History of WPLH/WWHY/WKSD/

Some photos are here. Several sound files are here.

The following article was contributed by Paul W. Urbahns.

WPLH took to the air at 7:30 PM on November 29, 1946, with a formal grand opening program broadcast live from the Hotel Prichard. The frequency 1450 was called a 'Local Channel', due to the fact stations on this frequency was intended to serve only small communities, and were allowed to operate a full time schedule with a non-directional maximum power of 250 watts. WSAZ, a full time 1000 watt station, jumped on the power difference immediately by calling themselves “that POWERFUL station.”

Flem J. Evans, applied for the license and became general manager of the station and president of the Huntington Broadcasting Corp. The Formal Opening Broadcast featured the Inco Chorus, directed by Luther E. Woods; The Melody Kids; the choir of the First Methodist Church, Linda Brook and Bill Cook, soloists; the Gate City Four quartet; Pete Pyle and his Mississippi Valley Boys; the East High School Octet; Rankin’s Hawaiians, and other entertainers along with various public officials.

Broadcasting a very locally involved schedule from 1105 4th Avenue, these studios appear to have been state of the art for the period, though nothing on the grand scale of the “Radio Center” studios of WCMI. WPLH advertised broadcasting, recording and transcription services as being available. WPLH is believed to stand for “Work Play and Live in Huntington” though that phrase does not appear in any known advertising. Transmitter facilities were noted as being at West Sixteenth Street and Jackson Avenue. The broadcast studio would remain at 1105 4th Avenue until 1957.

Flem Evans was former station manager at WSAZ, and put WPLH on the air as competition. While at WSAZ Evans maintained a very robust roster of local hillbilly acts, some became nationally known. But the days of local live radio was drawing to a close. WPLH offered listeners an occasional live show, such as Margie Shannon or the Echo Valley Boys, along with a steady diet of transcriptions including programs such as the “Tennessee Jamboree.”

The staff assembled by Evans for the new venture included several industry veterans in key positions. That opening staff included, in addition to General Manger F.J. Evans (15 years experience); Lee Allen, Sports Director (12 yrs); Jay Caldwell, Program Director (11 yrs); Claude J. Landry, Commercial Manager (8 yrs); Harold Arthur, News Director (7yrs); William J. Hansher, Jr. , Chief Engineer (7 yrs); Tim Collins (real name Albert Villistrigo), Chief Announcer (5 yrs); Marcia Young, Community Editor and Dir of Women’s Programs (4 yrs).

The November 1946 sign on date makes WPLH the third radio station in Huntington, following WSAZ and WCMI. Network affiliation was very important in those early radio days, much as it is today for television stations. Affiliation with the Mutual Network allowed the station to air many nationally popular programs.

WPLH-FM reportedly went on the air in 1947, but an actual date has not been confirmed. The 1950 Broadcasting Yearbook shows WPLH-FM on 102.5 MHz with 41 kw. Very little is known about WPLH-FM at this time.

As the early 1950s rolled on discussion in newspapers and broadcasters was on the coming of color television. The three “other” Huntington radio stations all applied to the FCC for a television license. An unnamed newspaper dated July 24, 1954 announced WPLH permitted to drop its bid for the frequency. Eventually WCMI and WHTN fought it out to the end with WHTN getting the Channel 13 television license and taking over WCMI’s legendary Radio Center facility. For more on the glamorous Radio Center see the WCMI history.

The impetus for WPLH to enter the television market may have been E.A. Marshall who succeeded Flem Evans as President of Huntington Broadcasting Corp in 1952. Marshall stayed President until the 1954/1955 period and was succeeded by Charles Krause (1956). Struggling to survive during the late 50s a period when the general public and listeners/viewers alike were mesmerized by television, WPLH station was sold to The Tierney Company with James F. McDonald, President in 1958. McDonald appears to have downsized the staff in an effort to keep the station profitable and moved studio facilities to a small area on the second floor of 1046 3rd Avenue.

WPLH was sold in 1960 to the Ohio River Broadcasting Corporation, headed by Richard H. Hustead. Hustead began his radio career in Clarksburg, W Va., but came to Huntington from Duluth, Minn., where he was part owner of WEBC. To make the station more competitive in those early days of “Rock and Roll era”, the call letters were changed to WWHY, and programmed a steady diet of the Top 40 hit records as listed on the station’s weekly “Silver Dollar Carousel” survey.

The 1960s turned out to be the most competitive period in Huntington radio as WWHY had to fight it out for listeners against traditional WSAZ (Radio and Television); Rock and Rollers (WHTN later WKEE AM/FM); and WCMI; plus Country formatted WTCR. During the decade WWHY would try all these formats in direct completion with the other stations, with varying degrees of success.

Remembering WWHY-AM Radio in 1963

This article was contributed by Randy Scott in 2009.

After spending two years as the morning drive guy on WKEE, Huntington’s top-40 rating leader, I was approached by WWHY General Manager Dick Hustead about being WWHY’s Program Director. Both were/are daytime stations. ‘KEE had the dominant signal at 800 and the ratings, but what 21 year old could turn down the opportunity and challenge to program his first radio station? So, for an extra 10 bucks a week, a whopping $90, I moved down Fourth Street to the top floor of the Hotel Frederick where WWHY had its studios and offices.

It sounded prestigious — “broadcasting from high atop the Hotel Frederick from the beautiful penthouse suite.” We did have the entire top floor but it was smaller than the other floors of the Frederick (which by the way had a very nice restaurant but who could afford to eat there on 90 bucks a week). Exiting the elevator put you in WWHY’s reception area. If you followed around to the left you could enter both the main studio and production studio. Veering right from the elevator took you to the air staff lounge, and offices of the sales staff and GM. By the way, Dick Hustead had a reputation as being difficult to work for. From personal experience, may I say the reputation was well deserved.

I was fortunate to already have Jay McKay and Nino Nano (real name Don Rees) on the staff. Jay did morning drive and 12 to 3; Don did the 9 to 12 noon and wrote copy. Not certain what direction Jay headed, but Don came from WCMI in Ashland, Ky. and later returned as that station’s GM. As the underdog, the “HY Guys” team had great camaraderie and we got along great. Bill Trowbridge had been the station’s only known personality but Bill had moved on before I came over.

On the air, we had to make-do with a couple of old, mediocre jingles; one I recall ran about 60 seconds, longer than some of the songs we were playing! Our air sound was tight, typical up-tempo DJ delivery, not saying anything of much substance, but saying it quickly! Thank God for time, temperature and corny one-liners. I made up the weekly playlist, a compilation of sales at Davidson’s record shop and Cashbox magazine. We started a WWHY Top 40 survey (pictures on the WWHY web site).

Of course at that time we all pulled six-day work weeks. I recall working one Saturday and getting a call from Bobby Bare (RCA artist whose home was across the river at Ironton, Ohio). He said he had a copy of his new RCA release and asked if he could bring it over. An hour later, Bobby stepped off the elevator, we talked on the air, and he told me I was the first DJ in the country to play Detroit City. Incidentally, Bobby had a huge 1959 hit The All American Boy on Fraternity which was released under the name Bill Parsons.

After only five months, in late ’63 I accepted an offer to join WCAW, Charleston, as Program Director. I hated leaving Huntington but, hey, I was now in the lofty $100-a-week category (and all the records I could eat). I would later learn that WKEE GM Bob O’Dell had called the GM at WCAW and asked them if they could “get me out of Huntington.” Such was radio then! What fun.

Recollections of Gene Stephenson

The following is an email from Gene in 2008:

Hi Jeff. I enjoyed reading your article about early radio and tv in Huntington w.va. The original transmitter for WPLH was in the basement of Flym Evans’ house on McCoy Road in Huntington. This is overlooking Ritter Park. The antenna was in his back yard. I was told this by Lew Rowan who was an engineer there at one time. Also I was told by Raymond Johnston when I was in trade school that WSAZ was operated in the back of a radio shop on 8th street between 6 and 7 th ave in Huntington.

I worked part time for WPLH in 1957 & 1958. During those times Lew Rowan and Bob Nixon were chief engineers (at different times). One day they lost a modulation transformer. I was on my way back from Ashland oil where I had a repair job . I found Bob Nixon at the transmitter. He told me that they were going to be off the air for about a week. At that time I was playing with a form of modulation that didn’t use a big modulation transformer. This was Heising modulation. In about an hour we had the transmitter back on with about 30% modulation, but they were on the air.

The antenna base current meter on WPLH was and still is 25 feet off the ground. I was paid the great sum of $5.00 per week to walk out the 250 feet climb up a telephone pole and read the base current meter and calibrate the remote control reading. Bob Nixon was too out of shape to do this. The FCC required us to maintain a small boat on a hoist so that one person could get it in the water when the bottom was flooded, which was and is still often in wet weather. The drunks on 14th Street would come over to the transmitter site after a rain and take a stick and push it in the ground till they found a ground wire. They would then pull up a wire. They were 250 feet long and take it over to the junk yard and sell it. Several people over the years were put in jail for this. The ground system had to be replaced several times. Bob Nixon had a large copper screen placed around the base of the tower at ground level and then buried it in concrete then hooked up the ground radials. This just made it a little harder to find an end. I often wonder just how much ground wire is still there what with all the copper theft.

Several times I was at WHTN transmitter, but I don’t remember it being water cooled. I just don’t remember.

Again, I really enjoyed reading what you had posted as I have been around through a lot of it. I listened on a crystal set hooked to the bed springs to WHTN, WSAZ, and WPLH. I lived in harveytown so the transmitters were close. I have worked in radio and tv since about 1957. Worked part time for WPLH, then went fulltime at WTCR as assistant chief engineer and staff announcer and was transferred to their station in Kinston, NC as Chief engineer and staff announcer. I then came back to Huntington in May 1960 and started to work at WHTN-TV and worked there till sometime in I believe 2006. I am Eddy Gene Stephenson, better known as Gene. Thanks for letting me relive the good old days of radio and tv.

Additional Notes

On Dec. 20, 1954, Broadcasting reported WPLH was granted a change from 1450 kc with 250 watts unlimited to 1470 kc with 5 kw. “Grant is subject to condition that WPLH assume responsibility for installation and adjustment of suitable filter circuits or other equipment which may be necessary to prevent re-radiation of the local WSAZ signal.”

On July 10, 1987, the new owners had the station's call letters changed to WHRD to match the Marshall University sports nickname, the "Thundering Herd."

In July 1991, the Marshall University Foundation, Inc., reached an agreement to sell this station to Southern Communications Corporation. The deal was approved by the FCC on August 27, 1991, and the transaction was consummated on October 23, 1991.

Several photos of the transmitting facility of WHRD are at http://hawkins.pair.com/whrd.html.

In February 1995, Southern Communications Corporation signed a deal to sell the station to Simmons Broadcasting Company. The deal was approved by the FCC on April 11, 1995, and the transaction was consummated on May 20, 1995 and it has transferred several times there after.

The station was assigned the call letters WRWB by the FCC on September 1, 2008.

In 2009 WRWB had a format of southern gospel and patriotic music.

About Nov. 1, 2010, the station began broadcasting on 1200 kHz, allowing them to raise their daytime power from 5,000 watts to 22,000 watts. Critical Hours power at the new frequency is 8,000 watts. Call letters were WNBL. The transmitter site remains the same since at least 1960 near St Cloud Commons Park in West Huntington.

In 2011 the call reverted to WEMM, with a religious format. The station remains owned by Mortenson Broadcasting Co. of West Virginia, LLC.

In 2017, WYSN-1200 AM was broadcasting a gospel music format.

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