When I was a kid, my parents owned a primitive beach cottage in southern Rhode Island. Don’t picture anything extravagant. After they bought the one room cabin, they hung a up bed sheet to create a “private” room. The sink had a hand pump that went to a well in the back of the house. There was no TV, no telephone, and no bathroom. Our neighbor across the street let us use their shower until we finally installed one of our own in the shed. It may have been primitive, but it was our little slice of paradise for some 17 summers. My mother nicknamed the cottage “Peace of Mind”. I drove by it last year and the original cottage is long gone, replaced by some monstrosity with central air on tall concrete pilings.
Its location is important to my story because it explains how I was able to pick up AM radio stations from New York. Along with Rhode Island beautiful music station WLKW, I credit these stations for sparking my interest in a career in radio broadcasting. The three NY stations I listened to were WNBC 660AM, WINS 1010AM, and WNEW 1130AM. All 3 are still around today in one form or another.
1. WNBC 66AM
When I was a wee listener, WNBC-AM was a talk and “adult top 40” music station. It was the flagship radio station of the NBC radio network. I was around 12 or 13 years old at the time. This station was my gateway drug to Don Imus and Howard Stern, both of whom went on to become national shock jocks. One WNBC poster pictured Stern and Imus with the slogan, “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.” If my mother had known I was listening to them she would’ve confiscated my radio!
In 1988, General Electric, who had purchased the NBC network, sold off all of NBC’s radio stations per FCC regulations during that time (one company couldn’t own both television and radio stations in the same market for fear of a monopoly). WNBC-AM was sold off and became WFAN-AM, the world’s first 24/7 sports station. WFAN still resides today at 660 on the NY AM dial (I use the word “dial” knowing radio “dials” don’t exist anymore).
Thanks to the miracle of Internet radio, you can listen to original WNBC-AM broadcasts, sans Don Imus and Howard Stern, courtesy of Time Warp Radio out of NY. The station streams at 128 kbps in MP3 but I must warn you, the sound quality of some of the recordings is sub-par. The source material is aircheck tapes. Back in the day, air check tapes were cassettes a DJ would use to record his air shift. The station’s Program Director used the tapes to critique the announcer’s performance. The tapes were typically “scoped”, only capturing the DJ’s chatter (the tape machine automatically went into record mode every time the microphone was turned on), not the music or commercials. However, the quality of such tapes is much better than some of what I’ve heard on this station. I have an aircheck tape from my time in radio and the quality is very good. Perhaps some of these tapes were late generation copies of the originals and/or were in poor condition.
You’ll hear the original announcers (with plenty of reverb, making them sound like they’re broadcasting from deep inside the Bat Cave), news, station jingles, and the original commercials. You’ll hear the music as well, but since these are aircheck tapes, there will also be segments where all you hear is the DJ introducing the songs and speaking at the tail end of songs. In other words, no music. You’ve heard the slogan, “all music, all the time”. During those segments, it’s all DJ’s, all the time. There are also segments where the program ends abruptly, presumably marking the point when the aircheck tape reached its end and stopped recording.
If you’d like a sound quality upgrade and more music, try 66 WNBC. It’s a tribute Internet radio station streaming out of NY that replicates WNBC’s playlists from the late 1970’s to the early 80’s with an occasional original station jingle but no announcers (and no annoying reverb). The first time I tuned in they were playing the top 66 (for “66” WNBC) songs of 1976. Another time they were running down the top 66 songs of 1982. Sweet.
If you want to relive the days when AM radio was still a primary source for listening to music, check out WNBC 660 Time Warp Radio and 66 WNBC. I’ve included the streaming links at the end of this article.
2. WINS 1010AM
WINS was one of the first all-news radio stations in the US and it still exists today on the AM and FM dials and on the Internet. In fact, I was in New Jersey briefly a couple of months ago and rented a car to get to my destination. I punched up WINS 1010 AM on the car’s radio and it instantly brought back memories of listening to WINS at our R.I. beach cottage all those years ago. After WINS switched to an all-news format in 1965, it had the sounds of teletype machines running in the background while the news was being reported. Originally, they had a live microphone stationed at the machines in the newsroom to capture the sound. Sadly, they stopped the teletype SFX several years ago which is a shame. Fast forward many years later when I read the news live on WPRO-AM, I played the sounds of a dot matrix printer in the background.
Be that as it may, if you don’t reside in the tri-state area, you can tune WINS on the Internet and hear what’s going on in New York and around the world. Give them 22 minutes and they’ll give you the world. Unfortunately, your imagination will have to supply the teletype sounds in the background.
3. WNEW 1130AM
WNEW-AM was a massively popular radio station primarily playing music from the great American Songbook (not to be confused with WNEW-FM or WNEW-TV). So why, at 12 years old, was I listening to this AM music station? What can I say? I was a strange child.
I well remember WNEW’s wonderful specialty shows like Tony Bennett Time (Bennett actually recorded a jingle for the station), The Make-Believe Ballroom, and Sinatra Saturdays. Legendary WNEW DJ William B. Williams has been credited as the first to nickname Sinatra the “Chairman of the Board”. I also remember some of the DJ’s occasionally going off the rails and slipping in a Beatles, Bee Gees, or Stevie Wonder hit or some other song that had nothing at all to do with the great American songbook. I never understood that. Don’t get me wrong. I love music as much as the next person, but I also appreciate structure, and WNEW-AM wasn’t a free-form radio station. As a listener, it was like sitting comfortably on a train going 100 MPH and the engineer suddenly hitting the brakes without warning.
The station wasn’t only known for its music. It spent a fortune building a first-class radio news team. At its height, WNEW’s newsroom had more than 26 reporters and writers. It was said to be the first music radio station that broadcast local newscasts every hour. According to writer Paul Colford, WNEW’s reporters roamed the country and the world, traveling “to Africa to interview Albert Schweitzer, they roamed the South to size up the civil rights movement, they broadcast from Vatican Square and Cape Canaveral.”
As time went on, the station began to show its age, as did its listeners, who ranged from 80 to dead. Such an audience was not appealing to advertisers. Fewer advertisers resulted in reduced revenue. This, combined with the fact that the days of AM radio stations playing music were all but over, resulted in WNEW’s death. Colford wrote this obituary: “WNEW-AM / 1130, the 58-year-old outlet for the music of Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Mel Torme, and America’s greatest songwriters, died today after a long illness marked by financial losses, anemic rating, schizophrenic programming, and the dismissal of practically every personality who made it special.”
The new owners, Bloomberg, changed the call letters and put in place an all-financial format. As the New York Times put it, WNEW went from Sinatra records to stock reports. It was the end of a slow, painful death. Prior to that, the station had been sold in 1986 and the owner’s cut costs and screwed around with the programming, adding talk shows and gutting the newsroom. It marked the beginning of the end…the Titanic started taking on water. The station changed hands again in 1988 and the new owners further contributed to its decline. In December of 1992, WNEW 1130 gently slipped below the airwaves. It’s hard to believe the station has been gone for more than 30 years and that makes me feel old and irrelevant.
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. WNEW-AM is back! Well, sort of. Time Warp Radio, the same Internet radio network that brings you vintage 66AM WNBC broadcasts, also streams old WNEW-AM broadcasts. As with the WNBC stream, WNEW 1130 Time Machine’s sound quality at times leaves a little something to be desired, though it streams at an above average bit rate of 192 kbps. It also relies on airchecks, meaning there will be segments where you’ll only hear the announcer and no music.
The station’s playlist includes music from the 1920’s and 30’s, which makes no sense to me. All of that said, I’ll take it over nothing at all. In a way, the quality makes it even more authentic since music over AM radio wasn’t exactly high fidelity. It’s a gas to hear the original WNEW announcers, station jingles, weather, news (I heard a story on Watergate), and even the commercials the station played back then (Gimbels, Barneys, ShopRite, etc.).
Here’s a thought- How about WNEW-FM creating an HD2 station for WNEW-AM? WNEW-FM has had a string of failed HD sub-channels…all Christmas music, Smooth Jazz, and even a Russian language station (pause to scratch scalp). I would think a WNEW-AM HD2 channel would be a no brainer.
I’m pleased to report there’s another option with consistently better sound quality: Metromedia Radio out of New York City. Metromedia was the company that owned WNEW-AM from 1956 until 1986. Metromedia officially closed in 2014 and Metromedia Radio, launched in 2010, operates with its blessing.
The station features former WNEW announcers and original jingles, yet the shows were recorded after WNEW went silent, which confused me. The station’s description says it streams “in the tradition of WNEW 1130…the world’s greatest radio station…with the help of former WNEW-AM and Metromedia Radio talent and executives.”
I got a hold of Joe Fay, Metromedia Radio’s General Manager, to help me understand what I was listening to. “About 12 years ago”, Fay explained to me in an email, “I was able to buy a large collection of various surviving reel-to-reel tapes from the WNEW-AM archive (about 200). The tapes were largely WNEW jingle packs, various promotional materials, and actual pre-recorded shows such as WNEW Music Spectaculars. I digitized everything and started the Metromedia Radio stream back in 2010. As I digitized, I also edited content, resulting in WNEW bumpers and the voiceovers of [WNEW announcers] Jim Lowe, Ted Brown, and William B Williams. It’s been really fun crafting this station. Thankfully, I have had the support of the Brown and Williams famil[ies].
“I also started a Facebook group”, Fay continued. “Via the group, I met up with former WNEW talent such as Bill Quinn, Dick Carr, and Marty Wilson. In 2014 we started producing radio shows for syndication. Unfortunately, that did not work out, but those shows were put into our Metromedia Radio library. Bill Quinn is still producing shows for us on a weekly basis. Additionally, I was able to connect with Sid Mark, Mark Suduck (former Metromedia Los Angeles) and Jason Wall along with other DJ’s who were interested [in] airing content on the station. Most recently I have been able to find and digitize about 100 mid 1970’s show[s] produced by William B. Williams.”
As to the origin of the music and the format, Fay told me, “The automated stream of music is from my personal collection. Our streaming of automated music is model[ed] after the Dick Carr, Middle of the Road format. Dick was the Station Manager at WNEW from 1967 through 1969. [The programming] is consistent with the music WNEW played from 1955-1985. Within the archive, I have old tapes labeled ‘Non-Stop Music Hours’ that also served as a source for building out my person music collection and would naturally be added to the automated stream. Artists like David Allen or Jane Morgan [was] unknown to me, until I listened to some of the old tapes. They are now on the playlist.”
That playlist remains much more faithful to the great American Songbook than the WNEW Time Machine stream, but lacks the authentic vibe WNEW 1130 Time Machine provides. You’re listening to actual WNEW-AM broadcasts on the Time Machine, whereas Metromedia Radio is more of a tribute station with Live365 commercials. Still, a high-quality copy can be almost as satisfying as the original, and that’s certainly the case here.
The last WNEW related Internet radio station I’ll mention is The Jonathan Station, named after famed WNEW-AM announcer Jonathan Schwartz. His is the only name (and voice) I remember from those summers listening from Rhode Island so long ago.
If his name sounds familiar, it should. Schwartz is the son of composer Arthur Schwartz (That’s Entertainment, You and the Night and the Music, Dancing In The Dark, and By Myself). He’s written several books including an autobiography and recorded a handful of albums. He was on the radio for nearly 60 years, most of that time on WNEW and later, WNYC. He also had a stint at Siriux/XM radio on their Sinatra channel.
Schwartz at the mic in 2018. Photo from Schwartz’s facebook page.
Schwartz’s on-air delivery was unique to say the least. He would talk for lengthy periods with frequent pauses, both of which are third rails for most DJs. He would recount stories of famous singers and songwriters, including Frank Sinatra. According to Wikipedia, “Sinatra himself was amazed by Schwartz’s knowledge of every song he had ever recorded.” Schwartz wrote the liner notes for the Sinatra release, The Voice- The Columbia Years 1943-1952, for which he won a Grammy for Best Album Notes in 1986.
Five years ago on Father’s Day, at the age of 80, Schwartz launched his own Internet radio station called The Jonathan Station. As you might have surmised from Schwartz’s background, it features music from the great American songbook. Surprisingly, Schwartz’s color commentary is nonexistent. You’d think he’d be all over the station since he named it after himself and has the name recognition. He didn’t even record any station IDs. It’s as if he went out of his way not to be on the air, yet his vast knowledge and gentle voice was exactly what I wanted and expected to hear. The Jonathan Station’s website says the station is “the home of Jonathan Schwartz”, yet whenever I tuned in, Jonathan wasn’t home. Schwartz did host live weekend programs on his station before he retired in 2021, but so far, I’ve yet to hear repeats of those shows. Individual shows are accessible for playback on The Jonathan Station website, but I wanted to hear them on my Internet radio as part of the station, not from a computer. After all, it’s The Jonathan Station, not The Jonathan Computer.
Instead, what I did hear was a show called “The Penthouse”. At first, I thought I had tuned the wrong station or that the station’s metadata was incorrect. Strangely, The Jonathan Station’s website makes absolutely no mention of “The Penthouse”. Likewise, The Penthouse’s website makes no reference whatever to The Jonathan Station! I donned my detective’s fedora and requested clarification from The Jonathan Station’s Program Director, Bob Perry, who coincidentally, also happens to be President of the company behind “The Penthouse”. Weeks have passed and I’ve yet to hear back but will certainly update this section if/when I do.
Legend has it, the last Sinatra song WNEW-AM played before going off the air was Frank’s cover of We’ll Meet Again. Thanks to WNEW 1130 Time Machine and Metromedia Radio, we have.
Tony Bennett Time
One major drawback to such “set and forget” Internet stations is that they rarely break from their standard programming. However, a few days after his passing, Metromedia Radio played an old William B. Williams radio show that featured an excellent interview the announcer did with Bennett along with lots of his music. At least one station was paying attention.
You now have a plethora of stations that will give you a blast from the past. I’ve listed all their streaming links below for your convenience. If you’re a Recommended Stations supporter, your support helps to keep this blog and these kinds of articles going. To become a supporter and discover even more interesting stations, join today for just $1 and get my Recommended Station in your in box every month.
Trivia: During one of his radio shows, Jonathan Schwartz gave a negative review of the third record in Frank Santra’s “Trilogy” album. Unfortunately for Schwartz, Sinatra knew the man who owned the radio station and had Schwartz fired.
Trivia: Both 66 WNBC and 1130 WNEW were advertised as broadcasting in stereo. How could mono AM radio stations be in two channel stereo? In the 1980’s, some AM stations broadcast in stereo using 1 of 5 different competing systems, each requiring dedicated hardware to decode the stereo signal. The FCC adopted Motorola’s C-Quam (Compatible Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) system in 1992 as the AM stereo standard. That standard had already been employed years earlier in Canada, Australia, Mexico, and Japan. According to Wikipedia, there are 43 AM radio stations in the US still broadcasting in stereo using the Motorola system, most of which are small, independent stations.
Trivia: In 1966 and 67, WNEW-AM partnered with the Superior Match Company to feature WNEW announcers on matchbook covers. Inside each matchbook was a coupon for free entry into NJ’s Palisades Amusement Park, which at the time cost 40 cents.