The WNCN saga is one of the great stories in broadcasting. Grab a cup of coffee and relive the almost forty-year long saga of America's greatest classical music station.
WNCN first signed on in 1956 as part of the Concert Network which originated at WBCN in Boston owned by Mitch Hastings. Other stations in the network included WHCN, Hartford, CT, WRCN, Riverhead, NY, WXCN, Providence, and of course, WNCN.
Because New York was effectively the country's cultural capital WNCN soon stopped relaying music programs from Boston (continuing with newscasts, however), and started originating its own programs.
Gordon Spencer, whose announcing/hosting career at WNCN spanned several decades has written about his experiences at the very onset of WNCN in the fifties.
One of the early Music Directors was Albert Fuller the renowned harpsichordist, followed by Brit Maurice Essam, and then David Dubal who guided the music playlist for over two decades.
Some of the music presenters during the fifties and sixties included Harry Fleetwood, Gordon Spencer, Bernie Alan, Bill Watson, Matt Edwards, Bob Adams, Max Cole, Chris Borgen, Frank Waldecker, Lucien Ricard, Dana Bate, and many others.
The station went through several ownership changes, but the on-air "sound" was surprisingly consistent, largely because the core group remained the same. There was no effort to appeal to a larger audience since WQXR had locked up that market thanks to its ownership by The New York Times. In the 60s, the station's on-air slogan was "Fulltime for Fine Music" although during the Essam years it was expressed as "Fulltime for Mozart" by the station staff.
For about a year while under the ownership of Starr Broadcasting it became WQIV, a rock station. However, two listener groups "The WNCN Listener' Guild" and "Classical Radio for Connecticut" were quickly formed and mounted a legal challenge which led to a stay of the scheduled change by the US Supreme Court. However, on appeal, the station was allowed to become WQIV. A number of simultaneous issues were in play, including SEC censures against Starr Broadcasting which resulted in a seven figure fine, and disciplinary actions against certain principals. The WNCN Listeners' Guild case is still studied in Communications Law courses. (A page of links to articles regarding the WNCN fight is in preparation)
The WNCN/WQIV saga came to a head when a Chicago group headed by William Benton (who owned the Encyclopedia Brittanica) formed Concert Radio, Inc. along with principals from WFMT (the Chicago Fine Arts station) and challenged WNCN's license at renewal. To avoid a competitive hearing at the FCC, which would be lengthy, expensive and time consuming, and with a questionable outcome, the situation forced Starr to accept an offer engineered by the Listener's Guild, for GAF Broadcasting to buy WNCN at a fire-sale price of around $3 million.
by Matt Edwards