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|City||New York, New York|
|Broadcast area||New York metropolitan area|
|Branding||AM 570 The Mission WMCA|
|Slogan||New York's Christian Talk|
|First air date||February 6, 1925|
W Hotel MCAlpin|
(original studio and antenna location)
Salem Media Group |
(Salem Media of New York, LLC)
Listen Live (PLS Link)
WMCA (570 AM, "The Mission") is an AM radio station in New York City, owned by Salem Media Group and broadcasting with a Christian radio format consisting of teaching and talk programs. The station's studios are in Lower Manhattan and are shared with co-owned WNYM (970 AM). WMCA's transmitter is located along Belleville Turnpike in Kearny, New Jersey. The station's daytime coverage includes New York City and portions of Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley in New York State, as well as parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.
Prior to switching to its current programming in 1989, WMCA's best-known incarnations were as a locally programmed talk radio outlet during the 1970s and 1980s; and before that as a Top 40 outlet featuring its lineup of disc jockeys, known as the "Good Guys". WMCA is credited with having been the first New York radio station to broadcast a recording by the Beatles.
After first testing as station 2XH, WMCA began regular transmissions on February 1, 1925, broadcasting on 428.6 meters wavelength (700 kHz) with a power of 500 watts. The station was the 13th radio station to begin operations in New York City and was owned by broadcasting pioneer Donald Flamm. The station's original studios and antenna were atop the Hotel McAlpin, located on Herald Square and from which WMCA's call letters derive. In 1928 it moved to the 570 kHz frequency, sharing time for the next three years with municipally-owned WNYC.
On April 19, 1932, the Federal Radio Commission approved WMCA's application to broadcast full-time on 570 kHz.
In December 1940, Flamm had to surrender the station to industrialist Edward J. Noble, who had just resigned as Undersecretary of Commerce, in a transaction involving prominent political figures including Thomas Corcoran. Flamm's subsequent legal battle against Noble resulted in a congressional investigation and eventually ended in a financial settlement, though not the return of the station.
Through its early decades WMCA had a varied programming history, playing music, hosting dramas, and broadcasting New York Giants baseball games. In 1943, it was acquired by the Straus family when Edward J. Noble acquired the Blue Network and its owned-and-operated stations from NBC, including WJZ (now WABC) in New York; the Blue Network would later be renamed the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).
In 1945, host Barry Gray began dropping music and adding talk with celebrities and later call-in listeners; he is thus sometimes considered "The Father of Talk Radio", and his show lasted on WMCA through several decades and format changes.
Good Guys era
In 1960, WMCA began promoting itself by stressing its on-air personalities, who were collectively known as the Good Guys. Led by program director Ruth Meyer, the first woman to hold the position in New York City radio, this was the era of the high-profile Top 40 disc jockey with an exuberant personality aimed at a certain audience segment. With the advent of the Good Guys format, WMCA became more "on top" of new music and started to become known for "playing the hits."
In the early 1960s, the top 40 format was still young, and the field was crowded in New York City. Two major 50,000-watt stations, WMGM (frequency now occupied by WEPN) and WINS, had battled each other, playing pop music for years. Then in 1960, WABC joined the fray and started featuring top 40 music. Ultimately, it was WMCA's earnest competition with rival WABC that forced WMGM (in early 1962) and then WINS (in spring 1965) to abandon the top-40 format. There was so much attention on the high-profile WMCA-WABC battle that WMGM and WINS were each summarily forced to find a new niche.
Lineup and features
The classic Good Guys era lineup included:
- Morning man Joe O'Brien (radio), an industry veteran whose humor appealed to multiple generations (6am-10am).
- Late morning stalwart Harry Harrison, whose show was explicitly aimed at housewives (there were different cultural assumptions back then) (10am-1pm).
- Early afternoon host Jack Spector, "Look out street, here I come!" (1pm-4pm)
- In afternoon drive time, lanky, smooth-talking Texan Dandy Dan Daniel and his daily countdown (4pm-7pm).
- Evening star to teenagers, Gary Stevens and his "Wooleyburger" bear (7pm-11pm) – Gary's first show was in April, 1965.
- Fast-talking "BMR, Your Leader", B. Mitchel Reed, was the evening personality on WMCA from 1963–1965. Credit should be given to Reed, as he was part of the team that took WMCA to the top in 1963. He left the station in the spring of 1965, to return to L.A.'s troubled KFWB, where he had worked before WMCA. His on-air hours were the same as Gary Stevens (above).
- Barry Gray's ongoing talk show (11pm-1am).
- Overnights, Dean Anthony, "Dino on your radio" with his "Actors and Actresses" game (1am-6am).
- Weekends and fill-in, Ed Baer, Frank Stickle and Bill Beamish.
- Owner R. Peter Straus was one of the first station owners to frequently read editorials, commenting on current events. Straus endorsed John F. Kennedy for President in 1960. He also wrote and read the first broadcast editorial calling for the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon. In 1961, Straus and WMCA filed a lawsuit charging that the state legislature was violating the Constitution by giving rural areas disproportionate representation. That suit, combined with others, led to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1964 "one man, one vote" decision.
(On Friday nights, Stevens ended at 10:30 and WMCA's locally produced, half-hour news show The World Tonite aired; this was a local recap of the week's news, and should not be confused with Garner Ted Armstrong's The World Tomorrow religious program, which was not heard on WMCA until after the Good Guys era ended).
Dan Daniel's countdown changed once a week, and was of the station's top 25 records. It also included a "Sure Shot" and "Long Shot" of records not yet on the chart. He also gave away his "Hit Kit" every day to a listener who had been chosen from postcards sent to the station. The "Hit Kit" consisted of a copy of each of the Top 25 records of the week. To claim this prize, listeners had to call in when they heard their name read on the air.
Besides the "Good Guy" personalities and radio program director Ruth Meyer's commitment to play new music, on December 26, 1963, WMCA, with Jack Spector, earned the distinction of being the first New York City radio station to play the Beatles' Capitol Records' single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand". (Outside New York, the song's broadcast debut in America is widely accepted to have occurred earlier at WWDC in Washington, D.C.) There is no evidence that any New York City radio station played the Beatles before December 1963 despite the fact that the band's first singles had been released earlier, without fanfare by smaller, resource-challenged labels (Vee-Jay Records and Swan Records). However, according to one account, rival Top 40 outlet WINS "reportedly" played the band's Swan Records single "She Loves You" on September 28, 1963, as part of a listener's poll. After the song finished last (third place), it was quickly dropped from the station's playlist. WMCA was keen on playing new product and breaking new hits, and consequently, it became the radio station most credited for introducing Beatlemania, and the subsequent "British Invasion" musical movement to New Yorkers. Not only did WMCA play new music first for New York City listeners, but the Good Guys played more music in general, i.e., more hits per hour.
While network-owned WABC was busy broadcasting New York Mets baseball games in the summer of 1963, family-owned WMCA was the music-intensive station that one would hear coming out of transistor radios at the pool and at the beach. Starting in 1963, the WMCA's Good Guys soared to the top of New York City's ratings charts. WMCA also focused on on-air production and promotions for listeners. Each hour, WMCA presented its music, jingles, promotions, contests, stagers and commercials in a tight, upbeat fast-paced style. Some radio industry veterans attribute WABC's "stodgy sound" to standards applied by its corporate ownership and to its staff of longtime (and older) studio engineers. This fueled speculation that independently-owned WMCA had younger, more "hip" board-operators with a better understanding of the top 40 format aimed at younger adults. Whatever the reason, the "sparkling sound" presented on-air by WMCA also contributed to its ratings success in New York City, the largest radio market in the United States.
WMCA's most famous promotions and contests involved the Beatles. Shortly after the band's arrival in the United States on February 7, 1964, WMCA was able to secure the Beatles' cooperation, recording several commercials promoting the station's "Good Guys." Many believe this cooperation was directly linked to the band's awareness of WMCA being the first radio station in New York City to play "I Want to Hold Your Hand" weeks earlier. According to industry observers, WMCA's success getting John Lennon and Ringo Starr to record several spots on behalf of WMCA convinced listeners that the station–along with WINS personality Murray the K (who called himself "The Fifth Beatle")–had direct access to the group, despite the fact that during their first New York visit the band's movements were restricted to the Plaza Hotel, Central Park, CBS Studio 50 (where they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show), the 21 Club, the Peppermint Lounge and Carnegie Hall.
In conjunction with airing commercials featuring the Beatles actively promoting WMCA, the station also ran several contests in February 1964. The most famous contest, for a chance to win a lock of hair belonging to Ringo Starr, received nearly 90,000 entries. The lock of hair, and a runner-up prize of a photograph on a fan club card signed by all four members of the Beatles, were obtained directly from the group during marathon "one-on-one" meetings and a reception held with print and broadcast personnel at Plaza Hotel on February 10. Other runner-up prizes distributed by WMCA that were not directly handled by the Beatles included 1,000 specially made WMCA paper record sleeves picturing the Good Guys–containing the band's single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand", as well as $57.00 in cash WMCA.
Contrary to some accounts, the enormous number of entries received by WMCA–an estimated 86,000 cards, letters and packages–were from Beatle fans seeking only to obtain the lock of Starr's hair. For this "Good Guy-Ringo Starr Contest"–better known today as the "Beatles' Wig Contest"–WMCA's listeners were encouraged to send in a drawing or picture of a person wearing a Beatles' wig. The winning entry from Roberta Corrigan (who won the lock of hair) featured a huge image of Queen Elizabeth II with a Beatles wig on her head, along with several other images including one of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wearing the same–all submitted in a book with captions for each. Runner-up winner Stella Scuotto of Brooklyn won the photograph of the Beatles on a fan club card signed by all four members of the band at the Plaza Hotel. According to Beatles' historian Bruce Spizer, Kay Smith was also a runner-up winner, winning $57 and the rare record sleeve for "I Want to Hold Your Hand", featuring a picture of WMCA's Good Guys.
WMCA continued to beat other radio stations on many Beatles' promotions, scoring firsts, causing headaches in particular for rival WABC–most notably when Capitol Records printed a photograph of the "Good Guys" line-up on the back of a limited edition record sleeve for the single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (Side 2: "I Saw Her Standing There"). WMCA's Good Guys were also featured at both of the Beatles' concerts at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965 and on August 23, 1966.
WABC responded in different ways, scoring a major success during the Beatles' second New York visit in August 1964 when the band stayed at the Delmonico Hotel, rousing thousands of teenage fans into a frenzy while broadcasting from one floor above the Beatles' rooms. WABC later went against its own music policies, promising promoter Sid Bernstein that it would play a new group he was handling before any other New York City radio station if it could get exclusive access to the Beatles. WABC never added records "out of the box", but it did for Bernstein when it played The Young Rascals' "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" before other radio stations. WABC also had a source in London able to provide the station with many British releases that were not yet available in the United States or to the other New York radio stations and thus were played exclusively on WABC for at least a few days to a couple of weeks.
Since WABC knew WMCA already had a relationship with the Beatles, the latter station came up with a clever way one-up its competitor. In August 1965, WABC came up with its own special promotion, issuing "medals" called "The Order of the All-Americans" (tied to its own group of on-air hosts) and intended to present the medals to each of the Beatles when the group next returned to New York. The goal was to get each Beatle to comment on the "medal" and then to get each to say the station's call letters, "W-A-B-C", which could then be used in station identification and on-air promos. The station got its interviews, but none of the band's members would utter WABC's call letters. According to Beatles' historian Bruce Spizer, manager Brian Epstein ordered the Beatles to stop "giving away valuable promotional spots to radio stations for free.". Ultimately, the WMCA-WABC (and to an extent WINS) competition for Beatles releases and promotions is considered to be one of the greatest radio "battles" in medium's history.
Apart from its link to the Beatles, WMCA saturated its programming with many other promotions and on-air games to supplement its high rotation of hit-making music. It included "Name It and Claim It", with the most desired prize being one of the station's yellow "Good Guys" sweatshirts, which were designed by WMCA program director Ruth Meyer – and could be won if a listener's name was read over the air – and that listener called PLaza 2-9944 within a certain time period.
Another distinctive feature of WMCA was its "Call For Action" Help Line (PLaza 9-1717), which listeners could call if they had any problems requiring WMCA's help resolving, usually consumer or public works service-related issues.
Competition with WABC
In the 1960s, WMCA's great competition was with rival WABC. Despite WMCA's strong ratings performance and its link to the Beatles, some radio historians have treated WMCA as a 1960s radio stepchild–the proverbial David going up against the Goliath that was corporate-owned, stronger-signaled WABC.
For four consecutive years (1963 through 1966) WMCA had the highest ratings share of all radio stations in New York City, according to Arbitron–in spite of its directional, 5,000-watt signal which geographically reached about one-third of the audience ratings area of non-directional, 50,000-watt WABC. At the time, Arbitron was the newer and lesser quoted ratings source compared to the more established Pulse and Hooper Ratings. During this time frame, Pulse and Hooper usually placed adult full-service WOR as the overall #1 station, with WMCA generally but not always leading WABC and WINS as the Top 40 leader. WMCA's ratings strength was concentrated within New York City itself, along with the suburban areas immediately north and east. However, WABC proved more popular in outlying areas where WMCA's signal didn't come in as well on standard 1960s-era AM radio receivers. The areas where WMCA did not have a strong signal were southwest, west, and northwest of its transmitter in Kearny, New Jersey. By 1967 and 1968, WMCA ratings had started to decline but still demonstrated a strong showing in total audience surveys, and as late as February 1969, Pulse ratings surveys showed that WMCA continued to best WABC in New York City. For the most part, from 1967 forward, WABC became the total market Top 40 leader.
In addition to its ratings strength, between 1964 and 1968, Billboard magazine rated WMCA as New York's most influential station for new records. Although every market had one station with record-buying influence, WMCA was in the top market, making it responsible for many of the hits from that era becoming staples of the modern-day classic hits format. Not every record added to the WMCA playlist became a hit, but as soon as sales stirred, late-comer WABC would be forced to add the same record. On a related note, WMCA continued to play new records faster than rival WABC. WMCA's weekly countdown list was 25 records long–instead of WABC's 20–and included the "Sure Shot" and "Long Shot" speculations. WMCA's countdown was also "faster" than WABC's, in the sense that records climbed to the top more quickly, while WABC's rankings tended to lag behind. A comparison of both stations showed WABC to be up to two, sometimes three weeks behind WMCA.
The WMCA-WABC rivalry was never more intense than when it came to fighting over the Beatles. WABC was frustrated with its efforts to gain ratings dominance in New York City's metro area and with its efforts to forge a stronger relationship with one of the world's most popular musical acts. WMCA program director Ruth Meyer would later speculate in interviews that WABC's creativity during the 1960s could have been hampered by being owned by an ABC network rife with nationwide broadcast policies, commitments and standards. Conversely, WMCA could run free with "goofy" ideas, promotions and gimmicks as an independently run, family-owned station, without network interference.
According to WABC historians, "another success for WMCA was the fault of WABC itself." In 1969 WABC overnight host Roby Yonge, upon learning his contract with the station was not going to be renewed, used his shift to spread rumors about the "death" of Paul McCartney. This episode proved to be an embarrassment for WABC, leading to Yonge's firing, and WABC's status as a network-owned, clear-channel station errantly launched the "Paul is Dead" story across state lines and ultimately around the world. Although not living up to WABC's strict standards, there is no evidence that this event had an overall negative impact on the station.
As WMCA recorded large New York City audience numbers, any city-based competitor would and did become part of the radio ratings' discussion. WMCA's eventual ratings overall slippage was due to several factors: the January 1968 split of the ABC Radio Network into four distinct components allowed WABC to drop Don McNeill's Breakfast Club and become fully music-intensive during the day. Around the same time Ruth Meyer exited WMCA, the station temporarily dropped their "Good Guy" branding and they also lost key personalities, including Harry Harrison, who moved over to WABC. Additionally, the ascendance of soul station WWRL in 1967 and of two FM rock stations—WOR-FM (now WEPN-FM) in 1967 and WNEW-FM in 1968—ultimately took an average of six rating points away from WMCA.
Chaos and transition
In 1968, a chaotic period began in which Gary Stevens disappeared[clarification needed] to Switzerland and Harry Harrison moved to WABC, where he replaced Herb Oscar Anderson as its morning host. WMCA then started experimenting with some talk programming as part of "Power Radio", with hosts ranging from Domenic Quinn to countercultural Alex Bennett. The station also began playing album cuts in addition to singles, with the slogan "The hits and the heavies."
Disc jockeys left, came back, and left again in short order. New jocks appeared with vague names (e.g., Lee Gray was originally "Lee Your Leader") and various stunts were performed; for example Frankie Crocker, who was lured away from WWRL as the station's first Black personality (before later pioneering the urban contemporary format at WBLS), played two very short songs over and over again for an hour. The "Good Guys" were partly reassembled, then dropped again. Even reliable Dean Anthony, who was concurrently working at a country music station, sometimes got all the slogans mixed up on air.
The station finally adopted a full-time talk radio format labelled "Dial-Log Radio" in 1970 and the "Good Guys" music era was over, however the "Good Guy" theme eventually did make a comeback in a promotional marketing effort.
When WMCA acquired New York Yankees baseball broadcast rights in 1971, Jack Spector stayed on to host a sports talk show, while Bob Grant debuted in New York radio as the house conservative. "Long John" Nebel came over from WNBC in 1973 and became a fixture on overnights, accompanied by his co-host spouse Candy Jones. Malachy McCourt hosted a Sunday night call-in show that was mostly personal reminisces of the type that later became the subject of the best-selling autobiography Angela's Ashes, by his brother Frank McCourt.
In 1972, John Sterling succeeded Spector as sports talk host, transforming the program into one of the first confrontational sports talks shows, as well as doing play-by-play for New York Islanders hockey and New York Nets basketball games that were carried on WMCA. It was there that his knowledgeable but bombastic and over-the-top broadcasting style would first be heard in the New York area. WMCA carried Yankees games until 1977; they then held the broadcast rights for the New York Mets from 1978 through 1983.
The station introduced a new morning news-talk program, hosted by Ralph Howard, Bill Ryan and a team of reporters who were all referred to as the "Good Guys", as seen in this ad for the Ralph & Ryan show. During the 1970s, ratings were healthy for WMCA as a talk station. Jonathan King, who had been at the top of the Good Guys chart in 1965 with his single "Everyone's Gone To The Moon", hosted the weekday midday show for a year in 1981. Most surveys showed the station in the top 10. This was before WOR became exclusively talk, and also before WABC changed to talk in the early 1980s.
The Straus family sold the station in the late 1980s; it was the last family-owned radio station in New York. New owner Federal Broadcasting kept the talk format, however switched to a financial news format on weekdays between 5:00 am and 7:00 pm, just prior to selling the station in April 1989 to Salem Communications, which immediately implemented a format that focused on religion and leased time programming. At that time, all WMCA staffers were invited to apply for positions with the "new" WMCA. Federal Broadcasting eventually sold off their other stations and left the broadcasting business.
Since September 16, 1989, WMCA has been airing a Christian radio format, typical for Salem Communications. Initially it had the slogan "New York's Christian Radio", later changed to "New York's Inspiring Talk". In the early 90s, the moniker slogan was 'Together, Together, we're sharing the moments of your day on WMCA.. New York!'. Salem retained just one of the station's just-deposed on-air hosts, Sonny Bloch.
WMCA ran extra Christian programming on WWDJ (970 AM), licensed to nearby Hackensack, New Jersey and purchased by Salem Communications in 1993. This second station was publicly billed as "WMCA II" or "WMCA 970" until its calls were changed to WNYM and it adopted a conservative-leaning talk format in 2008.
In recent years,[when?] WMCA has attempted to establish a connection back to its "Good Guys" era. Their website has a tribute to the 1960s jocks [permanent dead link], while their current air personalities—"a whole new team of 'Good Guys' filling the airwaves with the Good News"—make appearances and give out an updated version of the Good Guys sweatshirt . On air, the station uses its 1960s-era "Good Guys" jingles for station identification, program promos and transition between songs when music is scheduled. This ended in January 2015 when WMCA was rechristined as The Mission, a new corporate branding effort which Salem plans to expand throughout its group of Christian talk stations.
In September 2016 WMCA became the New York City affiliate of Army football. The station also airs IMG College-produced broadcasts of St. John's University basketball, sharing flagship responsibilities with WNYM. WMCA carried a limited schedule of University at Buffalo football games in 2014 and 2015.
After leaving the Hotel McAlpin in 1938, WMCA moved its studios to various locations in midtown Manhattan, eventually settling in at 888 Seventh Avenue. Not long after taking control of WMCA in 1990, new owner Salem Communications relocated the station to New Jersey; its facilities were based in Teaneck, Rutherford, and Hasbrouck Heights at different points. In December 2013 WMCA returned to New York City, moving from Hasbrouck Heights into a new shared facility with WNYM (in the former studios of WOR) on Broadway in lower Manhattan.
- Site visit to WMCA Kearny facility
- Predicted coverage area for WMCA 570 AM at radio-locator.com
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles Are Coming!. 498 Productions. p. 76.
- New York Times, 22 February 1925
- And not, as is sometimes thought, from the Music Corporation of America (now known as NBC Universal for non-music businesses, and Universal Music Group in the music industry), which has never owned this station.
- Mary Jean Robinson (2008). "Voice of the City:" The Rise and Fall of WNYC-TV. ProQuest. pp. 113–120. ISBN 9780549548393.
- "WMCA Gets Full Time" (PDF). Broadcasting. May 1, 1932. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- New York, Media Bistro. "Remembering Ruth Meyer, a Trailblazing New York Radio Programmer". Media Bistro.
- Information Page, WMCA: Fabulous 57. "Joe Condon, WROW Radio, interview with Ruth Meyer, April 25, 1999".
- Hinckley, David (2012-08-09). "R. Peter Straus, populist WMCA radio host and NYC fixture, dead at 89: Liberal Democrat radio icon made rock n' roll fun, too". The New York Daily News. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles Are Coming!. New Orleans: 498 Publications. p. 139.
- "WMCA Beatles Promos".
- "www.PopSiephotos.com – Welcome to PoPsiePhotos.com".
- "The WMCA Promotions".
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles Are Coming!. 498 Productions. pp. 158–167.
- Scuotto (maiden name), Stella (October 10, 2010). "2010 Statement from Runner-Up Winner of WMCA's Good Guy-Ringo Starr Contest, February 1964. In an interview with journalist David Kusumoto, Stella Scuotto (maiden name) won the runner-up prize of a fan club card featuring a photograph of the band, signed by all four members".
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles Are Coming!. New Orleans, Louisiana: 498 Productions. p. 85.
- Scuotto, Stella (October 10, 2010). "2010 Statement from Runner-Up Winner of WMCA's Good Guy-Ringo Starr Contest, February 1964. In an interview with journalist David Kusumoto, Stella Scuotto (maiden name) won the runner-up prize of a fan club card featuring a photograph of the Beatles - signed by all four members of the band".
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles Are Coming!. New Orleans, Louisiana: 498 Publications. p. 85. ISBN 0966264991.
- "Musicradio 77 WABC".
- "Musicradio WABC Beatles Page".
- Spizer, Bruce (2003). The Beatles Are Coming!. New Orleans: 498 Productions. p. 217.
- "Profile of Ruth Meyer".
- Benjamin, Scott. "WMCA Ruth Meyer Profile". WABC Music Radio 77 Fan Site.
- "WABC Beatles Page".
- "In brief." Broadcasting, April 10, 1989, pg. 96.
- Jim Hawkin's WMCA transmitter page
- Official website
- Query the FCC's AM station database for WMCA
- Radio-Locator Information on WMCA
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for WMCA
- Tribute site in remembrance of WMCA's Good Guys era
- NYC AM Radio History - WMCA
- WMCA News Department Profile & Interviews - 1978
- The 1960s week-by-week
- Site visit to WMCA Kearny facility