As of late, I have been reminiscing about my days in radio, and how much more fun, albeit simpler, times were. Last week, I shared my experiences involving interaction with WTRN, the flagship as well as sister station of WBLF, where I worked. I have been told over the years that WBLF was named for Cary’s wife, the former Betty Lou Finnegan. Years later, I asked Cary directly if this was the case, and he said that was a common misconception, that the call letters were derived from Bellefonte, the town of license.
WBLF was located across from the courthouse, on the third floor of the Crider’s Exchange building. I can still smell the old building, slightly musty odor while navigating the winding steps. From midway through my senior year (1976) until 1984, I can’t tell you how many trips I made to the studio door, but I can tell you it was quite the cardio workout! The station also had a slight musty smell, and there was an old couch in Station Manager Jim Kerschner’s office that looked like it came from a 60s apartment. The décor was rough, to say the least, but comfortable as I recall.
The studio itself was small and had a mini kitchenette with an old porcelain sink. Beside it was a closet that was home to many old albums, 45s and cleaning supplies. The walls and ceiling were made of what looked like asbestos with many small holes. They were decorated with artist/group posters, picture sleeves and local road signs. Of course, one of those signs was Route 970, our dial position. The air conditioner wasn’t very powerful, and in winter, the radiator pipes made an incessant banging sound. Still, it was home to me, and it was all about the sound.
Back then, some of our programming would be unheard of today. For instance, every morning, I had to call Centre Community Hospital (Now MNMC) and have the admissions clerk record the admissions, discharges, deaths, and births. That segment would air following the local news, which was read by Ruth Thomas until her passing in 1979. Ruth was a stickler for running a tight ship. Due to HIPPA laws, that program would be strictly prohibited today. We also had a reporter from the Job Service Office come on live each weekday and share what positions were available. We aired a rather unique weekly program called “Kegler’s Roundup,” where Jim Kerschner would take his cassette player to Bellefonte Lanes and record weekly results with Lanes owner Dick Nardozza. It was obvious that they were at the bowling alley, as you could hear pins falling during the show. Other programming included the morning farm report, which was boring to me, as I was not into hearing about grain pricing. Then there was Doris Krumenaker, the Centre County Home Economist who shared practical tips in various areas.
We had many contests such as the Mystery Street Contest. Every hour, we would select a town or street from our listening area, and the first person to call from that location won 100 S&H Green stamps. We ran a contest for a while called “High-Low” where listeners had to guess how much money was in the “pot,” but it was cumbersome and hard to follow, but it was relatively short-lived. We had the Trading Post, where people would send in items for sale. It was not nearly as exciting as “Dial and Deal,” which believe it or not, was the highlight of many listeners’ mornings. It ran from 9:30-10 a.m., before the local news, and one participant in particular was the reason that many tuned in. His name was Arthur, and he was a pack rat to say the least. He rarely missed a day on the air, and actually became a local celebrity of sorts. He advertised items that few, if any had any use for. He tried to sell used buckets of paint, an electric toaster with no chord, various sizes of rope, etc. His voice was very distinctive and he would often clear his throat on the air. One time he got on looking to buy a back porch. Still trying to figure that one out!
Being on the air as a young DJ back then was a big deal. I served as both music and program director, and Cary pretty much gave me the reigns as to what I played. I do recall that he called me in a huff in ’77 when I aired Meri Wilson’s “Telephone Man,” which was a big hit, but controversial back then. I forget what happened with that song, along with Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young,” but somehow we compromised.
I could go on and on with the many golden memories I have from working at WBLF. Someone suggested that I write a book, and believe me, I easily could. I just don’t know that there would be a market for it. No, we didn’t have the modern technology of today, but we got by with our old Teach reel-to-reel machines, cassette decks, and 45 RPM records, with about 65 cents in change bearing weight on the tone arm. Still, to me, those were the days!