WFLA AM & FM - A History
WFLA-AM 820 Clearwater & WFLA-FM 93.3 Tampa –WFLA had its beginnings in 1925 as Clearwater’s WGHB-AM (owned by George H. Bowles) which was licensed to broadcast on 1130 kHz with 500 watts. Using a transmitter previously owned by Atlanta’s WSB, WGHB operated from studios in Dunedin’s Fenway Hotel.
Edward A. Haley, owner of Clearwater’s Fort Harrison Hotel, took ownership of the station in mid 1926 and moved its studios to the Clearwater Community House. WGHB moved to 850 kHz in January 1927 and Haley changed its calls to WFHH (Fort Harrison Hotel). That June, it switched to 820 kHz and the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce acquired the station. The following month the St. Petersburg City Commission approved a contract for its Chamber of Commerce to buy half interest in the station. Its call letters would be WSUN (Why Stay Up North).
In August 1927, WFHH changed its calls to WFLA (West FLoridA). Prior to that time they had been used by a Boca Raton (Florida) station. On November 1, 1927, WFLA moved to 590 kHz with a power of 750 watts and WSUN made its inaugural broadcast. Ownership was now officially divided between the Chambers of Commerce of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, with each station operating three nights per week and alternate Sundays. By January 1928, WFLA/WSUN was operating on 580 kHz, and then 900 kHz that November. A major reallocation of most Florida stations moved both facilities to 620 kHz in November 1929.
By the mid 1930’s, WFLA was owned by Florida West Coast Broadcasting Co., controlled by Ham Baskin, former Clearwater mayor, and W. Walter Tison, who had originally built WGHB. Tison would also build Tampa’s WALT in 1946 and WTVT Channel 13 in 1955. The parent company of the Tampa Tribune, the city’s morning newspaper, bought the WFLA half in 1938. The WFLA/WSUN dual operation split in January 1941 with WSUN remaining on 620 kHz and WFLA moving first to 940 kHz, and then to 970 kHz the following March.
During the 30’s and 40’s, WFLA’s offices and studios had been headquartered in downtown Tampa’s Hillsboro Hotel and Seminole Building at Hyde Park and Lafayette Street. In 1948, adjoining space was made available in the Tribune Building at 312 Morgan Street to house not only the AM, but also the 46,000 watt WFLA-FM (93.3 mHz) which would go on the air that year. However, still more room would be needed by 1955 when WFLA-TV was set to sign on as Tampa Bay’s second TV outlet. To accommodate all three stations under one roof, the Tribune Company decided to construct a new AM/FM/TV plant at 905 E. Jackson Street.
WFLA was a long-time NBC affiliate and carried most of the network’s popular shows during radio’s golden age of the 1930’s and 1940’s. By 1945, it was broadcasting with 5,000 watts day and night, enabling even more bay area listeners to hear their favorites network shows and personalities like “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Dragnet,” Jack Benny and Fred Allen, “Duffy’s Tavern,” “Your Hit Parade,” Bob Hope, Groucho Marx – and, of course, "Monitor," the NBC weekend news and entertainment service, which debuted in 1955.
For the first decade or so, WFLA-FM carried most of the same network and local programs as WFLA-AM, and broadcasted in mono. In the mid to late 1950’s, the FM began running a series of stereo sound demonstrations on Thursday nights featuring PD Ed Walker at the piano and Larry Ferrari at the organ. To receive a “stereo effect,” listeners were told to use both their AM and FM radios, placing them against the same wall, approximately six feet apart. For best listening results, the listener was instructed to place himself on the opposite side of the room so that the sounds from the FM radio would reach one ear and the sounds from the AM the other. What the listener heard was the organ emanating from the AM set while the music of the piano blended from the FM receiver.
In 1964 AM & FM programming went their separate ways. WFLA-AM made an attempt at Top 40 (actually, “chicken rock”) and went so far as to hire top afternoon drive jock Marv Ray from rival WALT. Without success, it returned to a more MOR approach in 1967 and, later down the road (1986) turned to news/talk. WFLA-FM took on an easy listening/MOR-type format (in stereo), increased power to 100,000 watts in 1971, switched to beautiful music, and then, in 1983, to country music as Orange Juice Country WOJC. After finding stiff competition there from already-established WSUN AM-620 and WQYK-FM 99.5, the format was dumped and the station returned to the WFLA-FM calls and an A/C format in 1984. The following year, it re-formatted into soft, non-rock A/C as Paradise 93 WPDS. That format couldn’t be declared a winner either so, in 1988, the station flipped yet again – this time to WFLZ, first as oldies Z93, and then CHR (The Power Pig) a year later.
In addition to the Tribune Company (1938-1967), other owners of WFLA have included WFLA, Inc. (William B. Faber, president-1972), Blair Broadcasting (James C. Hilliard, president-1982), Sconnix (1987), Jacor (1988), and Clear Channel (1998). WFLA’s studios moved from 905 E. Jackson Street to 801 E. Jackson in 1983, and then to 4002 Gandy Boulevard in 1989.
Other names from WFLA history include W. Walter Tison (GM/sales manager-1935), Carl Fritz (PD-1935), Joe Mitchell (chief engineer-1935), Paul M. Jones (PD-1944), Charles G. Baskerville (GM-1948), Bert Arnold (sales manager-1948), Tom Matthews (promotion manager-1948), J.C. Council (president of the Tribune Company 1951-1967), Melvin Myer (sales manager-1951), Fred Reiter (news director-1951), Mardi Liles (farm director-1951), Milt Spencer (sports director-1951), Emily Moody (women’s director-1951), George W. Harvey (GM-1952), Gordon Solie (1952), Sam Latimer (news director-1953), Ed Walker (PD-1956), Fred Ciampili (news director-1957), Fred Davy (mornings-1959), Paul Hayes (mornings-early 60’s), Bobby Lyons (mornings-early 60’s), John Alexander (station manager/sales manager-1959 and later GM), Doug Duperrault (promotions-1960), Jerry Harper (news director-1960), Dan Valentine (PD-1961), Dan Johnson (mornings-1961), Rich Pauley (1961), Bob Jones (1961), Ed Pyle (news), Dale Kirby (afternoons-1963), Pat Downey (1963), Curt Leonard (1963), Bill Henry (news director-1963), Dick Lawrence (PD-1964), Steve Porter (news director-1964), Jon Powers (nights-1964), Mel Phillips (mid 60’s), Jim McShane (mid-mornings-1965), Johnny Dollar (Jim Noel-mid afternoons-1965), Dick Eller (nights-1965), Marty Giles (news director-1965), Beecher Martin, Bob Walters (PD-1967), Ted Arnold (news director-1967), James H. Covey, Jr. (president of The Tribune Company-1968), Paul Gonzalez (Paul Dixon-early 70’s), Jack Harris (mornings-1970), Jerry P. Good (PD-1971), Bob Higby (news director-1971), Pat McLaughlin (chief engineer-1971), Larry Kellogg (promotions-1973), Gary McHenry (traffic reporter-1974), Russ Offenbach (WFLA-AM 1974; WFLA-FM 1980), Rod Weller (PD-1975), Ralph Smith (music director-1975), Art Ross (sales manager-1979), Jim Ashberry (PD-1979), Bob Neal (music director-1979), Don Markey (news director-1979), J. Yrebnaa (promotions (1979), Scott Ferrell (FM PD-1979, Chuck Harder (early 80’s), Tedd Webb (1983), J. Paul Emerson (news-1983), John London & Ron Engleman (WFLA-FM mornings-1983), Sam McClelland (early-mid 80’s), Randy Michaels (mid 80’s), Mel Berman (1985), Steve Hall (news-1985), Bob Lassiter (1985), Jed Duvall (operations-1986), Jim Smith (sales manager-1986), Wilson Welch (chief engineer-1986), Dick Norman (1986), Tim Farley (PD-1986), Donna Leonard (promotions-1986), John Stokes (news director-1986), Al Gardner (news), Mark Larsen (production director 1986-1988; mid-mornings 1989-2000), Paul Porter (mid-late 80’s), Jack Ellery (late 80’s), Jay Marvin (1988), David Fowler (1988), Lionel (Michael William LeBron-1988), Gabe Hobbs (operations-1989), Don Richards (news director-1991), Mark Beiro (1993), Brian James (1993), Sharon Taylor (1998), Shayna Lance (news-2000), Glenn Beck (2000), Dave Zeplowitz (Cigar Dave), and Todd Schnitt.
1927 - 2013 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (History)