Chapter Seven
Erosion To FM, 1972-1984

In the 1970's, FM stations began taking younger audience demographics away from AM stations as listeners hearing stereo albums at home wanted to hear music on the radio presented in stereo as well (Eastman and Ferguson, 1997, p. 335). FM's better frequency response that had brought in listeners for classical music at first and then easy listening music was now attracting the rock music fan.

WEBC--- and other AM veterans--- were able to hang on, in part because of car radios. AM-only radios were pretty standard in new cars and were to be found in most older vehicles that were still on the road. AM/FM radios were an expensive option, often priced at over $200. At a time when most new cars had sticker prices under $5000, an AM/FM radio could add 4 or 5 percent to the total cost of a family car. In the 1970's, FM was an at-home and possibly at-work medium. America drove with AM (R. Johnson, 1997).

Owner Roy Park was making a nice profit but sold WEBC anyway after being caught in Duluth during a blizzard. He is reputed to have sold out, rather than face a blizzard again. It was the only station he ever owned and sold (Latto, 1997). The new buyers were not to be fazed by northern winters; they came from Fargo. Midwest Radio, owned by the Lakoduk family, bought WEBC in June of 1976 (Mishkind, 1994).

On the FM front in the early '70s, WGGR(FM), with its Beautiful Music format, appealed to older demographics and was hurting KDAL but WEBC was still on what Latto calls ". . . a six-year ride doing nothing but business. . ." that had begun with the first Arbitron survey in 1969 (1997). WEBC faced its first serious FM challenge from 103.3, WDTH(FM), in 1972 (D. Johnson, 1981, p. 9). Progressive Rock was a format associated with the rebellious, long-haired youths of Vietnam war protests (Keith, 1987, p. 90). WDTH(FM)'s acceptance in the business community was poor. Bars, stereo and record stores, and stores called Head Shops, that sold cigarette papers, beads, and pipes, advertised on WDTH(FM) but the mainstream stayed away. Still riding a wave of Arbitron-delivered advertising dollars, WEBC survived as WDTH(FM) went bankrupt in July of 1974 (Latto e-mail2, 1997). The University of Minnesota-Duluth's public radio station, KUMD(FM), took over the 103.3 mHz frequency in 1980 (D. Johnson, 1981, p. 9).

In July of 1974, WAKX, the AM station that had made an unsuccessful run at WEBC for the Top 40 audience in 1964, began playing a high-energy, album-based rock format as "Wax The Music Station" under the supervision of Tac Hammer, the onetime WEBC and WAKX deejay who had become a Twin Cities-based radio consultant (R. Johnson, 1997). WAKX had an FM counterpart, KPIR(FM), that was in a losing fight for the Beautiful Music audience with WGGR(FM). It had already been determined that WAKX would challenge WEBC on both AM and FM. With WDTH(FM) failing, the timetable was stepped up. WAKX owner Lew Latto recalls, "Tac wanted us on FM ASAP after the demise of WDTH . . ." (Latto E-mail 2, 1997). The same week that WDTH(FM) went dark in August, KPIR(FM) changed to stereo rock. The call letters were formally approved as WAKX-FM on September 14, 1974 (Latto E-mail 1, 1997) and a simulcast rock format went on WAKX AM/FM. WEBC finally had met its match.

For a few years, WEBC kept to the Top 40 model, playing the best-selling singles, many of them appealing to the very young. The FM competition played cuts from the hottest albums. On WAKX AM/FM, snide announcements on the air asked, "What are you guys at WEBC going to do? Play more Donny Osmond records?" (R. Johnson, 1997).

The marketplace was changing in FM's favor, too. More cars were being equipped with FM radios. WAKX AM/FM conducted promotions with stereo equipment stores, offering free installation with the purchase of an inexpensive FM converter. These devices, no longer sold since AM/FM radios are ubiquitous, literally converted FM signals to a single AM frequency. The user could tune from one FM station to another on the converter unit, keeping the automobile's in-dash AM radio tuned to the conversion frequency. To illustrate the near-the-edge attitude in place at WAKX AM/FM, the free installation promotion carried the tag-line, "WAKX will stick it in for nothing" (ibid.) WAKX AM/FM played the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. WEBC played Donny and Marie Osmond and was no longer "cool."

In the space of three years, WEBC's Arbitron dominance ended, never to return (All Stations, 1978). While a Duluth/Superior AM station could still finish in first place in the ratings--- KDAL did several times thereafter and WDSM managed to do so once--- WEBC was never top dog again (R. Johnson, 1997). The strong WEBC news department of a decade earlier might have held off the FM challenge. Indeed, many local media observers attribute KDAL's survival to the station's strong local news and weather reputation. But WEBC had lived and died by the Top 40 music.

Paul Harvey was still popular but little else offered by WEBC was as attractive. As the ratings dropped, it became more difficult to convince advertisers to use WEBC. New ways of generating income were devised, including the WEBC Radio Auction. Sponsors would trade merchandise, certificates for services, entertainment or dining vouchers, and so on for commercial time. The goods and services would be auctioned to the general public on the air, with the station goal being 60 percent of retail value received from the listener. The telephone interface gear was improved, a move that was later to prove useful in conducting talk shows. At its peak in the '80s, the Radio Auction was a daily feature, occupying some 12 hours of WEBC airtime each week. In 1995, the auction still existed as a two-hour Saturday feature (ibid.).

After fighting and losing to FM stations for ten years, WEBC added an FM partner in 1983 when Midwest Radio bought Beautiful Music station WGGR(FM) (Two Duluth Stations Sold, 1984). For over 30 years, since WEBC-FM left the air in 1950, WEBC had stood alone. Now, once again, an FM station was operating from the same building. The WGGR(FM) call letters were changed to WAVC(FM) and an automated country music format was instituted, using reel-to-reel tapes supplied by a syndicator (Kero, 1997). The WEBC production room would later become the new FM studio.

One of the few technological improvements to WEBC in this era consisted of the purchase of a satellite receiver to bring in ABC network programming, but the installation was less than elegant. Bill Meys recalls seeing a satellite receiver perched atop a stepladder at the Parkland transmitter site, as the connecting cables were a little short for the unit to be installed in a rack. A hole had been punched through a concrete block wall for cable passage. The Parkland facility was showing the effects of nearly fifteen years without engineers on site. (Meys, 1997). In the 1980's, satellite-delivered music programming was beginning to replace the reel-to-reel syndicated music services and a few national talk show hosts, such as Bruce Williams who was heard on WEBC, were putting their programs "on the bird" rather than delivering them to stations over increasingly-expensive telephone lines (R. Johnson, 1997). WEBC, like most stations, had a ten-foot satellite dish mounted on the roof.

In May of 1984, WEBC was sold again (Two Duluth Stations Sold, 1984). The buyer, Indiana-based Brill Media, would become the owner with the second-longest tenure over WEBC's history. As this thesis is written, the company still owns WEBC, having taken the station through the transition to News/Talk programming and digital audio production, addressed in the next chapter.

Works Cited

All Stations No. 1. . .To A Degree. (1978, July 26). Duluth News-Tribune. Duluth Broadcasting clipping file, Duluth Public Library, Duluth MN.

Eastman, L. and Ferguson, D. (1997). Broadcast/Cable Programming. Belmont CA: Wadsworth.

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

Johnson, D. (1981, November). Twin Ports Broadcasting, 60 Years of Change in a Dynamic Industry. The Duluthian, Duluth MN, pp. 7-10.

Johnson, R. (1997). Personal recollection. Audio cassette.

Latto, L. (1997, April 3). E-mail message 1 to author from

Latto, L. (1997, April 5). E-mail message 2 to author from

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.

Two Duluth Radio Stations Sold To Indiana Company. (1984, February 11). Duluth News-Tribune. Duluth Broadcasting clipping file, Duluth Public Library, Duluth MN.