This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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“The Airwaves of New York: Illustrated Histories of 156 AM Stations in the Metropolitan Area, 1921-1996”
co-authored by Bill Jaker, Frank Sulek and Peter Kanze
(Reissue by McFarland, 1998)
Reviewed by Jim Cox
(From Radio Recall, October 2008)
Every now and then a second chance comes along, one you wished you had claimed at an earlier opportunity. McFarland & Company, one of vintage radio’s most prolific preservers of materials that so many are zealous about, has in recent years cultivated a habit of re-releasing a few titles in softcover editions. At reduced prices, these works originally appeared as more expensive library hardbacks. Many of the new releases are of “wished-I’d-read-it-earlier” volumes that have been on shelves for a decade or longer. Having well withstood the passing of time, those few hand-picked texts for rediscovery offer renewed chances to fill-in-the-gaps that are frequently not only informative but enjoyable reading.
Such a work is the re-release of The Airwaves of New York written by a trio of radio veterans. I regret missing it the first time around. Picking it up recently, I learned all manner of anecdotal information that complemented factual details supplied about those 156 radio outlets, the staggering number alone being among the many surprises.
In alphabetical order the scribes unveil intriguing trivia about dozens of obscure, sometimes forgotten outlets, as well as the better known stations—WABC, WABC, WCBS, WEAF/WNBC, WHN, WINS, WJZ, WMCA, WMGM, WNEW, WNYC, WOR. They give us glimpses of history including current and former addresses, timeframes in which facilities were occupied, descriptions of unique shows and their personalities, reveal the conditions under which monumental decisions were made, pinpoint when formats shifted from music to talk or news or sports or whatever.
Within the text we can trace the local—and sometimes national—histories of the major radio networks. Along with those, entities like the Amalgamated Broadcasting System, Atlantic Broadcasting Company, Yankee Network are introduced, plus scores of smaller outfits that heavily impacted the region and sometimes even more distant audiences.
There are vintage black-and-white photos of Martin Block, Ted Brown, Vic Damone, John B. and John A. Gambling, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, Dave Garroway, Gary Farber, The Fitzgeralds, Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen and Dick Kollmar, Guy Lombardo, Mary Margaret McBride, Henry Morgan, Jean Shepherd, Kate Smith, Jack Sterling, Gary Stevens and more.
There’s lots of illustrations of powerful transmitters, studio scenes and it’s a promotional poster paradise. The style of writing is light so one doesn’t get bogged down in drudgery, yet it covers the waterfront of important milestones in the life of each station, progressing sequentially as it goes.
The book set me thinking: Wouldn’t it be great to have similar works on the stations of such influential radio cities as Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Francisco, Washington and whatever anybody’s favorite town might be? Maybe there’s hope for one or more sequels!
The 205-page softcover edition of The Airwaves of New York is available for $35 from www.mcfarlandpub.com and 800-253-2187. It will be a valuable addition to anyone’s bookshelf with a passion for old time radio history, or who loves New York or is into media research.