Chapter Six

Post-Fire, Top Dog, 1967-1972

It was not too difficult for WEBC to continue doing business after the 1967 fire. Temporary sales offices were set up across Superior Street in Room 210 of the Greyhound Building, the bus depot (Damage To WEBC Building, 1967). There was no interruption of broadcasting since the fully-equipped control room at the Parkland transmitter was still in good condition thanks to the transmitter engineers who were always on duty (Gordon, 1997). WEBC's engineers had been running Garner "Ted" Armstrong's taped religious program from the Parkland studio most evenings (Meys, 1997). The regular deejays had operated from the concrete block structure from time to time prior to the fire anyway (Gottschald, 1997).

A search for suitable quarters was conducted and, when a new structure was selected, it was outside of downtown Duluth. The significance of this change must be understood. Since 1926 when WEBC put a studio in the Spaulding Hotel, downtown Duluth had been the home to Twin Ports broadcasters. Two of the three commercial TV stations--- KDAL-TV and WDSM-TV--- and four of the seven Duluth/Superior radio stations operating in 1967--- WEBC, KDAL, WDSM, and KAOH--- had studios in downtown Duluth. The city was about to undergo a model city revitalization in the former Bowery, a block away from the burned-out WEBC Building. Religious WWJC and Classical WWJC-FM were located far to the west in Gary New-Duluth, but neither was a factor commercially. WAKX, then in Superior, would move to downtown Duluth in 1970 (R. Johnson, 1997). Broadcasters had, it seemed, always been headquartered downtown. Yet, the city's first radio station, WEBC, would not have a downtown Duluth presence for the first time in 41 years.

WEBC moved onto the Duluth East Hillside into a flat-roofed rectangular structure that had been, first a grocery store, and then a chemical lab (Gordon, 1997), at 10th Avenue East and 9th Street, eight blocks uphill from St. Luke's Hospital. An insurance agency located across 10th Avenue East was the only other commercial business within a city block; the rest of the nearby buildings were, and still are, residences. WEBC is still occupying the building as this is written.

Inside, the space had been extensively remodelled and was a showplace. The floor plan resembled a squared-off doughnut. Offices lined the perimeter walls, with an internal hallway separating the offices from a central broadcast core. This core consisted of a large control room, a narrow news booth, and a production room nearly as large as the control room. Soundproofed doubly-glazed windows separated the three rooms so visual communication was possible through all three studios. An intercom system allowed voice communication between newscaster and deejay as well. The equipment was the newest and best that insurance money could provide. There was only one problem.

It had been decided to abandon the use of telephone lines to carry the programming to the transmitter and instead utilize new microwave Studio-Transmitter-Link, or STL, technology. The installation was plagued with glitches. The delivery of the signal from 9th Street to Parkland took over a year to perfect and the deejays were forced to perform their shows from the transmitter building for most of the interim. There was only the one studio out at Parkland so all of the commercials had to be written and produced in the new 9th Street facility and hauled 15 miles to Parkland several times a day. News was gathered in the Duluth building and sometimes was delivered from 9th Street over the telephone. Other times, taped newscasts were sent out with commercials. The deejays put a lot of miles on their cars, making the trip out to the Parkland studio for every shift, then back to 9th street for commercial production, until 1969 (Gordon, 1997).

It was during this period that remote operation of directional AM stations like WEBC was authorized by the FCC, provided there was a holder of a First Class Radiotelephone License on duty. In practice, it meant that all WEBC deejays were told to get a so-called First 'Phone or lose their jobs. Dave Gordon, like so many other announcers of that era, took a 6-week quickie course in how to pass the First 'Phone test. He got his First Class License in the spring of 1968 and the engineers were all fired in 1969. By then, the microwave link between studio and transmitter was operating and the entire staff settled in on 9th Street (ibid.).

Another change prompted by technological advancements occurred in the Duluth/Superior radio market that was to boost WEBC's income. Control Data Corporation's audience measurement subsidiary, American Research Bureau or Arbitron, began surveying the market in 1969. The old Pulse and Hooper radio surveys had used telephone calls to determine listening. Arbitron used entries in special listening diaries sent to survey subjects, with the data weighted by demographic group and then tabulated on Control Data computers. Another difference was geographic. The old phone-based surveys were restricted to Duluth and Superior telephone listings. Arbitron utilized a U. S. Census Bureau definition of Statistical Metropolitan Survey Area or SMSA. In the Duluth/Superior market the SMSA was defined as the cities of Duluth and Superior and the counties in which they resided. Duluth is located at the extreme southern end of St. Louis County, Minnesota, which is larger in area than the state of Rhode Island. WEBC's northerly directional pattern was made to order to cover the majority of the county, including towns on Minnesota's Iron Range, such as Hibbing and Virginia, which were considered part of the Duluth metro area. Beginning with the first Arbitron rating book, WEBC came out on top. KDAL still owned the mornings, but WEBC had the demographics sought by advertisers. Business rolled in (Latto, 1997).

After Red Owl Stores were forced to sell all radio stations, WEBC was purchased in November of 1968 by a broadcaster from upstate New York, Roy H. Park (Mishkind, 1994). Park was in radio for the long haul, developing a reputation of never selling a station once he had acquired it (Latto, 1997). WEBC would be the only exception.

The Duluth/Superior radio market was virtually all AM in the late '60s. On FM, there were two college stations, Duluth's KUMD(FM) and WSSU(FM) in Superior, which was the first FM to broadcast in multiplex stereo. There was also WWJC-FM, which had been started in 1965, airing mostly classical music in high fidelity mono. In 1970, WWJC-FM was sold to a company called the Titanic Corporation. Improved to stereo and renamed WGGR(FM), it was to become the first commercial FM success with a Beautiful Music format that appealed to older adults. Appealing to the young, WEBC was virtually untouched by the FM competition at first (R. Johnson, 1997).

WEBC programming continued to be Top 40 in the late '60s and early '70s, an era in which Englebert Humperdick, Dean Martin, and Tom Jones competed with classic rock bands such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones for spots on the charts. There was "Bubblegum Music" from The Archies vying with Motown's Supremes and Four Tops. WEBC tried to play it all, restricting the harder rock to evenings (Gordon, 1997). The psychedelic movement spawned a host of artists and groups, such as Led Zeppelin and the Moody Blues, who made a living from album sales. The new musical type was called Progressive or Acid Rock (Keith, 1987, p. 90). Elsewhere in the nation, a select few FM radio stations were playing this album rock, in stereo. In 1972, two new FM stations went on the air in Duluth that would cause trouble for WEBC, though at the time nobody at WEBC was worried (Gordon, 1997). The two stations were stereo Rock station WDTH(FM), at 103.3 mHz, and a Beautiful Music station aimed at WGGR(FM), KPIR(FM) at 98.9 mHz. Before the decade was over, one would be history and the other would have knocked WEBC from first place (R. Johnson, 1997).

Works Cited

Damage To WEBC Building May Exceed $50,000 (1967, July 16). Duluth News-Tribune. Duluth Fire Disasters clipping file, Duluth Public Library, Duluth MN.

Gordon, D. (1997, April 8). Telephone interview on audio cassette.

Gottschald, R. (1997, April 2). Telephone interview on audio cassette.

Keith, M. (1987). Radio Programming, Consultancy and Formatics. Boston: Focal Press.

Latto, L. (1997, April 3). Telephone interview on audio cassette.

Meys, W. (1997, February 13). Interview on audio cassette.

Mishkind, B. (1994, August 27). Ye Olde Radio Station List 1.36. Computer software on disc.