Introduction to the WAPE story
In its early stages, this web site consisted of a few typed pages called “Ape Call: the Story of WAPE in Jacksonville“. For a more complete history Brennan Broadcasting’s WAPE, please visit http://wape690.wordpress.com .
WAPE would be the last great AM station which would be designed, built and operated by the Brennan and Benns families of Alabama. The Brennan’s had a hand in some of the most influential radio stations of the day, having first entered into the business with the Benns family in the mid-1940’s. Through this early period their stations were concentrated near their Alabama home. WAPE would present a new frontier to the Brennan’s, both in its geography and in its persona. The station would benefit from the accumulation of knowledge gained over the years from WVOK and WBAM. WAPE would be a radio station which would be bigger than life, its influence spanning at least five states and more than five decades.
Everything at WAPE was done with a sense of fun and flair. You could hear it on the air, experience it at station promotions, see it in the futuristic building on Highway 17 in Orange Park – which attracted visitors from all across the United States – and live it every day in a signal which always sounded bigger than any other station on the dial, as said every day by the WAPE In Men, “from the Capitol to the coast, from Washington, DC to Key West, Florida!”
The flames of the success of WAPE would be fanned by the invention and mass-marketing of the transistor radio. This granted teens the freedom to choose their own music, no longer tied to the families’ table-top or car radio. Above all, these sets were affordable and portable. Soon the sandy beaches of Florida, Georgia North and South Carolina would be dotted with the new transistor technology as teens of the day flocked to the coast for a daytime or weekend getaway.
From 1959 through the early 1970’s, it could be said with great certainty that every teenager living along the southeast coast, from Daytona Beach to Wilmington, North Carolina, had two favorite radio stations; the Top 40 station in their home town and Jacksonville’s WAPE. And in some cases, it was the distant WAPE, and not their hometown station, that was on top of the local ratings.
The exceptional coverage area of the WAPE signal would allow it to spread its musical influence up and down the coastal areas of the southeast. The stations weekly playlist listed the most popular “top 40” acts of the day as well as regional and local artists. In addition to the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, the Turtles, Young Rascals and Otis Redding, listeners would also be treated to Mouse and the Boys, the Daybreakers, Soul Covered Glass, the Dalton Gang and the Coronadoes. The influence of WAPE would manifest itself with packed houses wherever these bands would play, not just in Jacksonville but as far away as Waycross, Brunswick and Savannah, Georgia.
Live music shows were not limited to local acts. WAPE produced and promoted a steady stream of concerts by national artists. These concerts were so successful that were that were also duplicated at sister stations WBAM and WVOK. The Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Herman’s Hermits, and the Grass Roots – the list goes on and on. WAPE would flex its promotional muscles in 1964 by hosting the Beatles in concert.
Gone are the days when music was king on the AM dial, and as iconic top-forty stations go, WABC, WLS, WGAR, KHJ, WQXI, WIBG and their kin are gone. Drive into Jacksonville today and you can still hear the primal scream which first pierced radio dial of the River City in the fall of 1958 – the Ape Call. Every hour the Ape Call is used to identify the station that is still known as “The Big Ape”, a brand and a radio station that is alive and vibrant more than fifty years after its AM counterpart first went on the air at 690 kc. Tune to WAPE-FM at 95.1 and you can will hear the spirit of a radio station which was brought to life by the three Brennan brothers from Alabama. WAPE-FM broadcasts a full day of “todays hit music” and maintains an ownership association with its 50,000 watt AM parent station, now known as WOKV-AM 690.
1947..it was a very busy year
If there is any such thing as a flashpoint in this the relationship between the Brennan and Benns families, 1947 would be the year. WVOK had just been built and was on the air, Cyril M. Brennan, Billy Benns and Maria Skinner had just been granted a construction permit for a new radio station in Miami (WFEC). Cyril G was discharged from the army and Dan was graduating from high school.
Most importantly, for this history, on July 28, 1947, Bill Brennan tendered an application with the Federal Communications Commission for a new AM radio station to operate in Jacksonville, Florida.
The application tendered on that July day was a far-cry from the “flame-thrower” signal which would eventually be known as WAPE. It was a modest request for a “standard station” (AM) in Jacksonville, Florida to operate on 690 kc, with a power of 5,000 watts, daytime only. The original transmitter site for the station was not the well-know tract in Orange Park, but land on the west side of Jacksonville in the general vicinity north of Stone Mountain Industrial Park and west of the Dinsmore area. From this site, the proposed station would provide a “city grade” signal to all of Jacksonville, and most of Duval County. Jacksonville would not become a consolidated city-county entity until 1968.
It was common practice for the perspective owners of new stations to understate the full signal intent for their stations. This was as to not attract too much attention from other broadcasters or competing applications. All of the Brennan/Benns stations signed on with healthy signals of 10,000 watts or more. Those power levels coupled with desirable lower positions on the AM dial all but guaranteed market-dominant coverage. While the 5,000 watt application was tendered, it is safe to assume that an upgraded application was not far behind.
The process of applying for a broadcast license in the 1940’s required quite a few steps. Many of these procedures required the applicant to essentially “show their hand” in what they had planned. First, the perspective broadcaster would have to apply for a permit to build a station, appropriately known as a “CP” – construction permit.
A broadcast application was a lengthy process of FCC forms, engineering studies and community ascertainment. The latter was to identify any community issues which might exist, and then explain how the perspective licensee would address those issues. The FCC took very seriously the licensees obligation to broadcast for the “public interest convenience and necessity.” Still lacking the guarantee of a permit, it would still be up to the applicant to secure the land on which to build a tower. With many AM stations, these tower sites could take up acres. For instance, the WAPE Baldwin nighttime sight would require nearly 80 acres to accommodate the proper spacing for all six towers!
After all of the work and due diligence required to assemble the application, it was tendered for filing with the FCC. At this point, the Commission would review the application and supporting documents to insure that they all adhered to FCC guidelines. Once past this review, the FCC would then accept the application for filing.
A part of this process was also giving public notice about the applicant’s intentions to build a station. The “Public Notice” period involved the running of a legal ad in the local “newspaper of record”, usually the largest circulation daily which covered the proposed city of license. The notice period would cover about two weeks. In the notice, the intent of the perspective licensee was spelled out, along with the address of the public file. The public file contained an actual copy of the application – all information about the applicants, the transmitter site, financial and engineering data. This often alerted other area broadcasters to potential new competition in their market.
The general public is by and large isolated from the government process of licensing a radio station, so to the layperson, WAPE simply went on the air in 1958. In reality the process of bringing the station to air was a twelve-year journey for the Brennan’s. They would navigate competing applications for the frequency, the objections of broadcasters in Jacksonville, the negotiation of an international treaty, the Cuban government and of course the Federal Communications Commission.
After an initial review, the FCC accepted Bill Brennan’s application for a new station on August 4, 1947. But others also had their sights set on the 690 frequency. The stage had been set for an initial three-way battle.
Three Applicants Square-Off
Haygood S. Bowden held a construction permit for a new AM station on 840 kc with 250 watts daytime in Camden, South Carolina. Camden is located about 30 miles to the northeast of Columbia, SC. On the same day as Bill submitted his application to the FCC, Bowden also submits an application to amend his CP. His request is to change frequency from 840 kc to 690 kc as well as a change in transmitter location. Given a distance of about 250 miles and relatively poor ground conductivity of the region surrounding Camden, is it possible that the Bowden frequency change and the Brennan application for 5,000 watts could both have been granted. Had this happened WAPE coverage area would have been shoehorned into an area which would have been a mere shadow of its legendary reach. Keep in mind, the Orange Park location had yet to be named as a transmitter site.
Broadcasting Corporation and was licensed to operate on 1290 kc with 5,000 watts full-time using a directional pattern at night. In the days before the wide-spread acceptance of television into the home, full-time operation was the key to financial success for AM stations. As with television today, night time was prime time for radio. Even though it meant giving up its night time signal, WTOC was now applying for a construction permit to change frequency to 690 kc with 10,000 watts, daytime only. WTOC’s initial threat was short-lived. On September 16, 1947 their application was returned for technical reasons. Corrections were quickly made and the application was then accepted for filing.
While there was no evidence of collusion between Jacksonville broadcasters and Savannah Broadcasting to prevent the Brennan’s for getting 690 on the air, there most certainly were some people who would benefit if the River City had one less radio station. The WTOC application provides the first of three very interesting connections to Jacksonville broadcasters who may have benefitted if the Brennan’s new station never made it to the air.
In 1947, Jacksonville boasted more than half a dozen radio stations in operation. WJAX was the city-owned station and was considered by most to be the station of record, with its heavy schedule of network programs and information. The NBC affiliated station was enjoying the benefit of a recently grant from the FCC which increased its night-time power from 1,000 to 5,000 watts. By the end of 1948 the Hooper ratings service would rank the WJAX afternoon show among the twenty most popular in the nation with an impressive 31.6 share of the total Jacksonville radio audience.
“There’s Music a Plenty on 1320”. The station had a “hit parade” format which was the precursor to the Top 40 format of the 50’s and 60’s. Listeners tuning their radio to 1320 kc were treated to the local shows such as “Sky Commuter’s Club”, “Music with Marci” and “Swing Shift”. These programs had local hosts playing music by Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Fred Waring, the Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald. Variety in programming was name of the game as the station boasted, “Try the Music, Drama, Comedy, Quiz or News That WJHP Offers for You!”
Getting a radio station built during World War II was nothing short of a Herculean task. With war time rationing and industrial production focused on military priorities, finding the proper equipment to get a radio station to air was left to the resourcefulness of the owner. WPDQ became Jacksonville’s newest station in 1942 with the call letters WJDC. Authorized to operate with 5,000 watts, the station was originally assigned to a frequency of 1270 kc. Within a year of signing on, ownership was consolidated under founding partners James Stockton, Robert Feagin and L. D. Baggs. A cash infusion of $180,000 would insure Mr. Baggs controlling interest in the new station.
By 1945 with Robert Feagin at the helm as General Manager, WPDQ was ranked by the Hooper Ratings in either first or second place in several key time slots.
The station’s ratings did lag, however, in the prime hours at night. This was due to a directional pattern which excluded some Jacksonville residents from receiving a clear signal from the stations directional array, which was located outside of the western boundaries of town. The station would be on its way to getting better coverage when in February of 1946; it was granted a permit to change frequency to the much more desirable 600 kc. A new directional tower array would allow the stations 5,000 watts of power to be beamed back over the city from its transmitting site off of Normandy Road, which at that time was seven miles outside of the Jacksonville city limits.
The price of the improved coverage would not come cheap. WPDQ would need to completely demolish its existing four tower array and erect five new 300 foot antennas. The new tower farm would be nearly one-third of a mile long and required 40 miles of copper wire as a part of its antenna ground system. For a price tag of $100,000, WPDQ estimated that it would now serve 136,000 more people across eleven counties.
On July 4, 1947 at 6pm, the switch was thrown which would bring the new WPDQ signal to life. The station was now on its way to insuring its position as the premiere radio station in Jacksonville. As a new affiliate to the fledgling ABC Radio Network, WPDQ was set to rival WJHP and WJAX with the addition of its own local shows and personalities. Talent from around the region and Jacksonville were enticed to join the stations line-up; Ken Bell was waking up Jacksonville on WPDQ’s “Rise and Shine” show, the “Story Time Lady” hosted by Marion Alinson, the “600 Club” – named after the stations position on the dial – with Bernie Adams, Jack Cummins hosting “Discord and Daybreak” and at night “Starlight Serenade” with Gene Bourchier.
The Chief Engineer of the brand new WPDQ transmitting plant was J.R. Donovan. While there is no evidence of any connection with the competing application for 690 kc which was filed by Savannah Broadcasting, it is worth noting that prior to coming to work at WPDQ Mr. Donovan was the Chief Engineer of WTOC. After investing more than $280,000 dollars in WPDQ over five years it would be understandable that Mr. Baggs did not want another radio voice to contend with, especially one so close to his own new dial position.
Here’s where nearly ten years of legal battles begin. On September 25, 1947 the FCC designates a consolidated hearing just for Haygood S. Bowden’s application in Camden, SC and WTOC Savannah. This was because Bowden had a construction permit for 840 kc and WTOC a license to operate on 1290. Both Bowden and WTOC were considered amendments to active permits. Because there was no active permit FCC was still reviewing the Bill Brennan’s initial application for Jacksonville.
After completing its review of the Brennan application, on October 31, 1947 the FCC designated it ready for a consolidated hearing along with the other applications for 690 kc.
The comparative hearing process can be a long and expensive one. Realizing this Haygood Bowden asked for, and was granted, a dismissal of his application for 690, without prejudice from the FCC. This indicated a voluntary withdrawal of an application. Bowden would soon get a new frequency for his radio station. On February 18, 1948 he submitted a new application for 1590 kc. On April 3, 1948, Bowden was licensed for a new AM in Camden, SC on 1590 kc with 1,000 watts daytime, a transmitting power four times greater than his original grant of 250 watts on 840 kc. Just for reference, many factors go into determining the coverage area of an AM radio station. A transmitter power increase of four fold does not mean that coverage area increases proportionately.
The following months would see both WTOC and Brennan amending their applications to provide the best service to their proposed listening areas.
WTOC’s current operation was full-time at 1290 kc, and it had initially applied for daytime only operation on 690 kc; a curious move to be certain. That curiosity would be remedied on February 23, 1948. The FCC issued a decision to grant a petition by WTOC to take leave of its original application. WTOC would return to amend its initial daytime application to now seek unlimited hours of operation. The accomplish this; the amended application specified adding directional-nighttime operation from a new transmitter site and with a new transmission system.
Bill Brennan would soon seek similar Commission action. FCC Commissioner George Sterling acted on a motion by Brennan on April 9, 1948 granting a petition for leave to amend its application on three points. The first was for an increase in power. A daytime power of 5,000 watts had originally been sought in the application. An amendment filed with the FCC would seek a power increase of five-fold to 25,000 watts. Secondly, Brennan would seek to have the stations daytime only operation supplanted with a full-time signal, along with the addition of a directional antenna system for use at night. And finally, the name of the applicant was officially changed from solely William J. Brennan to William J. Brennan (85%), Cyril G. Brennan (5%), Daniel M. Brennan (5%) and James F. Brennan (5%), a “partnership, doing business as Brennan Broadcasting Company”. As a Florida corporation, Brennan Broadcasting would not come into being until June of 1959. On April 26, 1948 the amended application is accepted for filing by the FCC.
The competing applications for 690 were now in the hands of FCC Commissioner Rosel Hyde. The Idaho Republican would play a key role in the future of AM frequency allocations in the US, and would go on to become Chairman of the FCC on several occasions, most notably from 1966 to 1969.
Initial hearings were held on April 22 and 23 of 1948. Savannah Broadcasting’s first move was to attempt to show that Brennan Broadcasting was not a qualified applicant for the new station in Jacksonville. With the Brennan’s history of successful applications for WVOK and WFEC, how was this possible? When the original application for the station was filed, it was done so only by Bill Brennan. Problems started when ownership was amended to include his brothers Cyril and Dan. On April 9, when the ownership change was accepted, Cyril was 20 and Dan only 17, too young to qualify as applicants in the eyes of the FCC. Bill Brennan was 32 at the time the application was filed. Age as an issue would soon give way, as Cyril celebrated his 21st birthday on September 1, 1948 and Dan was declared an adult with rights of majority conferred upon him by a Jacksonville court on August 19, 1948.
As in most legal proceedings, both parties had the right to depose any witnesses for in favor and in opposition to their case. On May 10, 1948 in a motion by Commissioner Hyde, WTOC was granted request to take depositions on May 13. The attorney for Brennan Broadcasting, Donald K. Carroll would have his opportunity on May 19. Most of those called for deposition by Savannah Broadcasting were managers at Jacksonville stations WPDQ, WMBR, WJAX and WJHP. Their testimony was, in the words of the Commission, “understandably laudatory of the existing service” provided by the existing stations in the market.
The Brennan’s attorney needed to granted admission to practice before the agency since he was not a member of the FCC Bar Association, a group of lawyers who are familiar with the Commission’s rules, regulations and procedures. Carroll was a well-known Jacksonville attorney who served as the 1955 President of the Florida Bar Association.
Final hearings were held at the FCC in Washington, DC on five dates in September and October of 1948. The final day of hearings was on October 26, 1948. The Commission would take one further action after closure of the hearings. An FCC action on November 1, 1948 would grant Brennan Broadcasting a petition for leave to amend its application to make minor changes in engineering figures relative to proposed antenna array.
Finally, on July 14, 1949 FCC Examiner Elizabeth C. Smith would issue the Commissions initial decision on 690. Smith said that the case came down to an application for improvement of facilities for WTOC in Savannah, or that of a new station for Jacksonville. She cited that both cities were already served by several stations and that there was really no need for new or improved facilities in either community. The grant for the AM facility would go to Brennan Broadcasting for a new station in Jacksonville. The facilities specified were for 25,000 watts on a full-time basis, but with a directional signal at night. This initial decision would deny the application of WTOC to change frequency from 1290 to 690.
Smith said that she granted the Brennan application because it would give 3,308 persons their first primary night service. This was an important consideration before FM radio became prevalent. She also cited the new station would provide primary night service to 203,091 persons, along with additional daytime primary service to 542,260 people.
Comparatively, the changes proposed by WTOC would grant first primary night service to only 82 persons, which was offset by a loss of primary service by 20,608 persons which were served by WTOC’s facilities on 1290. The switch would afford 436,047 persons with additional daytime primary coverage, which did not offset the losses at night.
The Jacksonville application was not the Brennan’s only entre into broadcasting in the Sunshine State during this period. Part of the family had relocated to Miami to continue their horse racing enterprise. Dan Brennan was enrolled in and set to graduate from Miami High School and his dad, Cyril, maintained a residence in Miami.
Miami radio pioneers Milton “Butterball” Smith, McKinley “Crown Prince” Williams, Fred Hannah, Nat “King Coleman” Kendrick and Jack Gibson would become legends on the city’s first full-time Rhythm and Blues radio station, WFEC. The radio station garnered its call letters from its parent company, Florida East Coast Broadcasting. In November of 1946, Cyril M. Brennan, Billy Benns and Maria Skinner incorporated Florida East Coast to operate a radio station in Miami. That license was granted In April of 1947 for WFEC to operate on 1220 kc, with 250 watts daytime.
WFEC was set become another Brennan/Benns radio station, except for the fact that it was destined to play a role comparative hearing for 690 in Jacksonville. In the original application for 690, Cyril M. Brennan had promised financial support to each of his sons towards the construction and operation of the Jacksonville station. He furthered his pledge to help his sons realize their dreams by giving up something of his own. Cyril stated to the FCC hearing examiner that if the Brennan’s were granted the permit to construct the new station in Jacksonville that he would dispose of his interest in WFEC.
On June 15, 1948, Cyril M. Brennan’s stake of 60 shares, which amounted to 30% ownership, of WFEC was sold to Billy Benns. In just over a year on June 30, 1949, Billy would transfer majority control of the station to Dorothy Bartell for $7,450, but would retain 26 shares (valued at $100 each) in the company. The stock purchase of WFEC would be one of the early ownership moves by the Bartell family, as they spent much of the late 1940’s and early 50’s building their empire of stations. The Bartell Family Stations would one day include ownership of KYA in San Francisco, KRUX in Phoenix, KCBQ in San Diego, WAKE in Atlanta, WYDE in Birmingham, Alabama, WADO in New York City, and WILD in Boston. The Bartell family’s interest in WFEC would be short-lived. Ms. Bartell and Billy Benns would hold on to the license for less than a year. On February 9, 1950, the FCC granted assignment of the WFEC, from Florida East Coast to Howard D. Steere for $50,000. Mr. Steere was the owner of an advertising agency in Detroit.
The initial decision of July 28 to grant the permit was just that, an initial decision. The doors of the FCC process were still open for appeals and further litigation. This legal process continued in an FCC decision issued on November 28, 1949 which set December20 as the date for further oral arguments between Savannah Broadcasting (WTOC) and Brennan Broadcasting. But before these proceedings could begin, there would be another twist which slowed the granting of the final license for years.
This was the only AM station in which full ownership resided with the Brennan family. Brennan Broadcasting went through several forms before the license for WAPE-AM Jacksonville was issued. Its roots are in a 1947 sole-proprietorship owned by William Brennan. That soon changed to a partnership between William Brennan (85%), Cyril G. Brennan (5%), Daniel M. Brennan (5%) – all brothers – and James F. Brennan (5%) – a cousin – and known as Brennan Broadcasting. The formal incorporation of Brennan Broadcasting would not occur until June of 1959.