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WALT - A History

WALT-AM 1110 Tampa – WALT was launched in 1946 as a 1,000 watt daytimer by WALTer Tison (president of Tampa Broadcasting and the station’s GM/sales manager). Early employees included J. Boykin Tison (chief engineer-1948), Lynn Gearheart (PD-1948), Coburn Gum (1949), June Tison (women’s director-1951), Ronald Harpe (sports director-1951), C.W. “Sandy” Geer (PD-1951), Eva Byron (women’s director-1952), Bill MacKetchnie (sports director-1952), Bob Martin (1953), W.J. Rennie (1954), and Guy Bagli (news & sports director-1954).

WALT’s offices, studios, and a self-supporting transmitter tower were located at 401 W. Tyler Street in downtown Tampa near the Hillsborough River. The building was not only surrounded by warehouses, but a railroad siding ran past it, too. So, when a freight train rumbled by, anyone recording in the production room had to stop and wait for it to pass.

In the mid 50’s, Harold Kaye took over as president of Tampa Broadcasting when Tison stepped down to run his new TV station (WTVT), and Charles Baskerville, formerly with WFLA, was brought in as general manager to run the day-to-day operations. Chuck Fuller was the morning man who played top 30 hits interspersed with his comedic impersonations, Ruben Fabelo hosted "Fiesta en Tampa," a Spanish-language program from the front window of the old Columbia  Record Store in Ybor City, and “Uncle Gene” Garcia, usually surrounded in the studio by visiting teens, brought more top tunes of the day in the afternoons. There was also a show on Sunday afternoons from around 1953 to 1957 called “The Battle of the Crooners” that invited listeners to call in and vote for their favorite crooner (Crosby, Como, Sinatra, Martin, etc.)  For a while, they ignored Elvis, but finally gave in and began counting his votes and those of his contemporaries who were beginning to dominate the music charts.

By 1958, WALT was playing more of an MOR format – Sinatra, Bennett, June Christy, The Hi-Los, Peggy Lee, Four Freshmen, etc., and “had a very loyal audience at MacDill Air Force Base, but that was about it,” according to Dave Archard who did mornings back then. Others there in addition to Archard were Frank Knorr, Jr. (GM), Ed Bray (PD and host of the afternoon “Pop Shop,” later re-named "The Platter Party"), Bob Walters (mid-days, and later PD), Bob Mackey (news director), and Paul Gossett (chief engineer).

At that time, Tampa-St. Petersburg was one of the last major markets without a top 40 station, so WALT’s station manager, George Fee, decided to make a trip to Orlando to check out the success of Orlando top 40 stations WHOO and WLOF. The trip ended in Fee hiring WHOO’s PD, Roy Nilson, to see what he could do for the Tampa station.

When WALT switched to top 40 in December 1958, PD Bray left, saying he didn’t like the echo chamber, filter mike, jingles that went with the format, etc. That made it a bit easier for Nilson who, once on the job at the Tampa station, went right to work, telling the jocks to play Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” over and over with no interruptions for commercials, promos, or news – just a legal ID at the top of the hour. The next day, “The New WALT” hit the air. The top 40 format was an instant hit and the station was soon #1 (yet it was still only a daytimer).

Nilson’s stay at WALT wasn’t a lengthy one. In 1959, stodgy St. Pete MBS affiliate WTSP decided to change its calls to WLCY and go top 40, too, and owner Sam Rahall lured him away to be his PD. He also took Robert B (Robert Bernstein, later christened Rock Robbins) and Dave Archard when Archard was let go to make room for Al Dunaway who was coming in from a sister station up north.

In the late 50’s, WALT’s tower was moved to Temple Terrace to allow for a power upgrade to 10,000 watts. However, it would remain a daytimer.  Owners had tried a number of times over the years to obtain nighttime authorization and each time were unsuccessful because of the FCC’s commitment to preserve WBT/Charlotte’s clear channel status. Without nighttime authorization, WALT was never able to fully compete for the young adult market.  Ironically, when the FCC started allowing stations to broadcast with low-power on some of these channels at night, one of the few frequencies they didn't open up was WALT's 1110.

In 1959, WALT became part of the Consolidated Sun-Ray (a northern drugstore chain) group of stations. Other owners included Eastern Broadcasting in 1963 and Universal Broadcasting (Bob Leonard, president and GM) in 1966.  The downtown studios were demolished that year, along with the surrounding warehouses, to make way for construction of the new Curtis Hixon Hall and other riverfront development, and the station moved to 1902 West Kennedy Boulevard. Daytona Broadcasting (Robert Weeks, president) acquired the station in 1968. During this period, it changed its format to almost an MOR approach and added the Mutual network for national news coverage.

Daytona sold WALT to Suncoast Radio (Marshall Rowland, president) in December 1969.  Rowland, owner of Jacksonville country combo WQIK AM/FM, switched the format to country and, the following year, the calls to WQYK.

All in all, WALT held its own pretty well with competitor WLCY for much of the 1960’s, in spite of the fact it was a daytimer. But as the end of the decade was nearing, its days as a driving force in Tampa Bay radio were over.

Other names from WALT history include deejays Frank Lynn (1961), Jerry Nelson (1961), Marv Ray (1962), Jim Bartlett (ca.1963), Bill Winters (1963), Tedd Webb (1963), Ron Hart (1964), Frank Laseter (James Bond-1964), Chuck Harder (1964), Gil Cabot (1965), John Rode (1966), Al Waters, Larry Vance (PD-1965), Dick Wilson (1966), Charlie Brown (PD-1966), Mel Phillips (1966), Robert  L (Bob Collins-1966), Dick Blanchard (1966), Brooke Chamberlain (1966), Bud Strait (1967), Daylon Rushing (1967), Bob Stone (1967; news 1968), and Jeff Alexander (1970).

Other station personnel included W.W. Johnson (sales manager-1957), Robert Wasdon (GM-1958), Lucille Laughinghouse (copy-1958), Stella Valenti (bookkeeper-1958), Ralph Wasdon (traffic-1958), Bob Bowers (news director-1965), Dick Oppenheimer (GM-1965), Bob Poller (sales manager-1965), Leonard Green (chief engineer-1965), Aden McElveen (sales manager-1966), Ralph Siegler (chief engineer-1966), Lee Gorman (sales manager-1967), Bob Dempsey (chief engineer-1967), Larry Whitney (station manager-1968; sales manager-1969), Jean Morris (sales manager-1968), Stan Wineman (sales 1968), Dave Loughon (sales 1968), George Fee (GM-1969), George Barber (PD-1969), Jack Phipps (chief engineer-1969), Fred Newton (GM and sales manager-1970), Jack Rodgers (PD-1970), and Ernest Barrow (chief engineer-1970).


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1946 - 1970 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (History)

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