History of WOBU/WCHS, Charleston
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This history was provided by the station.
WCHS-AM Radio went on the air Sept. 15, 1927 at 580 khz. The station was the third station in West Virginia to go on the air. Its first call letters were actually WOBU, with the first location being in the Ruffner Hotel on Kanawha Boulevard. It was founded by Walter Fredericks who had an electric shop, but couldn't sell radios with no local stations. So he built one, later calling it WCHS (acronym for Charleston). Fredericks was a contractor who built homes in the Charleston area for many years. The station moved into Middleburg Auditorium, then named it 'WCHS Auditorium'. Offices were on a U-shaped balcony. The auditorium was used for various events. On Friday nights, the "Old Farm Hour", pulling as many as 2,000 people with its hill talent was broadcast successfully. It was also the location for dances, rented out for such big bands as Bunny Berrigan, Artie Shaw and Stan Kenton. One of the early shows broadcast was the "Miss 580 Club", and from 1938 to 1948 it was hosted by Mrs. Melva Chernoff, wife of Howard Chernoff, one of the earliest managers of station.
It was a 'phone in' show, with Melva giving advice to the lovelorn, recipes, other information and was highly successful. Once a year there was an annual party for all club members, held in the auditorium, broadcast, naturally and this was a big event.
The founder and first president of the West Virginia Broadcasters Association was at the time general manager of WCHS. Howard Chernoff sent letters to all West Virginia stations, getting about twelve members of the informal group together in 1946. In a recent conversation with Executive Director Fletcher, Chernoff recalled some stories from those early years. He said that WCHS had the first full-time news director named Harold Miller, who was drafted into the marines in 1940, then became News Director at WCHS after World War II. An outstanding reporter, Miller is now a Washington, DC lobbyist with his company, Miller Associates. When Senator Harley Kilgore was campaigning in 1946, Miller was hired as Kilgore's Administrative Assistant. Following Miller in the news slot was Ross Edwards. According to Harry Brawley, Edwards was a brilliant newsman who ended his career at WCHS by committing suicide.
Other air personalities included Sam Poland and Tom Murphy, who made up the popular early morning team of "Sam 'N Denzil." Murphy was also active directing local theater and musical groups. With a real love of opera and knowledge of foreign languages, Murphy was a total opposite with his 'hillbilly' character on the air at WCHS. Murphy died in 1986. He had left the radio business some years prior to that, working with the WV Department of Natural Resources, where he did a weekly television program for cable broadcast.
Sports broadcasting attained local prominence with Ernie Saunders joining the station. His brother was program director Bert Sonis back in 1945. Ernie was sports director plus being Sales and General Manager at one time, too, for many years, with the longest continuous sportscast in the state, "The Sports Page of the Air". In retirement he continues to appear on WCHS sports program with John Dickensheets. Other personalities at the station through the years include Elton "Butch" McClung, John Kristof, Bill Richards, Ned Skaff and Joe Farris, to name but a few.
Howard Chernoff thinks that WCHS may be the only station in West Virginia to have won a Peabody Award. In 1943, Harold Miller wrote "The Home Front", with Bert Sonis narrating the program. Wives of servicemen who were having problems getting their military allotment checks were encouraged to send or phone in their problem to the station. Then the station assisted in solving those situations. That program won a Peabody Award. Chernoff went to Europe to serve as a reporter during World War II, interviewed military personnel, claiming that he was the first broadcaster from an independent network (The West Virginia Network) to be a correspondent in the war. He sought out West Virginians, interviewed and taped segments, sent them to CBS in New York, where they were put on 'platters', then broadcast. On occasion, Chernoff also broadcast live from Europe, a very expensive operation, sponsored by Cohen Drug Company. (In 1981, Chernoff gave his collection of war platters to the West Virginia Historical Society, stored at the Cultural Center, Charleston, WV.)
In 1945 Chernoff had many of those interviews published in book form, called Anybody Here From West Virginia? The introduction was written by Edward R. Murrow, then European Director for CBS. (A copy of the book is in WCHS Radio's files.) In 1981, Mr. and Mrs. Chernoff were brought back to West Virginia by then Governor Rockefeller, and were made Honorary West Virginians. Service personnel whom Howard had interviewed during World War II were also brought in from all over the country for that special occasion. (Other papers from his private collection of papers and speeches have been given to the Archives of Contemporary History, University of Wyoming.)
Chernoff tried to retire in 1948, he says, but went to work for the founder of the WV Network, John A. Kennedy in California with KFMB. He later retired from broadcasting, went to the U. S. Information Agency, became U. S. Ambassador to Expo'70 in Japan, then with the U. S. State Department on a mission to Mongolia.
John A. Kennedy, founder of the West Virginia Network in 1936 died in 1987 in California. He was 88 years old.
In 1945, Chernoff hired Harry Brawley to be Director of Public Affairs and Education at WCHS and for the West Virginia Network. In that job Harry fed programs from Charleston for coverage in the Huntington, Clarksburg and Parkersburg markets. Harry began what was the forerunner of public broadcasting's educational programs when he started in-school listening programming in many subjects. More comprehensive reviews of his broadcasting career may be found in his book, titled Twenty Years On An Oasis in the "Vast Wasteland," published in 1981.
WCHS was recognized by CBS in 1947 for having done the best job in the nation in promoting their "School of the Air." In 1954 Harry began TV Classroom in addition to the radio programs, which he continued as associate professor at Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston) until 1978. Brawley left the stations in 1965 to become Executive Secretary of the West Virginia Educational Broadcast Authority. (He is now retired.)
WBES-FM, sister station of WCHS went on the air September 16, 1969 at 96.1 mhz, 50 kw stereo. Located in the same building, 1111 Virginia St., E. in Charleston, it went on the air with a Beautiful Music format, until it was changed to "Warm 96" in 1988, with call letters changed to WVNS (West Virginia Ninety-Six). General Manager of both stations is now Jim Nesbit. At one time he worked for Rollins Communications, traveling coast-to-coast to various Rollins stations, including WCHS in Charleston.
Radio Station War Is Waged in Public
WOBU Charges Huntington Unit is Trying to “Hog” Air Channel for SelfThis article appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Mar. 28, 1930.
The wavelength fight of WSAZ, Huntington radio station, and WOBU, Charleston station, came into the open with a statement issued Friday by Walter Fredericks, owner and operator of WOBU, in which it is charged that the Huntington station is endeavoring to force WOBU out of existence in order to obtain its wavelength of 580 kilocycles.
Three endeavors, Mr. Fredericks says in his statement, have been made to force him to relinquish the wavelength.
His statement follows, in part:
“...In view of the fact that we are now forced to defend the interests of Charleston radio listeners and the possible continuation of public service the following exact statement of facts are released for the information of the public.
“Early in January, 1930, the manager of station WSAZ, Huntington, W. Va., approached station WOBU asking that the facilities of WOBU be sold and conveyed to WSAZ, with the statement that they wished to acquire control of our frequency of 580 kilocycles and to operate full time, either closing down WOBU or operating it an hour or two a day at such times when they did not wish to broadcast in Huntington. In other words, any time that Huntington did not want would be given to operation of WOBU Charleston. The management of WOBU point blank refused....
“The Huntington management then came back a second time seeking to lease the station or compel us by intimidation to sell to them.
“They came back a third time, and stated that if we would not sell out nor lease the station, they were going to use ‘rough shod’ methods and leave no stone unturned to force us off the air, fair means or foul.
“...they endeavored to discredit Charleston and its radio station.
“They applied for higher power and a different wave length, all of which has been refused by the federal radio commission.
“Station WSAZ, Huntington, now seeks to force WOBU off the air and appropriate the 580 kilocycle frequency, without regard or fairness to the city of Charleston....
“Many radio receivers in Charleston are unable to even hear WSAZ on the air, others cannot hear them with any satisfaction or quality, so that particularly during the spring and summer months WOBU is the only station which can be heard and enjoyed free form disturbances and static in this region.
“The time has now come for the citizens of Charleston to protect their own interests, to assert themselves and not permit the capital city of the state to be deprived of its radio facilities, afforded morning, afternoon and evening each day. There is no reason why there cannot continue the division of time on the 580 kilocycle frequency, without either station desiring to ‘hog’ the air. With radio frequencies and facilities at a premium throughout the United States, Charleston will never again be afforded a local station if Huntington is permitted to arbitrarily force the capital city off the air.
“Station WOBU, which for nearly three years has been serving in all matters of civic, religious, educational as well as entertainment purposes, affording regular and efficient service, and which has just recently spent some thousands of dollars in modern transmission improvements, employs a force of six employees regularly and over 100 staff artists each week, with holdings of over $25,000.00 in the community, the loss of which would prove a distinct loss to the city and state.”
High-Frequency Station SoughtThis article appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Apr. 12, 1944.
The Charleston Broadcasting Co. has applied to the federal communications commission for permission to construct frequency modulation broadcasting station, Howard Chernoff, managing director of the West Virginia network, said Wednesday.
Frequency modulation, a new type of broadcasting with which 15 or 20 stations in the U. S. are currently experimenting, tends to avoid static and interference. This company is believed to be the first in West Virginia to apply for such a station.
The Charleston company will apply for 50,000 watts and plans to cover all of southern West Virginia from the new station, which will be entirely separate from WCHS, Mr. Chernoff explained. Since the new broadcasting is of such a refined nature, it is doubtful that even the WCHS studios can be used. The new station will call for an investment of about $200,000.
From the FCC microfiche files, November 8, 1994.
Frank AnnandThe following obituary appeared in the Charleston Gazette.
Frank Annand, 78, of Charleston died on Sept. 5, 1998 at home after a long illness.
He was retired from the state Department of Highways and was a member of St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Charleston. He was an Army veteran of World War 11, a longtime resident of Charleston and was a member of Lions Club and Kanawha Players. He was a former on-air personality for WCHS radio and television stations.
Surviving: wife, Shirley Spradlin Annand; daughters, Kati Lyon of South Charleston, Mollie Hunter of Tucson, Arziz, Megan Annand of Charleston; sons, Stephen D of Charleston, Michael of Wilmington, N.C., John of Portland, Ore, Frank "Jay" of Atlanta; sister, Julia Grier of Woodbridge, Va; 16 grandchildren; one great-grandchild.
Services will be 2pm, Wednesday at St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Charleston, with Rev. Knute Jacobson Officiating. Burial in St Matthews Columbarium. There will be no visitation. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Kanawha Hospice care or St. Matthews Episcopal Church. Barlow-Bonsall Funeral Homes, Charleston, is in charge of arrangements.
[Additional notes - After leaving WCHS for the State Highway Department, Frank did part time/fill in work at WTIP/WTIO. Frank’s wife, Shirley, was also in radio. Her career spanned over 30 years at WTIP/WTIO and is most remembered by her noontime talk show and talent. She was the female voice on most of the commercials you would hear on WTIP/WTIO in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Shirley is retired, very active with the Charleston Light Opera Guild and still will be heard on Charleston radio, from time to time. Information courtesy of Mark Aulabaugh]
S. W. (Cap) Pritchard, 68 Veteran Radio Star, Dies
This obituary appeared in the Charleston Gazette on July 8, 1957.
Samuel Warren Caplinger Pritchard, 68, well-known Charleston radio announcer of the "Cap, Andy and Flip" trio died yesterday of a heart attack. Labeled "Mr. Folk Music," Pritchard had been a figure of the Charleston radio scene for 21 years. He had organized the "Cap, Andy and Flip" team in Akron, Ohio, and his group came to Charleston in 1936. "Cap" first broadcast over station WCHS for 12 years. In 1949, he moved to WKNA where he was heard for four years as the star and proprietor of "Cap's Trading Post," and "Saturday in the Valley."
A Lover of America's folk songs, gospel music and country music,he also was with station WGKV for about two years where he continued his homespun type program. Pritchard retired from radio about a year ago.
He was born on a small farm near Parkersburg. He left the farm when he was 18 and moved to Akron, where he worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. until he organized the "Cap, Andy and Flip" trio in 1928.
Pritchard, who resided at 1314 E. Virginia St. was stricken at his home and was dead on arrival at Charleston General hospital.
He was a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and was active in civic and charitable promotions.
Surviving are his wife, Evelyn; four sons, Warren of Akron, Omer of Big Chimney, Kenneth of Charleston, and Raymond, with the Air Force in Arizona; three daughters, Mrs. Kay Wilson of Fairmont, Mrs. Violet Vandergrift of Parkersburg, and Beechie of Phoenix, Arizona; four sisters, Mrs. Robert Runion and Mrs. C. C. Holmes, both of Akron, Ohio, Mrs. Sam Emrick of Belpre, Ohio and Mrs. Rosa Nicholas of Parkersburg; and two brothers, Everett of Akron; and Ralph of Parkersburg; 16 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Service will be conducted at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Charleston Seventh Day Adventist Church by Rev. Ben J. Mondics. Burial will be in Cunningham Memorial Park at St. Albans.
The body will remain at Simpson-Chandler mortuary until one hour prior to the service.
An April 1931 newspaper adevertisement for WOBU shows F. Beckley Smith as general manager, J. Stanley Stephens as sales manager, and Bernard B. Beane as announcer.