Most people probably don’t know that Hal is a former professional hockey player who once played for the Ft. Wayne (Indiana) Komets. After retiring from the sport with many cuts and bruises, he ended up as sales manager for an Orlando radio station. In 1964, WGTO general manager Bob Grossman heard he was in the Central Florida area and talked him into joining the Cypress Gardens station. The two had met earlier when Grossman was sports director of a Ft. Wayne TV station.
After getting Hal to upgrade WGTO’s music format and sales department, he returned to his first love – television – and Hal was subsequently put in charge of the station’s operations. One of his first decisions was that the station should not just go after Polk County, but also both the Tampa and Orlando markets with its 50,000 watts of power. He established a new rock format, enhanced with Pams’ Solid Rock jingle package. Great on-air personalities were hired, like Ronnie Gee, George Prescott, Al Dunaway and Buddy Lee, who would go on to greater fame down the road as Bob Collins with WGN in Chicago.
Station promotions never ceased. There were constant on-air contests. WGTO was the first station to promote concerts at the Citrus Showcase featuring top-name entertainers. One of its biggest successes was when it brought in Lobo (Kent Lavoie) who originally hailed from Winter Haven. Promotions were widened to include the WGTO Fish-a-thon, a 6am-12 noon contest with thousands of dollars in prizes up for grabs. The WGTO 2-day 36-hole Golf Championship featured 160 entries and included winners like Gary Koch, now with NBC Golf, and Andy Bean, a winner on the pro tour.
WGTO became an integral part of Cypress Gardens which, prior to Disney, was Florida’s #1 attraction. The station was very much involved when TV’s Mike Douglas Show came to the Gardens for two weeks to tape shows. There were dozens of celebrities coming and going between the attraction and the radio station. One of the biggest on-air promotions WGTO ever staged was the “Hang Five” competition at Winter Haven’s Pohle Toyota. It became so big that Hal copyrighted the name.
Hal left WGTO in 1972 to open his advertising/public relations firm in Winter Haven. Some 28 years later, he decided to slow down, close down his business, and move to Treasure Island on Florida’s Gulf coast, to enjoy a semi-retirement status quo. The one client he retained was the James E. Strates Shows, Inc. of Orlando, one of America’s great midway-carnival companies.
1964 - 1972 WGTO-AM 540 - Haines City (Sales)
1964 - 1972 WGTO-AM 540 - Haines City (Operations)