring central office quite a way down Georgia Avenue; by 1959 it was 946-1050 meaning it was "rehomed" to the "new" Wheaton #5 Crossbar office (now a #5 ESS). Still quite a distance in another direction. Ah, the wireline days.
12/17/2014 - an email from Joe Brechner's son Berl. It is quite an honor to hear from Berl -
click below for... (pdf format)
©2009 Richard O'Connor
A great, comprehensive article by Dick O'Connor that details the origins of the Beautiful Music format and it's development! This is a must read; it details how the format came to be and those responsible for its creation across the country. Click the link to see the .pdf file!
The Christmas card shown below appears to be postmarked 1951. The station began operations as WGAY AM 1050 in November 1946 and appeared to have a "generalist" format (a little bit of everything). I can tell you first-hand, that in the early 1960's (Connie B. Gay bought the station in 1959) my family drove by the station on Kemp Mill Road in Wheaton every weekend. Though a very distant memory they still had a Christmas wreath on the front door at Christmas; it's a great find by Bob Bell and caused me (gasp) to UPDATE, finally, the WQMR/WGAY section. I got quite a kick out seeing the idealized (who knows, in 1951 maybe the stars sparkled, snow adorned the grass and trees, etc. I was born in 1952 so let's just say the combination of snow and Christmas was on the rare side, and even in the early 1960's the building... er... didn't look quite so ideal. But on a Christmas card given out by the talent of a little station in Wheaton, glass bricks and all (a full sized studio for live radio too, I was told by the late Doug Bailey who ran an ad agency in Rockville, and for about two years had a daily broadcast on WGAY in the late 1950's (could have been the early 1960's) where he'd use piano, electronic organ (yes, a Hammond) and often vocal accompaniment. It was, no doubt, one of the last "live" musical daily shows done at the station.
Before his death, Doug Bailey had intended to write a detailed book about Washington area radio and television stations, their studio facilities, and talent. I believe it would have told us the story of broadcasting in the area from the late 1930's through about 1960.
In the spring of 1960 WGAY-AM became WQMR-AM, Washington's Quality Music Radio, one of the pioneering stations in the country with back-to-back music in quarter hour segments (less if they were well sponsored :)
I'm not sure what went on with FM in the early days. Art MacDougall (who died many years ago) told me of a low-power experimental FM broadcast, and when CBG bought the station (of course) he played country-western music on it. Hours were limited, and so was fidelity; I was told that it was often fed music from - yes - a jukebox. FM was still "experimental." In early 1962 the 20,000 watt FM transmitter was added (same building, sharing the same tower) and now both WQMR and WGAY played "quality music" - AM signed off at sundown as always, but FM carried on until 9pm and eventually until midnight. A shiny new transmitter which was lifted to the "Top of the World Building" by helicopter - twice - the wrong model was delivered the first time. Now WGAY-FM was broadcasting "quality music" (great albums of beautiful music to be exact) 24/7 in S T E R E O, this was in the spring of 1965. WQMR remained the daytimer favorite (lots of people didn't have FM in their homes/offices/cars in 1965, but quickly adopted them). As the 1960's got toward 1968 or so, WGAY-FM was the highly promoted hi-fidelity stereo station. Elsewhere on this website you'll see pictures of WQMR-AM's tower/remote controlled (from the World Building) transmitter located at Sligo Golf Course not far from where Georgia Avenue underpass is located below; and the World Building was close to the District Line at 8121 Georgia Avenue.
I believe "Fiddlin'" Curly Smith was heard on the "classic" WGAY; they seemed to have segments of many kinds of music; Music In The Air was a really early "quality music" show though I don't know when it began to appear on WGAY-AM. I know that in the late 1950's other stations were taking notice of the Percy Faith/Andre Kostelanetz/Ray Conniff sounds, WASH (then purely classical) began to broadcast entire "mood music" Lp's and even had a "narrated" show that used the Original Cast albums (a lot of credit for that goes to Goddard Leiberson of Columbia Records - he was THE pioneer of the OC album.
These were the days that radio was a "must listen" - and it meant a lot to those of us "aging boomers."
I think the postmark is 1951 on this card from "Fiddlin' Curly Smith" in the "generalist" format days of WGAY-AM. Detective Bob Bell found this on Ebay. Now you know what the call letters stood for.
I remember in the early 1960's at Christmas that wreath as depicted in the artwork below was indeed put on the door, but honestly the little building didn't look quite so much in the holiday spirit. Most Christmas days or eves/weekends were bereft of snow and I never saw and twinkling stars. I'm sure that it must be Christmas eve, because there was likely no one at the station hence no footprints, much less the sidewalk cleared (yes, I know, it's an ARTIST'S DEPICTION. There was another art-deco building not too far away, for the original WTOP-1500AM blowtorch station. I remember it didn't look good outside, the sign was rusted, who would care anyway. WQMR was gone (the building seen here) not long after the AM transmitter and tower had to be moved to Sligo; but I guess WTOP is still there, I dunno, I don't live there anymore. When Connie B. Gay and "great albums of beautiful music" came to town, I remember dimly that the call letters for WQMR and WGAY were shown, but not on the same facia. Evidently they couldn't find two "W's" because one W was red while the other letters matched, a kind of dark blue. I can't remember if the red W was for QMR or GAY. Trivia, maybe there's a photo somewhere...
Late 1950's MYSTERIES about WGAY's music
Charles Polinger provided two "top 40" lists and they're telling of yet another 1950's top 40 formatted station - except I've was told in the past by the late station engineer Warde Boote that the station played a great deal of good music; in particular he thought MUSIC IN THE AIR went all the way back to the stations' beginnings (which would be 1947). My theory and it's only a theory (and it's only a theory). I've seen enough ads for early 1950's WGAY-AM-1050 daytimer to lead me to believe it was a "generalist" format (tried to please everyone). A little of this, a little of that, punctuated by ad-based call-ins, cooking shows, and all sorts of music. I only know of a bit of the station history, from 1966 through 1975 and my knowledge drops off as the years go past 1975, though I did still listen occasionally and the "gradual decline towards rock/pop" was a real thing (the death of Quality Music for Washington!) Getting back to the 1950's my theory is that the station "messed around" with different formats (I was once told even when Connie B. Gay bought the station in 1959 he tried several formats before trying the NEW back-to-back mostly instrumental format born of classical stations beginning to play "orchestral pops" - it could very well be that in, say 1958 or 1959 the station DID have a top-40 year or two; still I have no doubt that "different dayparts" yielded different sounds, and even if rock-and-roll, Music In The Air would be heard on Sundays (I had the idea that it was sometimes Sundays only, then both Saturday and Sunday, then back to Sunday only, then it was gone; but it was billed on air as "Washington's Longest Running Radio Program." I believe it was the work of Chuck Dulane and possibly Val Thomas but that's just a guess. I was 6 years old in 1958 and didn't listen to the station until I was 8! Charles sent two of these "lists" but for visual quality the one shown below is a better scan. NOTE: As I've said annoyingly before I'd love to have programming lists/air checks from WQMR/WGAY from 1947 (yeah, sure) up through 1965 but have yet to find anything!
I do vaugely
remember reading an article in the Washington Star, I believe, that told of
great churn when CBG instituted the Quality Music format. Announcers
who had been DJ's (radio-type) talked a great deal, and the new format was
very strictly scripted. I don't remember if some of the announcers
left (what's wrong with me) or not. I do know that when the station
moved toward rock and beautiful music was going away, the Voice of America
acquired several announcers who weren't
Memories? Do you remember the Bernie Harrison Show? How about way back in the pre-stereo days, The Secret Sound Game? I'm not sure when the feature ran, but remember never coming close to recognizing the "secret sounds." Must have been 1963 or 1964-ish. Notice in the newspaper ad (above) (for Bernie Harrison's show) WQMR was mentioned as both AM and FM, a tad misleading, FM was WGAY. This was all a long time ago, and though I'd like more details on the WQMR "flip" when CBG bought the station, the information is not easy to find and memories conflict (especially mine). Back to Bernie Harrison for a second - though this ad is from the WaPo, wasn't his newspaper column in the long-forgotten Washington Star?
The Complete WQMR Concerto (windows media format)
Pictured at the top of the page, WGAY in its Wheaton, Maryland post-war building (1947 I think, here pictured in the early 50's with the WGAY-mobile) that was largely untouched until the move to Silver Spring, which began in 1965... 11306 Kemp Mill Road, Wheaton, Maryland, phone WHitehall6-1050! In 1960 the WGAY calls in the picture became WQMR (WGAY was put back on the building on another angle, see the brochure picture in the "sights" link). This site is all about a radio station from long ago that existed in an entirely different environment. Radio used to be an exciting medium. Radio now is talk shows and shock jocks. I prefer to live in the past, so join me during your visit here!
Where exactly was WQMR/WGAY on Kemp Mill Road... so much time has passed... detective Bob Bell did this splendid research!
WQMR with WGAY-FM - circa 1965 - KEMP MILL ROAD studio in the white art-deco building (top of the page), that brought the Washington area the Quality Music Radio sound - Tom DeBray at the controls, Tom designed the studios and equipment that were to bring the station into a new stereo era in the spring of 1966, the World Building, shown below. This picture is the first time I've seen the "insides" of WQMR on Kemp Mill Road, and I'm most grateful to Tom for letting us all see it. Yes, the quarter hour clusters, not back-titled then, and the WQMR themed harp played between EVERY selection which provided continuity and continual station identification. In the SOUNDS section of this site you can hear a few of the "original" circa 1960 harps. I'm not sure if the "new" harps, tape-delayed for a stereo effect, were introduced prior to the move to the World Building or if they may have been used for a time in the 1964-65 time frame.
Starting in 1965, the station began the move to larger, modern (beautiful studio with the finest equipment) quarters at 8121 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, as seen on the right. I believe the "WGAY 99.5 STEREO" was a revision, somewhere in the dusty recesses of my brain I recall something like "WGAY 50,000 WATTS STEREO" but don't have a picture. Below, another shot looking northward from the DC direction, and a couple shots looking southward from the Silver Spring direction. Originally, the southbound traffic saw "WQMR 1050" on the side of the building. It was changed, late as I recall, to WGAY 1050 when the 'QMR calls were dropped for AM 1050, and eventually to just "WGAY 99.5" as the AM side was sold.
Many thanks to Arthur McDougall (engineer at the station in the 50's), Mark Rockman, Dave Schweikart, and Tom Buckley for the photographs!
THE WORLD BUILDING!
Robert Morris was at WGAY in 1972 - and he indicates Bob Gotkin was there as well, and I've added them to the announcers list. He also reminded me that Bob Chandler, the boss, should be in that list as well! By the way, my caption in the upper right side of the picture above is HUGE because it has to be, the picture is a composite of two originals submitted by Robert Morris and enhanced by Bob Bell as one composite picture. Shown at the top of the above picture is the multicolored (sepia toned here, sorry), backlit "control panel" that allowed the board operator to easily discern important information - I think the dark panel bottom right flashed for the telephone "ringing" - I think one was E.B.S., one for FM Transmitter On, one for AM Transmitter on (or was it off, which it was a lot since it was a daytimer). To the right one of the two Fisher speakers, the GATES stereo board, a C&P Telephone (AT&T) 1A2 6-button key set (hey, no * or # keys - just a 10 digit keypad... how did they survive?) and the monstrous EMT Gotham turntables - fascinating devices (somewhere I have another picture from a hi-fi collector's site). They used a plastic disc that rode atop a VERY heavy "capstan" - the sub-turntable weighed 30 pounds, I believe. The platter on top of this massive capstan provided instant start and stop as it "slipped" with a solenoid pushing it from the side in the "off" position. The commercials, ID's, harps, came from the very high quality stereo carts you see on top (Cartmasters, made locally, high quality). On the right is a picture of Larry Lambrose at the controls, cart tapes behind him, and the controls that appear to be above the tapes are really the top of a floor mounted cabinet that served as remote transmitter controls for FM up on the roof and AM at Sligo (when it came time to turn off WQMR at sunset, I believe one cart was able to be "split" to AM only and the WQMR signoff was played, and once that finished he'd have to "push the button" on the transmitter remote control cabinet to put the AM transmitter at Sligo Golf Course to bed at sunset. The signoff, done over the WQMR concerto, held the optimism that you either had an FM radio and were too dumb to have it turned on already, or now that WQMR was saying saynonara, you'd make the change (actually it was a clever way to remind the audience that the great albums of beautiful music could be heard on WGAY until midnight (then 24 hours a day after 1966)... (signoff played over AM only - 'At this time, WQMR's programming of quality music switches exclusively to WGAY, at 99.5 on the FM band...) These great photos are vintage 1972. If you look closely beneath the volume POTS on the board, there is a row of clear plastic buttons. One very cool custom feature of this studio was that the spots, harps, records, everything, could be tightly queued without reaching around, as these start/stop switches led to a relay rack then back to the equipment. All this was designed, I believe, by Tom DeBray in 1965-66. Robert points out the devices seen in the picture on the left at the top right are transmitter logging devices, and behind this door to the left were the teletypes for the rip 'n read headlines on the hour and a few minutes of news on the half-hour.
Speaking of pictures...
LEE REYNOLDS speaking before the Stereo Sennheisers!
In this picture circa 1966-1967, Mr. Reynolds has his photo taken at a sharp angle looking down from the front left of the board. It holds some details that I was delighted to see, especially the row of pushbuttons to start/stop everything, including a NAB-hub console Ampex open reel that can be seen hiding at the far right of the picture. Lee Reynolds? Aging boomers will remember him from children's programs in the 50's and early 60's on WTTG-TV, most notably perhaps as Captain Tugg! Mr. Reynolds spent a short time at WQMR/WGAY, then went to the Mutual Radio Network before becoming THE voice of WETA Television for a quarter-century!
It is with great sadness that I learned from Mark Rockman, who sent me notification from Dave's DCRTV web pages, that we have lost Lee Reynolds, Captain Tugg to me as a kid and the voice of WETA Television and WETA-FM as I grew up. Sad news and a great talent we will miss. (1/28/2014)
Jules Henry and Mike Handley allowed me to visit the studios to watch in fascination the precision, often lightning pace at which they could work with "live turntables" and load carts for spots and harps, flash edit rip 'n read news, answer the phone, and never (well, almost never) miss a beat. Jules died a few years ago, and I recently heard from Mike Handley who moved to Iceland and did voiceovers and voice projects, then moved back to the States; Mike died not long after returning to the USA. Mike gave the eulogies at the funerals of both Connie B. Gay and Bob Chandler.
(just to clarify, Bob Chandler did not pioneer the WQMR/WGAY format of beautiful music, that dates back to 1960 with Ed Winton, but when Ed left for sunny Florida, Bob Chandler, who joined the station in 1965, maintained the sophisticated sound of the beautiful music format that Ed had started, and all the changes he made to the "format" of the station were always gradually introduced, and carefully crafted for the listeners!)
At some point in the tower "at the top o' the World Building" became semi-symbolic as WGAY-FM hopped over to the WDCA/WETA/etc. tower on River Road; the signal got there via microwave from a dish mounted on the "then symbolic" tower. I believe the transmitter remained for backup purposes, though it didn't help during one of the fires in the studio, rather WKYS loaned a tape deck or two and some studio space so Bob Chandler could get back on the air quickly. I do remember vividly (but not THAT vividly because I don't know what year it was) awakening in shock hearing wonderful music and even the HARPS that had gone missing for several years. I was pretty sure that I had lost my mind. Somehow I was put through to a rather hyper Bob Chandler, see what in the heck was going on, and he told me of the fire and WKYS favor, and that he had grabbed some of those old 12-6am Sunday night/Monday morning tapes when the board was bypassed for maintenance and that was what I was hearing. The WQMR calls are now in use by a Maryland Eastern Shore talk-formatted radio station.
Speaking of symbolic: time whitewashes everything - even the World Building. A 2006 photo by Mark Rockman of our non-broadcasting World Building (unless you count cell phones and the like as true broadcasting)
Robert Morris writes:
When I was at WGAY in 1972, much in response to WRC-FM going
Bill notes in a postscript to the above - if I'm not mistaken, WRC-FM went to beautiful music - locally very well done and soon gave up local programming for Syndicated Shulke (SRP) which forced a call letter change to WKYS and the music was not the result of a library or programming talent in-house initially used, rather it was a SHULKE client - syndicated, packaged programming for a new generation of radio stations that had no ability, knowledge or desire to program beautiful music themselves. Programming was provided on NAB open reels, and Washington DC also had another major syndicator (Bonneville, providing music for WJMD). You have to respect the fact that WQMR/WGAY were one of the pioneers, bringing us what became known as the "beautiful music" format in 1960, NOT 1972! So I can well understand Bob Chandler's reaction as noted above!
Bernie Harrison, Radio-TV columnist for the Washington Star, notes the move to the "resplendent new studios atop the world building..." Bernie had a daily 5-minute broadcast, I believe it was at 4:55 Monday-Friday on WQMR-WGAY until his death. The picture on the right depicts the real view of the block where the World Building is located (OK, not quite real, it's a perfect Mr. Bill view and you can see Mr. Hands on the rooftop of ... is that... the fire station? Ohhhh Nnnooooo!!! Anyway, photo sent to me by Dave Statter, of a model RR setup crafted by Nick Sklias. Courtesy of Bob Bell, we now know eggzactly where Giffords was located! In fact... here's a picture from 30 odd years prior! Note that only aging boomers are likely to remember the Mr. Bill Show on Saturday Night Live...
We have lost Art McDougall, pictured below, he died of cancer on Sunday, July 9, 2006 at 2:30 am. I am very grateful for the emails and photos he sent via email over the last couple of years, and my condolences to all who will miss him. - Bill
ART McDOUGALL provided the classic "bubblemobile" Plymouth? or Dodge? picture at the top of this page, in front of our (snif) long-gone WQMR/WGAY art-deco building, with those ever-cool glass bricks... and here's a picture of Art - at WGAY-AM, long before mood music, and it would be another decade before Connie B. Gay became the station owner! Many thanks to Art for a classic picture!
Art follows this with another picture he just found, another glimpse into the pre-Connie B. Gay WGAY-AM (I believe Art is working on a log as the station engineer). check out the mono board, with the ?RCA? ribbon mike on the left with the WGAY calls.
"You're tuned to WQMR, 1050 on Standard Radio - with WGAY, at 99.5 on the FM Band"
Bill Hamlin sent in a couple pics from WMJD and WEZR (we lost Bill to cancer in February 2008)
There were rumors of other radio stations on the dial at the very same time WQMR was broadcasting beautiful music! In celebration of that, thanks to Tom Gauger, I've included a few "new" clips from those great days when Ed Walker and Tom worked together when Harden and Weaver would go on vacation! They were great weeks to listen to H&W. Tom gives the time in these clips so they must be from occasions when Ed Walker dropped in on Tom during his regular show. Also hear THE MUSIC SCENE, the music by Pat Williams that Tom used to close his show for 17 years. Also for good measure, an example of his show closing - fast-paced fun. Radio wasn't always insulting and hateful; it was a joy to turn on, as a matter of fact; what a concept! So visit the "sounds" page to hear these clips. Below is a photo of Tom with the late Bob Omand, who Tom describes as "my favorite engineer." Scenic Greentree studio, I dunno what that thing is above Tom's head, some sort of telemetry recorder??? Emergency something or other? Fancy Scotch Tape dispenser?
In April, 1959, the popular/DJ intensive WGAY-AM, a 1000-watt daytime radio station, in Silver Spring, Maryland (more like Wheaton, Maryland) brought us "mood music" broadcast back-to-back in quarter hour "clusters" of instrumental, back-to-back music. I'm told there were parallel or earlier developments in NJ (WPAT?) and KABL in Los Angeles, but these were all the pioneers of Beautiful Music radio, which in our area was called "Washington's Quality Music Radio."
The "really truly early" days of WGAY AM & FM (that's right, read on) are kind of before my time (though I was born in 1952, now a recently retired geezer, I didn't start listening until 1960). Correspondence with Arthur McDougall, (who died last year) (now engineer at WGAY throughout most of the 1950's, brings some new perspectives (just wish I had some tapes to listen to!) - Music In The Air was evidently a staple of WGAY for a long, long time, I remember it being billed as the "longest running radio program in Washington.") Evidently it was a "good music" show that was broadcast years before the station went with the CBG/Ed Winton "quality music" format. Mr. McDougall recalls that when Connie B. Gay first purchased the station, he instituted rock and roll; prior to that the station appears to have been a 'generalist' station with a little of this and a little of that. Lots of country, lots of pop, and some mood music too. Back in the 50's it was owned by John Kluge and Joe Brechner. Engineer McDougall stayed with the station until about 1959 and then went with WPIK in Alexandria, before moving to Orlando to work, once again, with Joe Brechner at his new television station. In the 50's, Ernie Tannen was Program Director.
Fidlin' Curly Smith had a "hillbilly" music show; Val Thomas did many on-air hours and his shows were popular music. It was Chuck Dulane who hosted Music In The Air and brought us the music of Faith, Winterhalter, and Rose.. Oh! I mentioned WGAY AM & FM. Newpaper listings show WGAY as continuing with "WQMR Music" until 9pm in the 50's. Art recalls that when Connie B. Gay bought the station the FM became more of a hobbyist country station, sometimes fed by a jukebox (not high in technical standards).
I was only about 5 years old so this is all speculation, but in the late 50's I've had the idea that FM radios weren't in that many homes, certainly not outside of major cities. The whole "hi-fi" aspect of FM with its inherent ability to ignore thunderstorms in the summer, lent itself to stations like WASH-FM (then in Wheaton, Maryland, not that far from WGAY) presenting Washington Metropolitan area "early FM" listeners with lots of classical music. FM featured wide frequency response and static-free listening. Coverage wasn't so great, however, and I do remember "drift" was a major problem with FM receivers (I remember a Meissner mahogany cabinet component tuner circa 1955 or so, that I found in the mid 60's, still worked, but drifted like crazy (it would "mistune" itself). Before long, more stable circuitry lent itself to drift-free listening, sometimes through advanced design, sometimes through brute-force AFC (automatic frequency control). The drill was, as I recall, turn off the AFC, tune to your desired station, turn it back on, and you'd stay locked in to your station. If your desired station was weak, there was also a good chance your receiver would lock on to a more powerful station (thus occasions when AFC couldn't be used).
FOUR DARK DAYS IN NOVEMBER, WQMR's memorable coverage of the John F. Kennedy assassination November 22-25, 1963, click here (then scroll to the bottom of the page)
The Early Years: WGAY 1050 AM memories in a letter from Ward Boote
(I know, this list is incredibly incomplete and limited in scope (years); if you have additions please let me know - firstname.lastname@example.org
...a long running, successful format, with loyal, happy listeners -
this was - 1960's
Washington's Quality Music Radio
The QUALITY MUSIC (mood music) format was soon ushered in by new owner Connie B. Gay, a country music promoter and performer. Years ago, the late Doug Bailey, who ran a small ad/film studio in Rockville, Maryland, recalled to me that the major players in the "new" station hatched this idea at a luncheon held at the Peter Pan Inn, in Urbana, Maryland (a landmark restaurant, sadly long gone). Doug wasn't one of the players, he merely happened to be there, and heard bits and pieces of the conversation about the exciting new format. This was an exciting time - and all this over a 1,000 watt daytimer!
Quality Music was a huge success with listeners - and therefore the sponsors. The station brought a new level of sophistication to the AM radio dial. The format offered listeners back-to-back music (detractors would say, wallpaper) and sponsors quarter-hour protection.
In the spring of 1960, 1050 AM was reborn as WQMR - Washington's Quality Music Radio. The call letters WGAY were then used for the 5kw FM "country" hobby-station for Connie B. Gay. WGAY was the station's call prior to Connie B. Gay's purchase, it wasn't a "vanity call" though it might have helped the sale, who knows? The music of WQMR was further refined to include a great deal of direct and indirect (covers) of tunes from Broadway and Hollywood. Bottom line: lots of music, back-to-back, and music carefully chosen, announcers closely adhered to the scripts. You could say... we had a sophisticated "high-brow" station that in a way sounded canned, and yet it was NOT. Live turntables (monster Gates) and live announcers. Brilliant thematic material, based on the "WQMR Concerto" that originally existed on 10" Lp's. I believe they were recorded at a production house in Texas, and it was based on a (key of C major) E - F - G - E note sequence (with the E tripled for the enunciated W). The theme existed in fully orchestrated form, which was used for station signoff and played just for the heck of it late in the evenings at times. There were also "harps" - based on the same theme - that were inserted between EVERY record. Yes, lots of cart button-pushing, for years and years. There were longer vibraphone and guitar sequences for PSA's and station self-promotions. There were sequences of many lengths by many other instruments, but only the harp was used for normal "insert-between-records" programming. Sometime in 1964 or 1965, the station acquired "new" harp sequences; it has been legend, that I could never confirm, that a member of one of the service orchestras was retained to record the "new" harps. In the last permutation of the harp, it is also legend that engineer Delbert Keeling introduced a "tape delay" to the harp in 1966 when the FM went to stereo, a simple but eloquent solution to making the single-source mono harp stereo!
This gets ahead of developments. WQMR made itself a fixture on many radio dials - self-described as "the music 'twixt classical and jazz - from Mantovani to Crosby." Successful? Must have been - a year later, April of 1961, we saw the addition of 20,000 FM station WGAY at 99.5 - simulcast with WQMR - which ended the country music broadcasts on FM. However, as Doug Bailey and I often discussed, WGAY-FM 99.5 was, in the early 60's, a well-kept secret. In other words, during the broadcast day, it was legally ID'd only on the hour and half-hour - but never otherwise mentioned. It was pure magic for "us listeners" as it offered the improved, static-free fidelity of FM (we won't mention drift, or its magic band-aid AFC) and best of all, the music of WQMR from 6AM to midnight - a vast improvement over the daytime operation of yore, which, in the days of shortest daylight, didn't even make it 'til 5pm. I will have to admit, one thing I loved about WGAY-FM at night was that it was (gulp) largely un-sponsored. That made for great commercial-free listening! The owners obviously knew the technology would catch on, and it did, in a big way.
The names I remember from the sixties were Ted Dorf (business), Ed Winton (created the musical clusters!), and Bill Doty (mucho announcing). Ed Winton programmed the music in those early days - and he gave us some very fine listening, with the likes of Percy Faith, Frank DeVol, Andre Kostelanetz, and many other recording orchestras. The station ran narrated shows on "MATINEE AT ONE" on Saturdays and Sundays (cut back to just Sundays at some point), and I believe there were five hosts over the years. There were many other "shows" - such as "The Breakfast Table Edition of The WQMR News" weekdays from 7:45 to 8:00am. Over the years, the "clock" had minor changes, but the basics didn't; quarter hour segments of music (really 9-13 minutes), harps, musical intros on the hour, news headlines on the hour, "full paragraph" news on the half-hour, weather at quarter past the hour, and sports, sometimes, at 45 minutes past the hour. All that, sandwiched around the "quality music." The station did delve into light classics in the evening (with STAGEDOOR at 8:30pm, one-song excerpts from Broadway albums). The enthusiastic listeners boarded 'show buses' to see the real Broadway productions they enjoyed hearing so much on the radio. Yup - the early 60's. Pssst: Does anyone remember the Secret Sound Game? Country Music Classics?
1966 saw some big changes personnel-wise but technology gave 'us listeners' more to spend our money on - STEREO RECEIVERS! I guess it was time to abandon the little white building at 11306 Kemp Mill Road - and move to 8121 Georgia Avenue, a.k.a. "The World Building." Two big technological changes: a new RCA transmitter - a STEREO transmitter, and a studio full of new equipment. Not just stereo, but "Washington's ONLY 50,000 watt stereo station." It wasn't long before there were other 50,000 watt stations, but still - this was one beautiful studio, with nice equipment, and the FM tower on top of the 10-story building, which looked IMPRESSIVE. Poor old 11306 Kemp Mill Road is an address that no longer exists; somehow Kemp Mill Road and Arcola aren't aligned "the way they were" or something... mystery solved pretty much by imagining WQMR was once in the land occupied by the shopping center. Another site had to be found for WQMR-AM at the time of the move - which turned out to be the Sligo Creek Golf Course in Silver Spring. Everything was stereo (WGAY did an "all at once" cutover to stereo - no "stereo showcase" music programs here and there) - there are even TWO voice mikes, as you can see, for the one announcer. If the announcer reached for a pack of cigarettes while talking, you, the listener, heard his voice shift off center (trivial, but kinda cool, could cause listener vertigo). I happened to be listening the night Connie B. Gay decided to inject just a bit of country music flavor into the beautiful music station with "Country Music Classics" which ran on Saturday nights, I believe it was from midnight to two a.m., not sure about the time. I believe this was about 1970. That night, the microphones were separated, CBG was on one side, the announcer on the other, as he kicked off the show. It was totally in keeping with beautiful music already in the library, just country covers brought together - and it kicked off with Percy Faith's recording of CAROLINA MOON from the album "American Serenade" - and I recall CBG said this was one of his favorites. Now, forty plus years later, that album is once again available; it was recorded in 1963 and deleted from the Columbia Records catalog around 1968 and, like all 50's and 60's mood music albums, became VERY rare. I recall arrangements of country-tune covers by the Living Strings arranged by Johnny Douglas as another example of the tunes used. So no, there was no Patsy Cline or Jimmy Dean on WGAY-FM 99.5.
The end of mood music isn't pretty; to some just a matter of evolution; to me a matter of rock taking over people's minds (and corporate folks tend to march in lock-step with any perceived changes or the so-called "maturing" of an audience, rendering it "useless.") In summary, Ed Winton left for new ventures by 1965 and Bob Chandler came on board the same year. Bob Chandler did a wonderful job maintaining the quality and integrity of the station. Connie B. Gay put the station up for sale in 1970, and it was purchased by Greater Media of New York. Pressure was, "of course," put on the station to play covers of current hits, and as the years went by, the whole thing became a "fifty flavors of Muskrat Love - performed instrumentally" station - the "classic" beautiful music was itself gradually replaced by custom music, and standards and showtunes bit the dust. The station went to - what else - Adult Contemporary! Mood music listeners had no alternatives. No room on that vast radio dial. Our favorite corporate radio conglomerate even took away the last bit of nostalgia, WWDC-1260 which broadcast nostalgia in AM stereo and rebadged it - briefly - WGAY before killing it off for "yet another talker." Music be damned, I guess you could say (especially old music!) Got to give the corporate owners of 1260 a lot of credit, they seemingly worked hard to run it into the ground, first by killing the AM stereo exciter, then by what seemed to be loose antenna connections that caused continually unreliable reception, especially on windy days.
My knowledge of the station tends to run out in the mid 70's. While I have some air-checks of later years, I would not be able to write much about the station and could use some help - and in all honesty I'm not planning to go past 1980. Between the years 1980 and 1990, I'm afraid Bob Chandler was struggling to maintain the station's careful, strict sound while breaking in pop material in the guise of 'custom' music, an idea he helped to pioneer (including the International Beautiful Music Association, formed to help beautiful formatted stations share this custom music). I should add that "share" isn't exactly the right word, these recordings were expensive and therefore it was a way to recover the costs... Seems that original artists such as Percy Faith, Henry Mancini, and their peers, did not continue to record very far into the rock era, since their labels either fired them or forced them into retirement; more importantly, these musicians left no heirs - after all this music has all but vanished from the American pop culture scene. This forced radio stations to band together and record 'custom' music with European orchestras. This is not the music that made the station great; this is a "second generation" batch of music called 'beautiful music' but it's not the same as the classic mood music of the 50's and 60's - at all. (Alfred Newman, no, not the MAD magazine character, the composer-conductor-arranger, who wrote the beautiful musical scores of zillions of movies, is an exception; at least one of his sons, Thomas, writes some brilliant themes - using the - gasp - orchestra, to this day, but I leave that to the web sites that celebrate movie music, and there are plenty!)
By 1991 when the format finally flipped to AC, and Bob Chandler retired, the entire year preceding the "big" format change was "eased into" by wall-to-wall instrumental rock covers with several softer rock vocals; tremendous emphasis on Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand... no standards, no showtunes. Fifty flavors of Muskrat Love. Lots of repetition, lots of shallow arrangements. Just the thing to alienate an audience, who were about to be dropped. (Yes, yours truly did not move on, I question those who think music and popular culture in America are disposable; I like what was done in a certain era, and see no reason for its abrupt withdrawal for "business reasons" when the "reasons" are more like "demographics they didn't like, the graying audience." So to hell with them, let's all go rock, and they did. Now, even the rockers have little joy in radio with the last creative rock stations with wide play lists and experimentation, given over to voice-tracked corporate conglomerate stations with 10-song play lists (or that's how it sounds anyway).
THE LIVING STRINGS "Music Of The Sea" - a genuine mono copy, with cover art depicting a fine sailboat riding a stormy sea, provides the dramatic background for the above doodle, impossible to scan legibly but reads as follows:
"But you said it would be calm today - - - glub, glub!"
"I heard of good weather from the WQMR weatherman!"
Entire site copyright © 2001- 2018 Bill Halvorsen
Note: Contents of this website may include copyrighted material, and such material is presented here as part of radio's history, under the Fair Use provision of the copyright law. Music and radio related sounds and pictures are for historical purposes; the radio stations honored on this site are long gone, and I hate to see them forgotten, so sound and visuals appear on this site in a historical way only. I only spend money on this website, it is not for profit, but it's nice to bring back some of a period of radio that has been swept under the rock and rap carpet. Quality Music - what a concept!
In some cases the call letters (and even frequencies) persist in different locales and ownership; there is no connection to what this web site celebrates (period, underscore). This is part of the history of radio in our small cow-town of Silver Spring and that rather larger city a few blocks down Georgia to the south - Washington, DC. Thanks for stopping by and, for reading the fine print.
If you're an aging boomer, or even a shallow post-boomer*, and grew up in the Washington, DC area - by all means visit Bob Bell's tribute to the television shows we grew up watching! (*as once said by Joel from Mystery Science Theater 3000 which was the kid's show for adults in the last decade of the 20th century and produced in Minnesota, of all places)
Saluting Vintage TV Kid Shows