WPAR, Parkersburg's CBS radio network affiliate, went on the air on July 11, 1935, broadcasting with 100 watts of power at 1420 kilocycles on the dial. First located in the Chancellor Hotel at Seventh & Market, the station moved the following year to the Grinter Building, cattycorner across the street, at 701-1/2 Market. During the January 1937 flood that inundated most of downtown Parkersburg, WPAR suspended regular programming and stayed on the air 24 hours a day to assist the residents of the area. In the late '30s WPAR became part of the West Virginia Network (along with WBLK in Clarksburg, WCHS in Charleston and WSAZ in Huntington), all owned by the same man, John A. Kennedy.
In 1941, WPAR built a new transmitter on Route 2 north of town, increasing its wattage to 250 and moving up the dial to 1450. Six years later the station moved further downtown, to 211 Fifth Street.
(Courtesy of Mark Aulabaugh)
One of WPAR's disc jockeys around 1941 was 14-year-old Jim Dukas, who later moved to New York City to pursue a lifelong career in acting. Before his death in late 2008, Dukas was featured in many films, including The Great St. Louis Bank Roberry (with Steve McQueen), The Detective (with Frank Sinatra), Coogan's Bluff (with Clint Eastwood), and Ironweed (with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep).
Over the years WPAR underwent many program formats and was sold to various owners. It dropped CBS in 1973 and joined NBC in 1975. In 1983 the station's call letters were changed from WPAR to WLTP.
The city's second radio station, founded in 1947, was WCOM (250 watts at 1230 on the dial), the local ABC affiliate, located in a Victorian house at 319 Ninth Street. In the early 1950s the two stations briefly got together for an experiment, playing the same records with different announcers simultaneously. Locals who owned two radios could tune one to WPAR and the other to WCOM and hear the broadcast in stereo. The gimmick lasted very briefly. WCOM is now news talk station WVNT.
The city's third radio station was the independent WCEF (at 1,000 watts, the most powerful), named for its owner, C.E. Franklin. Launched in 1954 just in time for rock 'n' roll, WCEF is still broadcasting under its original call letters.
(Thanks to Paul LaPann and Jack See for the use of some of their research.)
NOTE: The photos and captions are from the station's own P.R. booklet.
|This sleepy looking fellow is the "Good Humor Man" who wakes you up each morning with a smile at 7 a.m. Yes, he's the conductor of the "Getting Up Time" program. (Charles Carroll, circa 1942).||Marilyn Pickering in the control room of the main studios is ready to let another "Jive Record" go on Ye Old Swing Clinic.The Clinic gets underway each afternoon at 5:05 p.m. (Circa 1942).|
|WPAR HILLBILLY JAMBOREE SHOW. Each Friday from one thousand to 1500 people attend the Coliseum on Seventh Street (between Green and Quincy) to see West Virginia's largest Jamboree show. The show gets underway at 7:30 p.m. with a half-hour's broadcast from the stage, then continues until 9:30. WPAR features top hillbilly acts from all sections of the United States. Photo circa 1942.|
|THE FARM HOME HOUR TRIO. From left to right, Billy Jean (Burroughs), Betty (Burroughs), Brother Charles (Charles Carroll), and their sponsor, Sid Ardman. This popular Trio has set a record of 1769 consecutive broadcasts.|
|WPAR's Studio "A," showing the transcription turntables in the rear. These tables are equipped with "pick-up," or reproducing heads, in which diamond or sapphire points are used, instead of the ordinary steel needle used on a phonograph.|
|Studio "B" is used for smaller musical presentations and for speakers. The curtained windows show into the general offices, and the windows at this side of the studio - unable to show in the photograph - visually connect the studio with the master control room.|
|The "Burrough's Trio" - actually six people - is a favored morning feature for many WPAR listeners. Although the oldest WPAR program from the point of continuous broadcast, it is "the youngest" in the ages of those who perform. "Billy" Jean Burroughs, whose illness prevented her presence for this picture, is the 17-year-old director, singer and "business-head" of the crew. The program is nearing its 800th broadcast.|
Various members of the WPAR "family"--including members of the Burroughs family.
Betty Jean Burroughs Johnson is on the right in the front row.
(Photo courtesy of Tamara Scoles)
The Buskirk Family, circa 1939.
Here's a little bit of radio history you might find interesting. Francis Inslee, who was at WPAR when it signed on in 1935, told me there was such a rush to get on the air, they had no studio, so they set up at the end of the hallway on the 2nd floor of the Chancellor Hotel at Seventh & Market. Remember how wide those hallways were? Several months later they moved across the street to the 3rd floor of the Grinter Building on the other corner. In the mid fifties they moved to 211 Fifth, and there was a fire that forced them back to Seventh & Market until 211 Fifth was rebuilt. That may have been when The Parkersburg News briefly owned WPAR in the late forties and early fifties.
WCEF signed on in 1954 with studios on Fort Boreman at the transmitter tower site. In about 1957 they moved studios downtown to the 2nd floor of a building at the northwest corner of Eighth & Market, right in front of the old YMCA. Because of money problems they moved back to Fort Boreman a few years later. The sixties were good years for WCEF, so around 1968 they bought and remodeled the old Hiehle Theater. During construction, a worker found an old half-full pack of Camel cigarettes on an upper beam near the ceiling, from whenever the theater was built.
Mr. Franklin ran out of money before the project was finished and he didnít complete the upstairs, so when you went upstairs nothing was changed. The restrooms, managerís office, and hallway were the same. Same old carpet, massive doors, and light fixtures. Even the booth and balcony were still intact.
WCEF was Parkersburgís first rock íní roll station, and it was a daytimer that signed off at dusk. WPAR started playing rock at night about 1960 or í61. My mother was the person who talked the GM into going rock at night, since the old network radio programs were all gone by then. The name of the show was Partown USA. The guy who did the show was John Potts, who graduated from Parkersburg Catholic around í62. His on-air name was Jim Dandy. He was the grandson of the man who owned the Parkersburg Brewery Company on Seventh Street. I also remember Vinni Vincent, "Cool Papa Vinni," who made a record called "Hey, Cobella." He later opened up a pizza place called Mama Vincentís Villa. Others who were in Parkersburg radio that went on to much larger markets in that era were the late Gene Synder, who went to Los Angeles and ended up in Louisville; Randy Jay, who later made millions buying and selling radio stations; and Gary Brookhart, who went to Columbus and Lansing. Great memories.
Tales from WCEF in 1960
In 1956 WPARís studios at 211 Fifth Street were destroyed by a fire. For about a year, the station returned to itís previous location at Seventh and Market, in the Ginner Building, while 211 Fifth Street was being rebuilt. But was it a television studio they were building? If so, it would have been the first construction for a start up television facility in the state - not space remodel to be a TV studio. Chuck Loose told me of the TV plans back in the 1970s. His father, Mutt Loose, was General Manager at WPAR in the late 50s and early 60s. According to Chuck, WPAR was owned by the ďFriendly Group,Ē who also owned WSTV in Steubenville and several other small market TV stations, and they wanted TV in Parkersburg. There was an open channel for Parkersburg, channel 57, but there is no evidence that anyone ever filed for a construction permit. In late 1957 WPAR moved the new modern studios on Fifth Street. In the rear of the building was a cluster of studios - a large audience participation studio, an announcers booth and a huge control room. By 1957 radio was different - what radio stations needed or used their audience studios? And the control room was just to big for a radio station - there was enough room for audio/video controls and film chain. Next to the control room was the engineering office that Iím sure was meant to be photo processing/ film library because of the counter arrangement and shelving. And the large studio had rear entry from the alley large enough to bring in props, etc. The second story was never really finished but I think thatís were radio would have been if TV became a reality. And what happen? The group owners likely backed out because UHF was sure risking in the 50s - and they sold WPAR a few year later. But I wonder, how would the landscape of Parkersburg broadcasting have chanced if they had been WPAR TV?
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