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. It was founded in 1930 by John Shepard III. The flagship Yankee station was Boston's 1230, later 1260 and finally 680 WNAC. The Yankee Network had affiliates elsewhere in Massachusetts (Fall River, LowellLawrence, New Bedford, Springfield); Connecticut (Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury); Rhode Island (Providence); New Hampshire (Manchester), and Maine (Augusta, Bangor, Lewiston, Portland).

In 1932 CBS was streamlining its radio network by purchasing stations it would directly own and operate (O&O) in major markets such as Boston. CBS managed to acquire enough O&O affiliates to severely limit NBC's options. When NBC did begin adding affiliates to its so-called Red network from the newly limited pool, it signed up John Shepard's Yankee Network. 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 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]

External links[edit]