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WTSP AM & FM - A History

WTSP-AM 1370 & WTSP-FM 102.5 St. Petersburg – Authority was granted April 3, 1939 for a new St. Petersburg radio station, WBOX, on 1370 kHz . The calls were changed to WTSP (Welcome To St. Petersburg) on May 1st, and a CP granted on October 2. WTSP was first licensed December 11, 1939 to the Pinellas Broadcasting Company (Sam H. Mann, McKinney Barton, and Dorothy Line) and went on the air from studios on 4th Street at 35th Avenue North. Power output was 250 watts days/100 watts nights with unlimited hours, but that was upgraded to 250 watts unlimited on December 18th.

In June 1940, WTSP’s license was transferred to Nelson P. Poynter, publisher of the St. Petersburg Times, and studios were moved to the newspaper’s downtown headquarters at 470 First Avenue South. Studios were also set up on the Tampa side of the bay in the Hillsboro Hotel. A CP was granted to move to 1350 kHz with a power of 1-kilowatt days/500 watts night the following November. Under NARBA, the station was granted 1380 kHz on March 24, 1941with 250-watts unlimited. A license to cover the CP was granted in June 1941 for 1380 kHz, with a power of 1-kilowatt day/500 watts nights unlimited. Another license to cover was granted in November 1948 for a boost to 5,000 watts DA-N, unlimited.

In 1944, WTSP created new studios occupying half of the fourth floor of The Times building, as well as the establishment of new studios in Tampa atop the Bayshore Royal Hotel.

In 1947, Poynter launched 4-kilowatt WTSP-FM at 102.5 mHz, also licensed to St. Petersburg. For the most part, if not entirely, the FM’s programming was a simulcast of the AM. Its transmitter’s patent license, affixed to the wall next to it, was signed by Edwin Howard Armstrong, a little-known, but extraordinary inventor, who first patented FM broadcasting technology. 

The WTSP stations were sold to WTSP, Inc. (the Rahall brothers – Sam, Joe, and Farris) in October 1956, and offices and studios moved from the Times building downtown to a newly-built plant at the tower site on Gandy Boulevard. Unfortunately, the Rahalls weren’t interested in operating the FM and cut its on-air time to the minimum eight hours a day (3 to 11 PM) – then let it go silent.

A Mutual network affiliate since the early 1940’s, WTSP-AM programmed a stodgy mix of local record shows and network programs. When the Rahalls bought it, the network was dropped immediately and station manager Marshall Cleaver switched programming to waltzes and polkas – much like the successful Rahall station in Allentown, Pennsylvania – but the audience in Tampa Bay just yawned. Needless to say, it was not successful.

Then, the story goes Cleaver had another idea. He found out that the name of the Borden’s Dairy mascot, “Elsie the Cow,” had never been copyrighted, so he got WTSP’s call letters changed to WLCY (on July 15, 1959), and called it Radio Elsie. But that didn’t help either.

Finally, after learning of Gordon McLendon’s success playing Top 40, and that Tampa daytimer WALT had switched to the new format and was winning the audience wars in the market, Sam Rahall hired WALT’s entire on-air crew, including PD Roy Nilson, and switched WLCY to Top 40. That’s when the station took off like a rocket.

Other names from WTSP history include Glen Dill (mornings 1943-1957), Lex L.D. Herron (GM-1944), Mildred LaGrange (sales manager/promotions-1944), Harold Falconnier (PD-1944), William Mangold (chief engineer-1944), Jack Dadswell (sales manager-1945), Jean Allyn (PD-1945), Herbert T. Anderson (GM-1948), Lee Wildman (sales manager-1948), Jack Faulkner (PD/promotions-1948), A.T. Reagin (sales manager-1949), Walt Swihart (host of “The Penn Luncheon Club” 1949), F. Joseph Kelley (GM-1950), Dick Bingham (sports director-1951), Beth McNeely (women’s director-1951; host of “Suncoast Coffee Break” 1956), Bill Watts (news director), Bob Bonifay (sports director-1953), Lewis Brewer (farm director-1954; production-1956), Bob Hoffer (sports director-1954; afternoons-1955), Rob Allan (news director-1955), Richard L. Crago (GM-1956), Warren Johnson (sports director-1956), Marshall Cleaver (GM-1956), Grady Cantrell (1956), Bryan Webb (mornings-1956), Leeds Schofield (1956), Roger Bennett (1957), Johnny Simpson (mornings-1958), Bob Newman (mid-days/late afternoons-1958), Clair Linn (afternoons-1958), Woody Garcia (nights-1958), Gordon Solie (news; host of “A Salute to Havana”), Paul Reynolds, and Dan Johnson.

Station History

1939 - 1959 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (History)

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