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WWBA AM & FM - A History

WWBA-AM 680 & WWBA FM 107.3 St. Petersburg – Tampa Bay’s beautiful music BAy Radio, WWBA AM & FM, was originally St. Pete’s WPIN AM & FM when WWBA, Inc. (New Yorker Ed Winton, president) bought the pair in 1968. Winton was a hands-on owner (GM) and a leading exponent of the beautiful music genre – a protégé of radio legend Gordon McLendon and owner of Miami’s WOCN AM & FM.

Before converting WPIN to WWBA, Winton engaged in a massive advertising campaign which was extremely successful in generating public curiosity. He had billboards and bus stop benches throughout Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater painted to read “A New Bay is Coming to Tampa!”, “A New Bay is Coming to St. Petersburg!”, etc.  The signs said nothing else and gave no hint as to what type of service or product they referred to.  After several months, the public breathlessly awaited to see what the “New Bay” would be. It turned out to be Bay Radio WWBA, a new radio station with a new type of format – and the rest is history.  
 
WWBA’s studios were located at Broadcast House on 62nd Avenue North at 28th Street in St. Pete with the FM tower directly behind the building. In the late 70’s, the offices and studios moved to 9721 Executive Center Drive in the Koger Complex, and the towers relocated to a single stick behind Derby Lane on Gandy Boulevard. The AM was a 1-kilowatt daytimer while the FM broadcasted full time with 64,000 watts in stereo. The FM’s power would be upgraded to 100,000 watts in 1975.

WWBA had the first morning radio news block in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market (“The Bay Radio Morning News”) which was heard weekdays from 6 AM to 9 AM.  Included was a syndicated commentary by Ronald Reagan.  The stations were also the first with two planes in the sky for traffic reports, one over Pinellas, and the other over Tampa.

In 1980, a narrow hallway housed the automation system – six Scully reel-to-reel tape decks for the FM and four for the one kilowatt AM. Below were two time-announce cart machines. One played the “odd” minute time checks and the other played the “even.” A series of standard cart machines were located on top of the racks, each loaded hourly with spots scheduled to run as per the program log. Although both stations shared a single production room, the AM had a full control room with an adjoining news booth while the FM had only a very small announcer’s booth. There were no cart machines in the FM until much later. FM programming was a 50% duplication of the AM.

In the ratings, WWBA was a solid number one 12+.  If management felt an agency-produced spot didn’t fit the station’s image, it was either rejected or re-produced by the in-house production staff. Outside morning drive, the FM played 13-minute music sets with breaks on the quarter-hours. Most of the reels contained instrumentals but there was always one that held light vocals.

Ed Winton sold WWBA-FM to Metromedia in 1981 but retained WWBA-AM, switching it to a nostalgia format branded Life 680 with new call letters – WWLF (1981), WLFW (1982), and then WLFF in 1985 when it was acquired by Century Broadcasting. When WLFF was sold in 1991, it became all-Spanish WRMD Rhumba 680. Meanwhile, the beautiful music format continued on WWBA-FM until 1988. Metromedia (which by that time had changed its name to Metropolitan Broadcasting) sold it to Cox Radio who turned it into soft A/C WWRM Warm 107.3.

Some names from Tampa Bay’s Beautiful (Music) 107 WWBA include Ronald Wilson (station manager-1971), William Emnard (sales manager-1971), Pete Jamieson (news director-1971), Robert Blumenkranz (chief engineer-1971), Robert Cavanaugh (news director-1972), Jack Fleet (chief engineer-1972), Bill Dutcher (station manager-1974), Bill Shricker (sales manager-1974), Bill Hazelton (news director-1975), Dave McKay (David McElroy-PD/production and creative director 1976-85), Steven Hill (news director-1979), Ed Gorman (chief engineer-1979), Tedd Webb (1980), Bob Higby and Bill Miller (morning news anchors), Ron Stauner (mornings), Norm Swensen (afternoons), Leon Pettersen (Ch. 10 weatherman Sonny Day-nights), Michael Serio, John Fennessy, Ronald J. Ebben (news director), Jeff Loughridge (chief engineer), Jim Genovese, Bob Hughes, Carl Buehl and Bob Campo.


(Thanks to Michael Serio and Dick Wheeler for their assistance with this history. Please contact us if you have additional information to share about WWBA.)

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