Yankee Network

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For the radio network of the New York Yankees, see New York Yankees Radio Network.

The Yankee Network was an American radio network, based in Boston, Massachusetts, with affiliate radio stations throughout New England.[1] The network was co-founded by John Shepard III and his brother Robert, in 1929-1930.[2] The beginnings of what became the Yankee Network occurred in the mid-1920s, when John Shepard's Boston station WNAC linked by telephone land lines with Robert Shepard's Providence, Rhode Island station WEAN, so that the two stations could share or exchange programming.[3] Those two stations became the first two Yankee Network stations. In 1930, they were joined by the first affiliated radio stations, including WLBZ in Bangor, Maine; WORC in Worcester, MA; WNBH in New Bedford, MA; and WICC in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Yankee Network was also affiliated with the Columbia Broadcasting System (later known as CBS),[4] which provided national programs to complement Yankee's New England focus.

The main benefit of joining the Yankee Network was that it offered its affiliates as much as 17 hours of daily programming.[5] Yankee affiliates were provided with access to some of the best-known Boston vocalists and orchestras, as well as nationally-known entertainers who were appearing in Boston or Providence. For example, a concert by opera star Mary Garden was broadcast,[6] as was a concert by the Providence Symphony Orchestra.[7] Dance music was often played by bandleader Joe Rines and his orchestra,[8] or by other popular bandleaders like Dok Eisenbourg.[9] The Yankee Network also had its own 22-piece orchestra, led by Charles R. Hector.[10] Among other popular entertainers heard on the Yankee Network in the early 1930s were pianist, songwriter and bandleader Gus Arnheim,[11] and local favorites "Hum and Strum." [12] The Yankee Network broadcast radio plays, featuring its own drama troupe, made up of members of the WNAC staff, led by announcer Ben Hadfield.[13] In addition to religious services and educational talks, there were also cultural programs, including excerpts from "The Green Pastures," a play starring black actor Richard B. Harrison;[14] and talks by the region's mayors, governors, and other political leaders.[15] For sports fans, Boston Braves and Boston Red Sox baseball games, announced by Fred Hoey, could be heard;[16] college football from various schools in the region was also a popular feature.[17] By 1931, the network was also offering regular news broadcasts, on the half-hour, making use of reporting by some of Boston's newspapers.[18] But by 1933,the relationship between print and radio had become contentious, with newspapers no longer willing to provide news to radio stations. In March 1934, John Shepard III organized his own news bureau, the Yankee News Service, to provide his affiliates with local and regional news reports.[19]

Throughout the early 1930s, the Yankee Network continued to expand, picking up affiliates in such cities as Springfield, MA, Hartford, Connecticut, and Manchester, New Hampshire.[20] The network also received support from advertisers, who saw it as an effective way to reach an audience that extended throughout New England.[21] In 1935, the Yankee Network centralized its executive offices and studios in a new headquarters, 21 Brookline Avenue in Boston. The move followed a $25,000 renovation of the facilities. Also included in the building were studios and offices of WNAC and WAAB, the network's Boston stations.[22]

But despite John Shepard's affiliation of his Yankee Network stations with CBS, he still became involved in the founding of a new network, which came to be known as the Mutual Broadcasting System, and he served on its board of directors.[23] Meanwhile, there were some changes in Boston radio that affected the Yankee Network. CBS had begun purchasing stations, in addition to providing network programming. In 1936, CBS purchased Boston's WEEI, making it necessary for Shepard's WNAC to affiliate with a different network, NBC and the Red Network.[24]

Then, with the help of the inventor of FM, Major Edwin H. Armstrong, the Yankee Network became the nation's first FM radio network, with a demonstration FM inter-city relay linking WNAC via Paxton, Massachusetts, and Meriden, Connecticut, to the parent broadcasting system based in New York. This network spread further north over the next few years.

Buster Keaton and WAAB radio host Ruth Moss in an aluminum drive publicity photo for the Yankee Network, 1942.

The Yankee Network faced a powerful opponent—the Radio Corporation of America (RCA—ironically, majority owner of NBC), which saw FM as a threat to its established AM radio business. RCA was also concerned that Yankee's technique of "networking" their service around New England via inexpensive, off-air FM relays instead of AT&T phone lines, would open the door to many less well-funded groups establishing competition to RCA's established network, NBC. RCA, under general manager David Sarnoff, successfully pressured the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move the FM radio spectrum from 42–50 MHz to 88–108 MHz in 1945. This required massive hardware retooling at all FM broadcasters. Some affiliates dropped out, forcing the Yankee Network to lease phone lines from AT&T to fill in the holes between stations. The added costs to broadcasters and the obsolescence of all FM radios at the time set back FM broadcasting for a decade or more. Driven to despair over the FM debacle, Armstrong jumped to his death from the thirteenth floor window of his New York City apartment on January 31, 1954.

By 1949, Robert Shepard, John's brother and the chairman of the Yankee Network's parent company, the Shepard Company, had decided that radio and its dependence on the FCC had become too risky. He also faced stiff estate taxes from the death of John and Robert's father, John Shepard, Jr.; a year earlier. The Shepards found a buyer in General Tire, which bought a majority interest in mid-1949.

The Yankee Network continued as a modest, regional network with an hourly newscast originating from flagship WNAC in Boston. It was disbanded in 1967. By that time, affiliates had dwindled, and flagship WNAC was preparing to switch to a Top 40 music format (under the call letters WRKO).

The Yankee Network was also on the receiving end of the FCC’s first major act of censorship. In 1938, Yankee was airing editorials against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The FCC requested that the network provide details about these programs. Yankee dropped the editorials. The FCC declared that radio stations, due to their public interest obligations, cannot be editorially devoted to the support of any particular political position. In application, this meant that airing President Roosevelt's presidential addresses was acceptable, but broadcasting a critique of his proposed legislation, or (presumably) advocacy of such proposals, would be unacceptably biased. The FCC would revisit this issue in the late 1940s with its Fairness Doctrine.

List of affiliates in 1932 (8 stations)[edit]

Connecticut (2 stations)[edit]

  • WICC: Bridgeport-New Haven
  • WNBR: New Bedfort

Massachusetts (3 stations)[edit]

Maine (1 station)[edit]

New Hampshire (1 station)[edit]

Rhode Island (1 station)[edit]

Source: Broadcasting, March 15, 1932.[25]

List of affiliates in 1939 (17 stations)[edit]

Connecticut (3 stations)[edit]

  • WICC: Bridgeport
  • WTIC: Hartford
  • WNLC: New London

Maine (4 stations)[edit]

  • WRDO: Augusta
  • WLBZ: Bangor
  • WCSH: Portland
  • WCOU: Lewiston/Auburn

Massachusetts (7 stations)[edit]

New Hampshire (2 stations)[edit]

Rhode Island (1 station)[edit]


  1. ^ Francis G. Jenkins. "New radio Station Chain Under Way. Washington Post, February 2, 1930, p. F5.
  2. ^ "Yankee Network is Being Formed." New York Times, February 9, 1930, p. X20.
  3. ^ "Sporting Events Featured at WNAC." Boston Herald, July 5, 1925, p. D5.
  4. ^ "WNAC Anniversary on Forty Stations." Boston Herald, July 27, 1930, p. 27.
  5. ^ "Yankee Network Becomes Reality." Boston Globe, July 13, 1930, p. 51.
  6. ^ "Two Operas Will Be Broadcast." Boston Herald, February 1, 1931, p. B8.
  7. ^ "Symphony on Air from Providence." Boston Herald, May 1, 1932, p. 10A.
  8. ^ "Joe Rines Orchestra for Scott Furriers." Boston Herald, September 25, 1932, p. 30.
  9. ^ "Eisenbourg to Start New Series on Chain." Boston Herald, June 5, 1932, p. 5A
  10. ^ Francis G. Jenkins. "New radio Station Chain Under Way. Washington Post, February 2, 1930, p. F5.
  11. ^ "Gus Arnheim on Yankee Network." Boston Herald, November 22, 1931, p. A5.
  12. ^ "WNAC Anniversary on Forty Stations." Boston Herald, July 27, 1930, p. 27.
  13. ^ "On the Air." Boston Herald, April 29, 1932, p. 40.
  14. ^ "Members of Green Pastures Company in Half-Hour Broadcast." Springfield (MA) Republican, October 2, 1932, p. 6C.
  15. ^ "Secretary Dern at Irish Dinner." Springfield MA) Republican, March 17, 1933, p. 21.
  16. ^ "Fred Hoey to Report Baseball for WNAC." Boston Herald, April 21, 1931, p. C7.
  17. ^ "First Football Game on Yankee Network." Springfield (MA) Republican, September 24, 1932, p. 8.
  18. ^ Mark J. Staples. "Yankee Network Has Cooperative News Arrangements with New England Press." Broadcasting, December 1, 1931, p. 10.
  19. ^ "John Shepard Organizes Own News Bureau to Feed Yankee Network." Variety, February 27, 1934, p. 39.
  20. ^ "We Pay Our Respects." Broadcasting, August 15, 1932, p. 17.
  21. ^ "WDRC Signs For Yankee Broadcasts." Hartford Courant, December 21, 1930, p.16A.
  22. ^ "Yankee Network Offices And Studios Centralized In Remodeled Quarters" (PDF). Broadcasting. April 15, 1935. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  23. ^ Christopher Sterling and Michael Keith. Sounds of Change: A History of FM Broadcasting in America. University of North Carolina Press, 2008, p. 24.
  24. ^ "Transfer of WEEI to CBS Approved." Broadcasting, July 1, 1936, p. 76.
  25. ^ "WFEA Joins Net" (PDF). Broadcasting. March 15, 1932. Retrieved 1 October 2014. 

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