If you want to know what's going on in Greenwich, then you probably want to listen to our local radio station 1490 WGCH. It's a quality source of information, and an important part of our community. The station evolved as residents sought another source of news information besides the local newspaper. We're very fortunate to have this service-oriented station, that focuses on the local community.
The station owes its existence to Walter Lemmon. He was a Naval Communications Officer, who was on a boat returning from Versailles after the signing of the treaty that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson was also on board, and Lemmon discussed the idea for an international shortwave radio station with him. Lemmon never gave up his quest for an international station, and eventually started one. He was a man of strong character and determination. was technologically gifted, a good businessman and highly creative. He went on to become a prominent electrical pioneer and inventor.
On the local level, Lemmon was involved with the Greenwich Broadcasting Corporation, which founded WGCH FM in 1948. The station office was located at the top of Greenwich Avenue between the last store and Pickwick Arms Hotel. It was the old Greenwich Press building behind Neilsen's. Although it operated for several years, it turned out to be unprofitable. There weren't enough FM sets available, so hardly anyone was listening! This coincided with the introduction of television, which drew a lot of regular radio listeners.
Lemmon then turned his attention to AM radio. The Greenwich Broadcasting Corporation applied to the FCC for an AM license; but it struggled from the late 1940s until it received the approval in 1964. There were several reasons for this. Since Lemmon already owned an international station, they couldn't understand why he wanted a local station. Also, stations in Danbury, Stratford and Madison were trying to obtain the 1490 frequency for broadcasting. There was concern about interference from WHOM 1480, a station out of New York City. Eventually, it was all worked out, and in 1964 the FCC granted WGCH 1490 its license.
OLD BUILDING AT 90 DAYTON AVENUE
COURTESY: HARTFORD RADIO HISTORY
WGCH 1490 has had several different locations over the years. The first location was on East Putnam Avenue in the storefront next to Milbank Avenue. This was across the street from the Second Congrgational Church. While the front entrance was level with the street, the building itself was two-stories, with a back entrance opening to a lower parking lot. In 1969, the station moved to 90 Dayton Avenue. Managment appealed to the Post Office and got them to renumber the building to 1490 Dayton Avenue. In addition, they sought and obtained the telephone number 869-1490. This was a marketing stroke of genius! Today you can still see the transmitiing tower which is located near the Post Road Iron Works on West Putnam Avenue. Eventually, a new tower would be erected at to boost power. Due to some financial difficulties, it was necessary for the operation to move to 71 Lewis Street, where it is now located.
CURRENT HOME OF WGCH RADIO AT 71 LEWIS STREET
The radio station has changed owners several times over the years. Mr. John Becker owned the station for 39 years, selling it to the Business Talk Radio Network in 2003. The national network moved its studios and corporate offices to Greenwich until 2006 when it moved to 401 Shippan Avenue in Stamford. WGCH AM remained in Greenwich. Then, in 2011, the Blue Star Media Group headed by Michael Metter and Jeff Weber bought the station. Unfortunately, Metter had some legal difficulties and the operatioon was sold to the Forte family in 2013. Rocco Forte had been the former CFO of Abate Insurance and AIA Risk Management Services in New Haven. He had homes in Lyme CT and Sarasota FL. The new operating group was known as Forte Family Broadcasting Inc.
When it first started out in the 1960s, the station had no problem lining up advertisers. Although the station conducted surveys from time to time to determine listenership, businesses knew immediately that their advertising was paying off because people would start using their services. The radio station also received letters and phone calls from regular listeners. It was estimatedthat the station had 10,000 listeners for one program! The primary audience was Greenwich, but there were also listeners fromWestchester and Long Island. It's broadcast area was considered to be an area bounded by Norwalk, New Canaan, White Plains, the Hudson River Valley, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Rye and Long Island. Unfortunately, WGCH had to cut its power back to 250 watts in the evening, so it dropped off the air for some places. The station attempted to find a new location for its antenna to boost the signal, but had to settle for renewing its lease for the site at 177 West Putnam Avenue in 2002.
ANTENNA SIMILAR TO THE ONE AT 177 WEST PUTNAM AVENUE
The station had to deal other problems. There are some 30 radio stations broadcasting from New York City that compete for listeners. On occassion during emergencies, there can be too many callers, inquiries and reports. Some broadcasters were terminated for different reasons. Fires, storms and power outages have taken the station off the air. Owners have faced legal problems. The change in ownership has resulted in program changes - some unpopular. Experienced and talented staff have been lured away to bigger stations. Changes in technology have changed broadcasting, and broadcasters have had to re-train to stay current.
Despite all these problems, the station today remains a community favorite. It has provides programming of the highest quality. Rather than "editorialize", the station tries to present a balanced view of the issues. It serves as a clearing house for information. When schools are closed, or public meetings are cancelled, this is quickly communicated. During times of emergency, it can be a calming influence by keeping the people updated on police, fire or public utiliy progress. Daily features include weather and traffic updates. Although the emphasis is on local news, there's national and world news. Some programs encourage listeners to call. RTM and Board of Education meetings are broadcast entirely. Special committee meetings of public concern are transmitted.
Over the years, the station has presented a variety of entertaining programs such as "Fibber McGee and Molly", "The Shadow" and "Our Miss Brooks". Music programming has included Italian, Greek, Country, Big Band, semi-classical and classical. Less popular was a Rock and Roll segment and a Teen segment. Other special programs have included The Pet Patrol, The Swap Shop, and The Trading Post. Sports programming includes Greenwich High School football, Red Sox and NE Patriots broadcasts. Ex-Selectman Sam Romeo hosts a call-in show, while MaryAnne DeFelice and Darby Cartun have their own shows. Various community groups read Public Service Announcements for the benefit of the residents. Tony Savino handles the news, while meteorologist Bill Evans reports on the weather. Bob Small, Operations Manager, does a fine job keeping everything on course.
Although other stations may have similar programming, supporters claim WGCH has a unique appeal. It demonstrates a genuine concern for the community. The reporting and programming is responsible, and the staff is talented and very able. It serves the community in a very unique way. Rather than compete with the local paper, it works with it, and respects its turf. WGCH helps make Greenwich the community it is today. As one person noted, we can't imagine what Greenwich would be like without WGCH.
WGCH: A Community Radio Station; Oral History Project. Friends of the Greenwich Library
Greenwich, CT. : Greenwich Library, c1977