As a youngster growing up in the area and having a fascination with radio broadcasting, I used to consider it a part-time hobby to put the earphone into my transistor radio and go exploring what was out there to listen to, up and down the dial.
It was indeed a long-distance journey at night when listening to AM radio, as you could hear live from locally staffed stations in Chicago, Windsor/Detroit, Atlanta and New Orleans, to name a few cities. I never spent a lot of time listening to FM radio 40 years ago, simply because there wasn't the same "excitement" of the long-distance journey. Little did I realize, things were changing locally on that "other" band of radio frequencies that included decimal points.
In early 1972, Oneonta had one commercial FM station. That was WGNR, at 103.9 FM, which is today's WSRK. There were two college radio stations at Hartwick and the State University College at Oneonta, but unless you had a cable service, you couldn't hear them with a standard antenna, such as the one on my transistor radio. On good days and depending on what side of the house I was, I could hear an FM station or two from Binghamton or Utica.
It was reported in early March 1972 that two local investor groups were competing to win a new frequency at 103.1 FM from the Federal Communications Commission. They were the Franklin Mountain Broadcasting Co., and Frank W. Bovee Jr. of Delhi. The former was the victor, so plans were soon underway to locate a new radio station over Brackett's Bookstore, 142 Main St. The call letters were WONT, which is today's WZOZ. Seven stockholders had invested into this new broadcasting company, with Mrs. William Butler as president, and Mr. Anthony LeoGrande as vice-president. Mr. Caleb Brackett had formed the company and applied to the FCC.
Hopes were to have WONT on the air in October, but plans were delayed.
The station planned to have what was called "middle of the road music," with news and public affairs programs.
WGNR had been on the air for about two years at the time, playing country music amongst its programming.
As WONT was in the works, WGNR was expanding into -- of all things -- local television. Subscribers of Oneonta Video Co. saw some changes that July as they tuned into cable channel 5, which just happened to be WHEN-TV Channel 5 from Syracuse. The CBS affiliate went dark on that cable channel, and was replaced by a new feature of time, temperature and frequently changing advertisement graphics, with background music supplied by WGNR.
WGNR had reached an agreement with Oneonta Video to do some public access programming, such as Common Council meetings or local sports events. Surveys were taken in July to find out what viewers might prefer on this channel. It was estimated that local programming could begin sometime in 1973.
Days grew closer for WONT to begin broadcasting, and the new station had a meet and greet for invited guests Sunday, Oct. 15.
William E. Babcock was the station's general manager, David C. Mauer was the first program director, Timothy Braddock was chief engineer, and Joan McIntyre was an account executive.
The guests were given a tour of the offices and the engineering of the station, particularly that of the $16,000 automation unit that played all music and programs, as disc jockeys would not be required.
According to an advertisement in The Daily Star, WONT went on the air Wednesday, Nov. 29, 1972.
This weekend: Working for a company once meant a social life with that company in the community.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.