During my long stay as Chief Engineer at WCAR-AM (while it was owned by Mr. Walter Wolpin), we had many interesting moments. When WBRB last went off the air (staffed largely by Specs graduates as I understand) and the death of its owner at the time, we explored the possibility of purchasing the station and operating it as a sister to WCAR during the 1990s. The stations covered completely different territory, and WCAR with its successful format would probably work in Macomb County as well as it already was in Wayne and parts of Oakland County. In fact, WCAR and WBRB were once “sister” stations when WCAR had the call letters WERB (and later WTKA, the first all-talk station in Detroit) way back in the 1960s and ‘70s. The transmitter had been updated at WBRB (a Harris SX-1A) and it was a newer model than the main one we had at WCAR (an MW-1).
Once it was decided we were NOT going to put WBRB-AM back on the air, the transmitter was moved by yours truly to the WCAR transmitter site in Garden City, and with help from Harris, it was switched from 1430 Khz to 1090 KHz. The transmitter is still in operation at WCAR to this day.
TWISTING BACK THE HANDS OF TIME…
I was an employee of Radcomm Communications in 1977, who had just purchased WBRB from Malrite shortly before I came on board. I was pretty involved over at Southfield’s WSHJ, and a tip from WSHJ GM, Bob Sneddon about the job resulted in three of us being hired. Leigh Feldsteen was WBRB’s General Manager (and uncle of Gilda Radner the famous SNL comedienne) who did the hiring. Basically, voice-wise, I was emulating a combination of Ted Richards from CKLW, Mike Whorf from WJR and maybe a little Bill Bailey (who was then doing mornings on WDRQ), But I made it my own, and apparently, Mr. Feldsteen liked my style.
Fred Sharp (Shapiro) and Shelly Sherman were the other two hired from WSHJ. I was the only one who got “the full time gig” as WBRB’s new Monday through Saturday midday talent slot. Fred would later follow me to WAAM in Ann Arbor.
The Program Director was a old-school type woman who I didn’t get along with too well, but the other Air Talent were great guys. Although I was barely in my 20s, and they were in their 30s-40s, they treated me as an equal.
I was grateful to have worked under Bob Sneddon’s direction and his rigid formatting guidelines at WSHJ (Sneddon himself was a weekend jock at WXYZ-AM back when they played music). In reality, things were a little looser at WBRB, but the discipline that Sneddon had given me was that it wasn’t merely about playing my favorite songs, but what I did (or didn’t do) between the songs that made the station (and me personally) successful.
The music at WBRB was truly Middle of the Road with a Full Service approach. It was NOT Adult Contemporary, Hit Radio or even anything remotely like it.
I was kind of an “up-tempo” guy, and a major fan of what they were doing at CKLW (and the ORIGINAL WDRQ on the FM side), so it was a stretch for me to fit my style in with Wayne Newton, Frank Sinatra and the few current songs that would cross over. But I did it! I used the name “Bob Morgan” on WBRB. That schtick would evolve into the so-called “world famous” Bob “Marshall” which would be used at other stations with more upbeat formats in later years.
PUTTING IN APPEARANCES…
WBRB LOVED to sell remotes and I’d have to drive to banks, hardware stores, metro beach and everywhere imaginable to do my show. Air talent was required to wear sport coats and ties at the remote (and we always hoped the air conditioning worked in the remote trailer, but often it didn’t). Imagine watching people splashing about in bathing suits around boats, and here I am in a box behind windows in a business suit sweating profusely, but ALWAYS staying upbeat and pretending I was loving it. I wouldn’t have said so at the time, but I DID LOVE IT. I loved every minute.
AM 1430, “the Voice of Macomb County” played an interesting role in my career. A funeral home sponsored the roll call of people who had died that day, and I read that list every morning, complete with the wrap-around and commercial part of the presentation.
We hit ABC news at the top of every hour. There was no digital clocks, just one big analog clock. We played 45 rpm records and carts and it was up to us to know how to backtime our show into those live network feeds. Again, I had honed my craft under Bob Sneddon doing this sort of stuff at WSHJ, so it was second nature. If your song ran out too soon, simply OPEN THE MIC and speak! I would front-sell the live news, promo-ing what was coming in the next hour of my show. The mechanical stuff came easy. The fun part of radio was BEING ME.
RETURNING TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME…
So it was kind of sad when some 20 years later, I would return to WBRB’s darkened studios along with WCAR General Manager Jack Bailey. The building on Gratiot near 16 Mile Road was to be demolished, but we were there to salvage whatever equipment we could put our hands on.
I remember it being very dingy and dirty. The “On-Air” board had been “upgraded” to an LPB 10-pot model (which became WCAR’s On-Air board, the first to carry the ill-fated pre-Disney “Radio Aahs” kids format. I reminder spending a day cleaning a coating of dirt and yellow “goop” from both the inside and outside of that console before putting it on the air at WCAR).
There was a library of thousands of music carts at WBRB. Many of the carts and racks were donated to Specs Howard School (completely true, I swear!).
The original RCA Transmitter (in operation during my On-Air time there) was likely still functional, but abandoned. But not before its power tubes were salvaged for my personal collection!
We even salvaged light fixtures from that building. At the time, most of the equipment was stored at a warehouse owned by Great Lakes Beverage (another of Mr. Wolpin’s businesses). Some of the equipment was driven by Jack Bailey and myself to the WCAR Garden City site in a BEER TRUCK owned by Great Lakes Beverage.
I was at the transmitter site at 14 Mile and Gratiot as the original WBRB AM directional array was taken down. It is adjacent to the FM tower of 102.7, which originally was WBRB-FM, and sold back in the days before FM signals had much value.
I suppose if I hadn’t worked there in 1977, it wouldn’t have been any big deal. But to me, it firmly and completely closed that chapter of my life. What I have left is tons of experience, fond memories and maybe some really old airchecks, that probably weren’t good enough for demos that would get me work in years that followed. No one ever took photos. We were just doing a job, and at least I lived to tell about it!