I guess every broadcaster gets their start at some little tiny station and WJSV was my humble beginning. In my case my involvement was for an odd reason. When I was in high school, I was painfully shy and knew I needed to do something about it.
On February 22, 1971, Morristown High School began operating a radio station with the call letters WJSV --all of ten watts strong. A companion cable TV 'station' was also in operation. The equipment was lovingly wired by Physics teacher Bruce Lontka, (who's pictured at right in the station's only broadcast studio, ca. 1975, photo courtesy of Kenton Chun), and technician Paul Werner (below, left),who later became WJSV's Chief Engineer (he retired in June 2000).
So I joined WJSV in the Fall of 1972 (but I'm not sure of the actual date. Some old news clippings I saved in my yearbooks lead me to believe it might've been late spring 1972). I dragged my brother Fred into it too, because I was such a mouse about doing anything alone. In those days you needed a Thrid Class Radiotelephone Operator Permit issued by the Federal Communications Commission office in order to be the lowest level of announcer (a D.J.) and to get one you had to take a test. Fred and I took a trip to the FCC office in Manhattan and both failed the technical part of the test the first time out. The second time we passed, and I remember when we arrived back at the station I was told, "Oh, good! You can take over on the air because someone has to leave." I was so terrified that I couldn't squeak out more than a timid station I.D.
As a sidebar, I need to make special mention of two people
who changed the direction of my radio career. One is John Hagelbarger
(former "Mr. Colonial," a role he told me he was not
proud of), who introduced me to the idea of working in a recording
studio through his friend (and now mine) Don Sternecker. John
had met Don through Drew University's music program in Madison,
NJ. (Hagelbarger, it should be noted, had created his own pipe
organ at home constructed out of various sized glass jars a keyboard
and othrer ingenius bits of flotsam and jetsam. He's a very creative
guy who didn't get enough credit from his high school peers.)
While in college, Don had started his own recording studio-- Mix-O-Lydian
(where the Bongos recorded their first singles), which he later
moved to Boonton, NJ and turned it into a thriving business. While
attending college, I had to develop an internship related to communications
to complete my degree requirements. Sternecker agreed to take
me on, never having an intern before, and I wound up hanging out
way past the required course time limit. I credit Don with teaching
me the art of "having a good ear" --in other words,
knowing how to balance a mix for live and recorded music. I passed
many enjoyable hours hanging out, listening to Don create great
recordings at Mix-O-Lydian on every kind of band, good and bad,
listening to every kind of joke, good and band (Don's a world-class
joketeller as well!) and I totally value his friendship, trust
and willingness to take on an unkown like me. Without Don, I'd
probably not even thought about mixing a live band, much less
having them on a radio show. These days, Mix-O-Lydian
Recording Studios can be found in the Andover area and on
the web as well.
Radio was something I could never
get away from entirely. Several times I've quit the field but it always drew
me back in (must be in the blood). From 1977 through 1982, I was a part of
the County College of Morris' closed circuit "radio station" WCCM,
serving as Program Director for a couple of years (I majored in "radio
station," spending 5 years at this 2-year commuter college. Oh well!) .
From 1983 through 1991 I worked for WDHA/WMTR, enduring a few years as
Production Coordinator (ending with a near-nervous breakdown). Currently,
I host a weekly show on WFMU, and have been there since the autumn
of 1986. When WFMU moved to the current Jersey City location, I helped
wire up the studios (with the more capable direction of Chief Engineer John
Fogarazzo). Since my gig at WFMU is strictly for the love of radio, I've been
working as a Senior Broadcast/ Concert Engineer for WNYC in New York
City since late July, 1994. And I've occasionally freelanced for National
Public Radio's New York Bureau. It's still amazing to me that I've been able
to turn my passion for radio into a career. As I mentioned, I've worked in
commercial radio but found I all that formatted craziness is pure torture,
both in a work sense and as a listening experience. Non-commercial radio
(especially the nearly limitless WFMU) is perfect for a musical misfit like me.
I make no claim on the accuracy of this information. But with
a little detective work, here's what I've uncovered on the web...
More will follow as I find it.
WJSV's call letters once belonged to another radio station that went on the air in 1928. The original WJSV was located in Mt. Vernon Hills, Virginia (and in conflicting data Alexandria, or Washington DC) on the dial at 1460 AM (FM broadcast wasn't viable until 1946). According to legend (or at least the story I was told when I joined the intrepid group of would-be broadcasters above) the folks in the original broadcast area believed the call letters were an acronym that stood for "Jesus Saves Virginia" but actually stood for James S. Vance (general manager of the Fellowship Forum--). In the early '40s, the station became WTOP. Blogger Jose Fritz has his own little obsessive page called Archane Radio Trivia that traces the origins of the station call letters. Even though many stations' call letters were assigned by the government you'll find more than a few who requested slogan acronyms to use as their call letters.
In addition to Vance, other people important to WJSV's development were broadcaster/writer/reporter Robert Trout, who throughout his long career was known as the "Iron Man of Radio," and Harry C. Butcher (1910-59), who was originally a Naval Aide to President Dwight Eisenhower. Butcher was either Station Manager or Program Director (depending on the post you look at) of radio station WJSV (which changed call letters to later WTOP after becoming a CBS affiliate) in Washington D.C. from 1932-1934 and Vice President in charge of WJSV from 1934-1942 . Harry was most likely brought in to wrestle control of the station from people with KKK leanings. Butcher may have been the person who coined the phrase "Fireside Chat" in relation to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's radio talks of the same name. In WJSV 1939 recorded its entire broadcast day (no small feat in the pre-audio tape era), which you can check out at theOld Time Radio site or on Internet Archive. Arthur Godfrey was a regular host on the original WJSV. You can find a newspaper listing from vintage WJSV here. Wikipedia also has a page devoted to WJSV.