Radio Rockland

Vol. 1, No. 2
By Daniel Dunkle | Oct 05, 2017
Source: File photo The control room of WRKD during the first day of operation (Oct. 1, 1952). At the control panel is station manager Paul Huber with Dick Wetherbee, engineer and announcer, at right as he played a recorded program just after the evening sports broadcast.

“It's amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.” ― Jerry Seinfeld

Got a call from crazy old Doc Brown last week. He said he could help with the new column and to meet him at midnight down at the now-empty J.C. Penney parking lot.

When I got there, he handed me the keys to the old DeLorean time machine. It was the kind of offer you can't refuse, so I tore off across the parking lot, hit 88 mph and watched the sparks fly. I had set the flux capacitor for 1952.

As soon as the lightning and blue sparks had settled down, I found myself plowing across a field into an old skating pond. And there the car was stalled. J.C. Penney was gone, though as I was hurtling past the 1960s, I thought I saw a sign for "W.T. Grant" at the same location and a bank over where Subway is today. If some of the details I describe are off, remember that fourth-dimensional travel often takes you not only back in time, but to an alternate reality.

Anyway, I had to hoof it back into the downtown as the dawn of the new morning, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 1952, rose over Rockland harbor.

The cars parked in the driveways and the few delivery trucks out on the road were curvy, freshly painted and seemed to have far more personality than the legions of silver SUVs and Priuses I had left behind in 2017.

Right around 6:30 a.m. I could hear the radios going on in some of the houses. WRKD, Rockland's first radio station, was on the air for the first time.

The station was located in the Bicknell Block, 493 Main St. It would move down the street later to where Suzuki's and "In Good Company" are today.

The Courier-Gazette's Thursday edition that week carried a big front-page photo of the control room at WRKD, including Station Manager Paul Huber at the control panel and engineer Dick Wetherbee.

The announcers called it "Radio Rockland." Frank Knight was the first voice heard on the air that day if you tuned in to 1450 on your radio dial. There were no taped commercials in those days. Unless they were playing a record, they were live on the air.

On the first day the station presented the first game of the World Series that year, the New York Yankees playing against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was noted that Courier-Gazette sports writer Bob Mayo appeared as the station's "sports authority." There was also news from the United Press wires, announcements of local social events and "time devoted to recordings," according to the Courier. I'm assuming that's old-time speak for playing records. "You Belong to Me" by Jo Stafford was a hit at the time.

Not far from the station was its 264-foot transmission tower on Lermond's Cove. On my visit, I spotted it near the future site of the new footbridge by the sewage treatment plant. The station had 250 watts of output, according to the newspaper article. It was expected to have a range of about 25 miles. Before the coming of WRKD, residents had to rely on variable reception from stations in other Maine cities and Boston, according to Rockland's history book, "Shore Village Story."

Over the years to come, the station would be an important part of daily life in Rockland. During the days of the fish-processing plants in the city, the radio station would put out the shift announcements for the plant workers. On Sunday morning, if you couldn't get to church, you could listen to the Living Waters Revival Center music, followed by the sermon from Littlefield Baptist Church.

By 2001, the station would be bought out by Clear Channel Communications and in 2017, where I have traveled from, the call letters WRKD simply are no more. Flip to 1450 on the barely populated AM band, and you will find conservative talk radio.

One of the notable figures in WRKD history was Terry Economy, who recently died at the age of 82. He had a long career with the station, moving up from salesman to general manager, and even made it all the way to the Maine Broadcasters Hall of Fame. In recent years, he wrote columns for The Courier-Gazette called "Rail Kids," which looked back at Rockland's past, strangely enough.

So it was here that I wanted to visit on Oct. 1, 1952, to see where it all started, but as the sun gets higher and the sharp-dressed, energetic workers of the early '50s get moving on the busy street, I find myself feeling a bit out of place in my cargo shorts and flip-flops (well, what would you wear to meet Doc Brown for one of his crazy experiments?).

So I'll hoof it back to the old DeLorean, which in the meantime has been pulled out of the pond by a few curious local fellas. It seems a shame to end the adventure here, so I set the controls for my next stop, October 1935, or is it 1972? And as I push the speedometer toward 88 mph, I flip on the radio. Jo Stafford is singing "You Belong to Me" as the sparks begin to fly.

Newspaper term of the week

LEAD (LEDE): This is the most important thing a new cub reporter at The Courier-Gazette learns. The lede is the first sentence of a news story (spelled lede to prevent confusion with the metal -- lead -- once used in printing). Sometimes a lede is more than one sentence, or even a paragraph, but editors usually teach reporters to keep them short and to the point. The lede should contain the most important information in your story. The lede is your only chance to hook the reader.

Note to alert readers: You may notice some slight differences from accounts in "Shore Village Story." In those cases, it's usually because I have used a date, fact or figure from an original Courier-Gazette story rather than "Shore Village Story," but I also refer to that history book often. I also use other sources, including old city directories.


WRKD's listing in the 1954 Manning's directory for Rockland, Camden, Rockport and Thomaston.
RESPONSE TO LAST WEEK: Alert reader David Grima said this may be a photo of Sid Cullen watching the Oelwein Daily Register come off the press, checking the Goss out before buying it. The stories on the page seem to suggest the paper is dated around 1960. The spy plane may refer to Francis Gary Powers, an American pilot whose CIA U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet Union airspace. The reference to JFK more likely means this photo was taken close to the 1960 presidential election. Talk about reading fine print, Dave! Thanks for the intel. (Source: File photo)
Comments (3)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 06, 2017 18:12

Thanks for keeping the past present, for from our past we learn, or do we? Now computer readers update on line. But I still liked the local paper in hand, but must admit I subscribe on line now. And at 82 this is a big step forward for me and I love it! Thanks for the memories!

Posted by: Eric Thurston | Oct 06, 2017 11:46

Richard, you may also remember that Sunday evening the First Baptist Church broadcast the evening service with Rev. Richard Hopkins preaching and Ernie Hammond at the controls. I spoke to Ernie at Walmart just the other day. Pastor Hopkins is about 95 now.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Oct 05, 2017 18:16

This article reminded me I am older than dirt.
Image result for older than dirt

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