WSUN AM & FM - A History
WSUN-AM 590 St. Petersburg & WSUN-FM 97.1 Holiday – In July 1927 the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce was given approval by the city commission to buy half ownership in Clearwater’s WFHH which was owned by the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce. The St. Pete half would be known as WSUN (Why Stay Up North). The following month, in August 1927, WFHH changed its calls to WFLA.
The agreement provided for WSUN to operate three nights per week and on alternate Sundays and WFLA four nights a week and alternate Sundays, with each station having its own separate offices and studios. The new St. Pete station’s inaugural broadcast emanated from the Shrine Club in October 1927 on 590 kHz. In November, powered by 750 watts, WSUN premiered from its new $40,000 studios on the second floor of the Municipal Pier (sometimes called the Million Dollar Pier) Casino.
In early 1928, WFLA/WSUN moved to 580 kHz and then to 900 kHz by the end of the year. In a major re-allocation of most Florida stations in November 1929, the stations switched to 620 kHz. WSUN moved from downtown Clearwater to Bayview on Tampa Bay in May 1930 with a new 5-kilowatt transmitter which included a two-element directional antenna system. It became the first directional antenna system to be used by a commercial broadcasting station in the United States.
The dual WFLA-WSUN station operation split in 1941 with WFLA moving to 940 kHz (and later to its present 970 kHz) and WSUN remaining on 620 kHz. During radio’s golden age, WSUN was home to such popular Blue/ABC network radio personalities as Louella Parsons, Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson. There were also shows like “Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club,” “Dr. I.Q.,” “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “The Green Hornet,” “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Lum ‘n Abner.” By the mid 1950’s, radio’s audience had declined considerably due to the popularity of television, and ABC began canceling its lineup of daytime dramas and soap operas, and nightly comedy, dramatic, variety, and quiz shows. To fill the void, WSUN focused its attention on St. Petersburg’s senior citizen population with music shows and other local programming hosted by its own staff of announcers.
WSUN continued transmitter operations at Bayview until a move was made to a new transmitter installation near the end of the landfill leading to the Gandy Bridge. The official dedication was January 22, 1952 by ABC Radio’s Don Mc Neill, who originated his “Breakfast Club” morning show from St. Petersburg on that day. For many years afterwards, the original WSUN transmitter was housed as a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
The city of St. Petersburg sold WSUN to WSUN, Inc. (Hy Levinson, president) in early 1966. The Municipal Pier’s casino building, which had been the station’s home since it first went on the air in 1927, was demolished the following year to make way for a new structure to be built on the same sight. At that point, offices and studios moved to new headquarters downtown at 201 2nd Avenue North.
In 1973 WSUN was added to the list of stations owned by Plough Broadcasting (H. Wayne Hudson, president). One morning the following year, listeners were startled when they awoke to hear Johnny Cash coming out of their radios instead of Lawrence Welk. What had happened was Plough had flipped the station to country (Sun Country), determined to put its 5-kilowatt AM head to head with the already-established 100-kilowatt stereo WQYK-FM (K-99).
Taft acquired WSUN next. When CBS bought the station in 1985, studios were moved to the Koger Center off 4th Street north. In 1990, it was sold to Cox Radio and transitioned from country to news/talk, first with all news in the morning and then NBC's Talknet at night. In 1992, the news/talk was dropped, stunting began with all Christmas music for a day, followed by the launch of "AM 620 WSUN Country Classics," which ran until 1995 and the debut of News/Talk 620 WSUN with Neil Rogers and others (“Entertaining Talk for the 90’s”). Cox dropped that format and went with ABC’s “Stardust” (adult standards) satellite music service in 1998.
In late 1998, the WSUN call letters were moved from AM-620 to Plant City’s AM-910 where it programmed a satellite-fed 50’s music format. The former AM-620 dial spot became Concord Media Group’s all news WSAA. Salem Broadcasting acquired AM 910 in 2001, changed the calls to WTWD, and began broadcasting a religious format.
It wasn’t until January 1999 that WSUN-FM went on the air at 97.1 mHz from studios in St. Petersburg. The station was formerly Holiday’s WLVU-FM in Pasco County. Cox Radio, which had been operating it under an LMA since the previous September, acquired its assets in exchange for the assets of WSUN-AM and $17 million.
The FM struggled with the reality of a sub par signal and the fact that it was one of two oldies stations in the market. Rumors ran rampant that the station would flip to an all-80’s format, but at 5:00 PM on November 3, 2000, Tampa Bay got its first taste of 97X-The New Rock Alternative. Its first song was “Hemhorrage” by Fuel. The station later made a bit of radio history on Jan. 18, 2013 when it became the first local station whose music was chosen by fans through a free smartphone app.
In mid 2019, the Apollo Global Management-led group announced it was acquiring all of Cox’s radio portfolio. However, instead of operating as Terrier Media, the newly-formed company would retain the Cox Media Group name and place WSUN-FM in a divestiture trust, due to the loss of grandfathered ownership limits in the Tampa Bay market.
Other names from WSUN-AM’s pre-country years include Louis J. Link (chief engineer-1927), Edee Greene (1932-33), Maj. George D. Robinson (1935; GM-1950), Norman E. Brown (GM-1944), Vera M. New (sales manager-1944), Paul Hayes (first all-night announcer), Jeff Mosier (sports director-1953), Harry Smith (1953), Burl McCarty (1953), Ernie Lee (1954), Charles Kelly (GM-1955), Dayton Saltsman (PD-1955), John Buning (sales manager-1955), Barbara Young (promotions-1955; women’s director-1956)), Bill Bowers (news director-1955), Bob Stanton (1956), Fred Shawn (GM-1957), J.L. Hitchcock (sales manager-1957), Charles D. Bishop (PD-1957), Charles Mason (PD/promotions-1957), Jack Weldon (sales manager-1958), Harry Williams (PD-1958), Jerry Baker (promotions-1958), William J. Codding (chief engineer-1958), Robert Vaughn (PD-1960), Carl Fuchs (promotions-1961), Irwin Brown (news director-1961), Earl Welde (GM), Al Corbett (overnight host of "The Midnight Sun" 1965-68), Ron Taylor (PD/sales-1966), Joe Roberts (nights-1966; mornings-late 60’s; music director-1972), John Meder (late 60’s), George Laurie (overnights-late 60's/early 70's), Tom Drane (weekend overnights-1970), Tony Bell (PD-1970), Lloyd Osborn (chief engineer-1970), Stokes Gresham, Jr. (GM/sales manager-1971), Hugh Brown (news director-1971; GM-1972), Tony Pavone (news director-1971), Bob Wolfe (sales manager-1972), Ray Madren (PD-1972), Terry Casey (news director-1972), John Gall (news director-1973), Dave Pegram, Darrell Martin, Harold Hatfield, John Wright (news), and Maurice Hayes.
Some names from WSUN’s “Sun Country” years include Don Boyles (GM-1974), Tommy Charles (PD-1974), Jay Roberts (overnights-1976), Don Hibbitts (sales manager-1979), Gary Kines (PD-1979), Roger Cristy (news director-1979), Bob Shields (chief engineer-1979), Al Ford (traffic reporter-1980’s), Kevin Murphy (PD/music director/afternoons-mid 80’s), Les Howard (mid-days-mid 80’s), Charlie Champion (mornings-mid 80’s), Mark Stevens (nights-mid 80’s), George Sosson (GM-1986), Steve Burgess (sales manager-1986), Ronald J. Ebben (news director-1986), and Mark Williams (chief engineer-1986).
Names from WSUN-FM history include Keith Lawless (VP & GM), Jodi Rainey (general sales manager), Charlie Mills (PD & afternoon drive 1999), Scott Robbins (1999), Michael Sharkey (PD-2001), Pat Largo, Jesse Kage, and Fisher & Boy (“Morning X” hosts).
1927 - 2019 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (History)