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June 2008. We returned to the site of the old WOHN radio, near Herndon. At Fox Mill Road and Fairfax County Parkway. Now a Verizon cell phone site, adjacent to a series of Fairfax County ballfields. And reminisce with station veteran "Jack Edwards".....
A Trip to "WOHNderland"
By "Jack Edwards" of WOHN (not to be confused with the Jack Edwards of WCAO, etc.)
I can’t help but think of that one-hit-wonder whenever I fly cross-country. Even though I’ve made the trip hundreds of times. Funny, I’ve only ridden on 747’s twice on the run. So, Albert Hammond, wherever you are, you may be responsible for a memorable record of the ‘70’s. But, you didn’t know beans about economics. 747’s were never profitable on domestic runs. Even with piano lounges in the aft end!
However, I digress in discussing business economics. It’s a subject I deal with daily in my professional responsibilities for what has evolved into a roughly $2 Billion (That’s with an upper-case B, folks…) operation which is just one part of a much larger media corporation. This trip involves that most unpleasant of religious traditions. Yet, like so many others, during the twentieth century, it morphed into being a catered social affair with all the trappings thereof. I am of course referring to a funeral. However, thanks to a colleague, this trip, while reminding me of my own mortality, served to remind me of a part of my past. A past that I’d long since thought buried like the 42” (or 107 cm) of topsoil used for interment in Northern Virginia. Yet, was still an important part of whom I am today in the various roles of life in which I’m either a leading or supporting cast member… Father, Husband, Lover, Friend, Lay Minister, Mentor, Respected Media Professional, Businessman, Investor, Legislative Advocate, Author, and indeed so many more. Yet, for two years, I was a part of what was, in so many ways, a crucible of life itself. That place was a now long silenced radio voice on the outskirts of what was then a small town but today is a bustling suburb. That small town is Herndon, Virginia. And, that radio station, while it was known by a variety of callsigns during its mercifully brief existence is more familiarly known as “WOHN”.
Actually, WOHN was probably the furthest thing from my mind when contemplating this trip. Although attending the funeral for the youngest son of a dear friend of mine was the primary reason for this trip, it was also a foregone conclusion that I’d also take care of some of my remaining business interests on “the least coast” as well.
The trip east is always a PITA. Getting up at 5:30 for the trip on the Pasadena, Santa Monica, and Long Beach Freeways as this trip east would be from the Long Beach airport instead of the close-by Hollywood-Burbank or the variety of LAX. Park the Cadillac, check the bags, buy a hoagie to eat on the plane, and then wait to board. Helluva way to spend a Saturday… especially when you’d joined another couple for a late dinner at “The Vault” the night before! So, I slept on the plane. Different case with the wife. While I can sleep on almost any plane (Except when I’m doing the flying!), she cannot. Unfortunately, she’s also the odd one out in the family in that regard as well. She loathes these trips east. I don’t blame her. Bad memories. We arrive at Dulles in mid-evening, pickup the rental and are on our way.
It was decided during the planning of this trip that I’d be able to spend a couple of hours of the first afternoon with a colleague whom I hadn’t seen in awhile. The family would go play tourist.
That Sunday would see the only pleasant weather for most of the week. While monsoonal thunderstorms vied with heat and humidity that had trees fighting each other over the attentions of stray dogs, that afternoon was almost what we experience back home in Pasadena.
I waited in front of the restaurant where we’d agreed to meet. Instead, I was surprised when he rolled-up and said, “Get in. It’s too nice a day to spend in air conditioning.”
I asked where we were going. The reply was simply, “wonderland”. It was when we turned onto Fox Mill Road that I realized he really meant “WOHNderland”. A place that, while I’d passed it countless times in the 32 years since I last worked there, I’d not even stopped for more than a quick glance since. Too busy. Always have to be somewhere when I’m in Northern Virginia. No time for nostalgia.
Dave parked the car in the county park that occupies the space that had been Mr. Brent’s backyard back in “the day”. We then walked over as close as we could to the place without trespassing on what is now the property of a cellular telephone operator and serves as one of its relay sites. The place is so neat and clean now. There’s no sign at all that an AM radio station was once there.
In a way, I sort of felt like “Hermie” in the movie, “Summer of ‘42”. Instead of getting out of a Mercedes convertible and getting sand in Gucci loafers, I got out of a VW “Rabbit” and strolled the now manicured and re-graded terrain in the Justin Ropers that are as much a personal trademark for me as the Stetson that Nichole likes so much and I usually wear back home in California. Instead of looking at a weather-beaten beachfront house that held memories of innocence and sexual awakening, I looked at a building that had once been one of so many “daytime only”, independent, and locally-owned and operated AM radio stations that had once dotted the fruited plain in numbers almost comparable to the amber waves of grain across Nebraska. Yet, today, radio stations of that kind are as hard to find as a family farm.
I point out to Dave where the air studio had been… the corner office of Jim Beattie (and where often “Jay” could indeed be found)… the engineering room… the Program Director’s office… the lobby… and, the main entrance. The old gravel driveway and parking lot were still there. I showed Dave where the craters had been. Craters of such magnitude that the employees resorted to driving alongside in what became known as “The Jim Beattie Memorial Parkway”, a path used daily until Beattie put nails in it and fresh bluestone gravel in the driveway. In the back corner of the parking lot, facing the trees, was where the dumpster sat. The dumpster where Scott Reichmeister hung the carcass of a black snake he’d killed with a section of quarter-round molding in the parking lot one hot Sunday afternoon. It seems the snake had sought refuge from the noontime heat under Pat Rollison’s VW bug while she was cleaning inside the station. And, the snake felt threatened by Pat’s presence in its “territory” to where it felt the need to strike! Speaking of VW’s, I also showed Dave the spot in the woods where Jay’s green “Super Beetle” had been abandoned so many years ago.
Where a middle-aged “Hermie” of “Summer of ‘42” could close his eyes and think back and hear in his mind the voices of thirty years earlier and see the people of that era with the clarity of his mind’s eye, I thought back to the people I knew while I was a part of the life experience that was WOHN. For, while DCRTV’s “WOHN Tribute” page discusses some of the on-air personalities (and characters) that made WOHN what it was, there were people that had been left out. Yet, they are just as important. I thought of Lew Martin, who while not the high-achieving major market Sales Manager he’d once been, still carried himself every bit as one. Skinny, almost to the point of emaciation. And, trying to live on a diet of coffee and cigarettes. Lew was always dressed in a starched white shirt, tie, and slacks. A marked contrast to the t-shirts and torn jeans of the typical WOHN DJ. He talked joyously of his glory days in New York. Yet, his home at that time was a rented room in a house on Alabama Drive in Herndon and he drove a faded Plymouth sedan of an earlier decade. Lew was an eternal optimist. Always talking about going back to “the big time”. In that way, he eerily reminded me of “Willie Loman” in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. The last time I saw Lew was when I visited Steve Drepperd over at WEAM one afternoon. Where he went after that, only God knows. When I hear the Harry Chapin oldie, “WOLD” (My favorite version of it today is the “in concert” performance at Long Beach…), I think as much of Lew being the subject of the story as much as any WOHN air personality.
Regarding the air personalities I thought of, I recalled “Big” Don O’Brien. It was “Big Don’s” not so legal ID of, “This is Radio station WOHN in Herndon, Virginia. Stay tuned next for “Parson to Person” that I was actually able to ‘DX’ off the backside of WOHN’s infamously tight DA… There were a couple of Navy guys who drove up weekly from Norfolk over those two years to work just a weekend shift or two. Just to be on the radio… There was the guy who was a little younger than I who’d left a Class IV AM (as such a station was called by the FCC back then… with 1 KW day and 250w at night on a very crowded frequency) in Hagerstown, MD, with an affiliated network UHF TV. He dreamed of being a major market rock jock and marrying his high school sweetheart back home. Yet, when he couldn’t afford to live in the Sterling Motel (the site is occupied today by a muffler shop), he was but one of many a WOHN employee who actually lived for a time at 2455 Fox Mill Road.
Indeed, there’s another WOHN character of the “WOLD” image, who has not been fully discussed. Yet, had it not been for him, WOHN would’ve probably never existed. Indeed, Jim Beattie was not unlike the obviously “has been” air personality of “WOLD”, except from the perspective as a station owner. Jim Beattie had once been an individual owner-operator of not just a chain of small market stations, but also broke into the medium market ranks with WTOB in Winston-Salem, NC. Perhaps, at his height, he was a major partner in what we’d call toady a major market “rimshot”, WSSA, a daytimer licensed to the Atlanta suburb of Morrow, GA. Like Lew Martin, Jim Beattie was an eternal optimist, always believing that the future would be better than the present. Driving an almost new yellow Cadillac Eldorado with a tan vinyl roof, and dressed seemingly every day in the same $500.00 suit, Jim Beattie carried himself with the grace and confidence of the major broadcast owner-operator he’d once been. But, not only no longer was, but of a kind whose very existence would vanish within a couple of decades. It had been quite a while since I’d last thought of Jim Beattie. Then, just before Easter this year, some friends and I got together for a weekend “No Wives –No Worries” roadtrip to Las Vegas. We piled into the DTS and hit the San Bernadino Freeway. As we rode along, I punched-up XM-6 just to see which Top-40 station of the past would be memorialized. Except for bouncing back to KNX for traffic updates, the radio stayed on XM-6 all the way to Vegas as the WTOB of Jim Beattie’s era was remembered. No, we didn’t hear Mr. Beattie. Or, Jay, for that matter. But, what we did hear was one of many medium market Top-40 stations where a jock honed their craft on the way up. Or, trying to rebuild a career that was on the skids.
The “WOHN Tribute” on DCRTV talks about how so many “alumni” went on “trippin’ to the big time”, as my late colleague, “The Real” Don Steele, would put it. More than a few of us went on to network owned and operated stations. (Even the networks themselves!) Or, to seriously large corporate media giants that are equally legendary. Indeed, besides yours truly, Darius Pope, and Randy Shaw would end up landing in the “Golden State”. For while WOHN was a stop on the way down for those whose career was at its nadir, WOHN was also that “first big break” which launched the careers of so many.
Yes, that thirty minutes or so on a pleasant Sunday afternoon made me think of the people who touched both my career and my life. I especially thought of my time in Anchorage and of Augie Hiebert who passed away less than a year ago. While he looked back with pride at building the tower for the old KENI radio on Westchester Drive in what is now a fashionable suburb as opposed to the near-tundra of six decades earlier (A tower which still stands today and is in use by another broadcaster.) and building Alaska’s pioneer TV stations, KTVA, Anchorage and KTVF, Fairbanks, Augie preferred to look ahead instead of looking back. While an individual owner-operator not unlike Jim Beattie, Augie Hiebert was a much more modest man. A man, who was on a first name basis with luminaries of the industry like Bill Paley and Walter Cronkite, yet treated his fellow man of whatever station in society with equal respect. Meeting with Al Bramstead (of KENI-TV’s successor, KTUU) and Sean Bradley (of another competitor, KIMO-TV), I was told that just meeting Augie was a must. Indeed, besides being a broadcaster and an avid ham radio operator, Augie liked to say that he was a “builder”. Until almost his dying day, Augie was building not just broadcast stations (He was proudest of KNOM in Nome.), but also the next generation of broadcasters by trying to get low-powered FM stations into the Anchorage public schools. These stations would begin the training of the next generation of Alaskan broadcast professionals. One afternoon, Peggy and I finally drove out to Westchester Drive and the former KENI site. She looked at me and laughed. I had to ask, “What’s up honey?” “That glow”, was her response. She continued, “That glow Augie still has in his eyes. I see it in yours. Now I think I understand.” Yes, Westchester Drive is a long way from Fox Mill Road. But, that spirit. That spirit of daring and creativity which had first come alive in that “little radio station in the woods” (as Scott Reichmeister would call it twenty years later) was being nurtured in a place that had once seemed so far away. I thought of the other broadcast and media professionals who not only helped me in my career, but also helped me to become the man I am today.
In looking at that rear corner which had once housed WOHN’s air studio, I could almost hear the other voices of WOHN’s airwaves. Voices now stilled by time… I could hear raspy preaching of Lester Roloff, not of the defensive interview he had with “60 Minutes” shortly before his death in a plane crash, but belting forth the hellfire and brimstone of a radio preacher from Texas, a state I’d not set foot in until over a decade after I’d left WOHN. But, the state from which the great love of my life would hail. I could hear the gentle and smiling voice of Rev. Ron Macy, of the Eternal Hope Church of God. It was a small white church of wood construction on West Ox Road. It still stands today. But, is simply the “Fair Oaks Church”. Its sign carries no mention of the schedule of services. There was “The Loudoun Gospelairs”, a choir from a Baptist church in what was then a very bucolic Loudoun County. One member of the choir owned a “Union 76” gas station which sponsored that 15 minute program. But, by the time Jim Beattie had sold WOHN, the live tag after the “Gospelairs” was simply, “Don’s U-Haul and Parking. 20 Spring Street in Herndon. Where the Spirit lives”. There was the ecumenical/multi-denominational church in Reston that combined four denominations together into eventually three locations (Yet would contract to just one with the dawn of the 21st century.) which would usually have the minister come in and do the show live, while recording a 7” reel tape in the production studio for later transmission on a now-otherwise long-forgotten failed cable-only experiment called “Radio Reston”. The program was called simply, “Word and Music of the Christian Faith”. I remember one Sunday morning when the WOHN’s Program Director of the era, “J.J.”, came into the station at about 6:45 with a tape of part of his just finished shift at “The Great 98”, WRC. His all night weekend gig was full of oldies. And, he finally got to play “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by “The 4 Seasons”. Of course he used the classic break I’d done at WOHN (And, I’m sure was used every other jock who dared, “If you’re a big girl and you want to bawl…”! (Just say it out loud…!) Well, while J.J. and I were listening to the tape, the preacher walked into the air studio (“Ask the Professor” was airing at the time…) and started setting up for his show. J.J. puts down the bottle of Schlitz Malt Liquor he’d been drinking at about the same time the preacher picks up the copy of “Penthouse” magazine I was “reading” when J.J. walked in! Years later, while on travel, the wife of the era and I went to worship at the local church of that denomination. Guess who was the preacher that Sunday? Yes, he remembered not only WOHN, but also the “Penthouse incident”!
I’ve heard it said that in many ways, a man (or woman) looks back at the first radio station they work for with a fondness not unlike that felt for the first woman (or man) they make love with. Indeed, there are similarities in both the experience and the sentimentality. In looking back these many years later, I would now have to agree with the statement! And, why I used the cinematic metaphor of “Summer of ‘42” throughout this essay.
Finally, it was time to leave the site which had once been WOHN and go on with the rest of the day. I knew that I would soon be going back to my daily routine of taking care of my professional responsibilities in the business. Responsibilities, which can in one day take me beyond the cutting edge of technology, yet plunge me into performance spreadsheets, and proposals in a matter of minutes. But, for a brief moment in time, while it was nice to look back and remember, I am also so thankful that I’ve been blessed enough to mature and grow beyond that part of my life, both personally and professionally. In saying that prayer of Thanksgiving, I also prayed for the many for whom WOHN was a stop on the way down (as opposed to up) in this business, and for those who’ve yet to grow beyond the WOHN stage in not just their careers, but their lives.
By Dave Hughes, Ed Rodriquez, "John" and several anonymous sources
Once upon a time, the town of Herndon, in western Fairfax County, had its own little radio station. It was a daytime-only affair on 1440 AM. While the station, over the years, sported the WHRN and WVBK calls, 1440 shall be mainly remembered for its WOHN calls - which taken together are pronounced "one." Some jested that WOHN was supposed to mean "We Offer Herndon Nothing."
Until it left the airwaves in the 1980s, WOHN broadcast various country and pop music formats into Herndon, Virginia and points west - Loudoun County. The 1000 watt, highly directional transitter pumped virtually no signal to the east, toward Washington. The station sent its last kilowatt into the ether around 1983. It is gone now. Only a memory. The station's transmitter and studio site, on Fox Mill Road at the Fairfax County Parkway (which wasn't there back then), now features an unmanned cellular phone tower.
But in the two decades or so WOHN was on the air, it was quite a whacky little station. And its tiny studio, just off then-rural Fox Mill Road, saw, at one time or another, virtually every DJ that worked in the DC area back then. Or so it seemed.
Many radio personalities did "time" at 1440 - Loo Katz (now with WRQX), Robbie Norton (once "Mergatroid" at WPGC), Steve Drepperd (now at Baltimore's WQSR), Steve Kingston, Darius Pope (once with WINX), Skip McClosky, Rick (Randy) Shaw, Robbie Norton, Scott Reichmeister and Ed Rodriquez (now with WMZQ), to name but a few.
WOHN has been dubbed: "The Tomb of The Unknown Disc Jockey."
At one point, after the switch to the WOHN calls, the station had a "WOHN-Mobile," a beat-up old (late 50s, early 60-ish) black Cadillac limo which had "WOHN 1440" painted on its doors and "Formerly WHRN" on the front fenders.
The Beginnings - WHRN
WHRN began life on a hot August afternoon in 1965 as a "beautiful music" station! The original owners took out large ads in the Entertainment section of the Washington Post promising "100 percent Adult Entertainment." At the time, WASH-FM, WQMR/WGAY, WRC-FM, WWDC-FM, WTOP-FM, WMAL-FM, WHFS-FM, WAGE-AM, WPIK-AM and WJMD were all offering some form of "beautiful music/easy listening" programming, so it's not like this was an unserved marketplace screaming for product.
Within one year, WHRN became the home of an upbeat country music format. The station sounded very alive and its only competitor was WDON (1540 AM) with a 1,000-watt daytime signal in Wheaton MD. (The signals of WOHN and WDON barely overlapped.) WPIK (730 AM) would not become a country station for another year and a half. But, when WPIK adopted its very sterile, streamlined country format on its 5,000-watt signal from Mount Vernon, it far overshadowed WDON and WHRN. WPIK could be heard from the north side of Richmond to the south side of Philadelphia.
Old 1440 still had the most fun-sounding airstaff. Explains 1440 alum Ed Rodriquez:
"They sounded young and energetic. By contrast, WDON's people sounded hokey, like something out of the fifties. WPIK had "professional an-noun-cers" who spoke in pear shaped tones and used no headphones. WHRN took to calling itself "Tall Grass Country"; a name I later learned was a jab at a chief engineer who refused to mow the lawn until it got to be two or three feet tall. And it seemed like everytime the mentioned Dulles, the sound effect of a jet would play. I later learned that the program director at the time had all the jocks mention Dulles whenever a plane flew over the station as the soundproofing wouldn't keep out the noise."
Adds 1440 alum Skip McCloskey:
"I was hired pre-WOHN therefore pre-Beattie. It was WHRN then and all one had to do to get a job on the air was have an FCC 1st Class License. The staff consisted of GM Phil Long, PD & Mid-Day Man Steve Hopp, Receptionist, book-keeper Pat Rollison, salesman Lou and chief engineer Chuck (I can't remember his last name but I believe he used to work for channel 5). The shifts were Steve from sign-on to noon and me from noon to sign off. Since it was a daytimer, those summer months were brutal. Being on the air for more than 8 hours at a time was misery. The weekends consisted of me working Saturdays from sign on to sign off. Chuck used to come in at noon and do an hour of Country Classics so I could get a lunch break. Steve had Sundays from sign on to sign off. It wasn't as bad for him since he had God Squad tapes till noon. I did this for all of $80 a week. Others have mentioned the various places to eat in Herndon...But back when I started there was only a bank and a Hardees. As a matter of fact that's the only ad WHRN had to run on Saturdays. 4 Times an hour I can still hear that jingle in my head "SO HURRY ON DOWN TO HARDEES BABY WHERE THE BURGERS ARE TRIPLE GRILLED!"
"In my whole radio career I have been only involved in one FCC inspection. It was at WHRN. The back of the transmitter was completely off and there were many other violations. The only thing the station was cited for was an old TV antenna on the roof that was not hooked up. We were told to take it down. Phil Long was actually the morning man. He had a deep gruff voice and did the show from a storefront window in Reston. Steve had to run the board back at the station. Phil used to read 1 minute live spots. The longest running 12 minutes. They were NEVER under 4 minutes each. When I first got there, the studio was in a small room looking into this huge studio-like room which I understand was used for a Sunday morning 'live' choir. This room was later converted in to the main studio when the Beatties took over. It at least had a window in it which would attract curious sheep who would poke their heads in at unsuspecting times. From what I understand, one day when the base current readings were being taken (probably by Robbie) he stepped in a dead sheep on his way out to the tower."
"WHRN had its share of groupies...well at least one that I can recall. Can't think of her name and it's probably best that I don't mention it here anyway since she was married at the time. Thank goodness I was only there a few months before I was hired at WEEL. It was shortly after that the Beatties took over. Jay was doing mornings at WEEL at the time. Previously he was at WINX doing overnights as Allen Afterhours (I just recently found an aircheck of this)," adds Skip.
1440 alum Alan Jarvis contributes this:
"WHRN was my first job out of college. Working there was a blast, as well as a great learning experience. I was hired part-time around 1965, while I was a student at American University in Washington, DC. I believe the station had been in operation for several years at the time. Some friends at college (members of the clique at the college radio station, where I spent most of my time) had gotten part-time gigs at WINX, WEAM, WHFS, WDCA-TV and others, and I rushed right over when I heard of an opening at WHRN. I mispronounced PUR-seh-ville as Pur-SELL-ville during the audition, but got the job anyway. The station was owned by Three Towers Inc. (appropriate name) and had a beautiful music format. ("At 1440, this is WHRN...with more music, better music, from Herndon, Virginia.") I was partial to the 1812 Overture because it ran more than eight minutes. Each album had a sheet attached to the front, showing which cuts were played most recently. One of my fellow jocks (in addition to being a first phone) was Alan Severy, who subsequently founded a station in Wolfboro, NH -- WASR. He owns it to this day. Another WHRN engineer was Bob Cole, who later went on to ABC Radio. Then there were Brad Thomas, Bob Sweeney, and GM Bob Foley, among others whose names escape me. Another engineer was Jim Grainger, who came up from Richmond and actually lived at the station for a while. Jim and I did a great transmitter check together one late night and got a DX card from somewhere in the Midwest. Of course, we played rock. Jim went on to engineer for a few stations in Richmond. He still lives there."
"Two of the station's morning features at the time were the Vepco Weathergram, which was anchored by a guy in Richmond and featured weather reports from stations around the state. The anchor called me one morning and I had to hurriedly put something together for the "big time." Another feature was a report on horseracing results from some guy who sounded like he'd been around tracks all his life."
"Jocking wasn't my only job during those early years. When I went full-time after finishing college, I was also assigned as Traffic Director and Local News Director. That basically meant I had to prepare and type all the station logs and make calls to supplement the local stuff I read off the wire. Oh yes, I also wrote commercial copy and produced spots. One was about some local fast-food joint's contest to bring in the "prettiest live chicken."
"Pretty soon after I went full-time, the station was sold to Brinsfield Broadcasting. They kept the calls but changed the format to Country. The owner was a minister, and he put one of his sons, Stuart, in charge. He promply reduced my salary from $100 a week to $75. They brought in as PD Fred Gray, who had worked at WCAO Baltimore, among other places. Fred was a great guy and a whiz at production and did some jazzy "image" promos for WHRN. After Fred left, he started his own radio production house locally, but I lost track of him. Turns out he was good friends with Johnny Dark, who was one of my radio idols when he worked at WEAM Arlington in the 50s. Johnny now is with WBIG-FM Rockville, MD. (Aside: Another guy from that era who is local is Jack Alix, now Sales Manager and sometime-air talent at WGRQ-FM (Q96) Fredericksburg, where I live. Jack started way back at WEEL Fairfax and WINX Rockville.)"
"Brinsfield Broadcasting couldn't do much with the station because they couldn't change its directional-West signal orientation. (They subsequently also bought a couple of more stations, one of them in Oil City, PA.) But they did bring in a few bucks with some live religious programming. The new PD and some of his new jock cronies were, I am afraid, of questionable character. But, that's radio. It was the beginning of the end for WHRN and just before the station was reincarnated as WOHN...and then again as WVBK. I kept my hand on the pulse of the industry for a few years by writing for Broadcasting Magazine, but never again had the opportunity to return to radio. I went on to other writing jobs and now work for a Navy contractor. But for sheer fun, folks, you can't beat working in radio. I miss it," adds Jarvis.
Yes, alas, WHRN suffered from the usual problems of small, fringe area radio stations in those days. Questionable management, a misunderstanding of where and who to sell to and no more research into what the market wanted to hear than a good guess led to financial problems and the sale to Jim Beattie in 1971.
The Beattie Radio Empire
With the arrival of Jim Beattie - that's when the "fun" began at 1440.
Ed Rodriquez, now a DJ with WMZQ, says that he worked at the Beattie family's "radio empire" in Herndon many times between December 1971 and 1974 as afternoon guy and program director.
"I think the Beattie's bought the station in mid-1971, made the country format much more uptempo and changed the calls from WHRN to WOHN (pronounced Radio One). It was like a radio frat house. Whenever we got fired somewhere, we'd just go to Herndon. They'd always have a shift open," adds Ed.
There are many stories about 1440. Some we offer from anonymous sources. Like this one:
"Somewhere in my collection I have an aircheck of a midnight "equipment test" from WOHN which must rank as one of the most bizarre programs in the history of broadcasting. It started out something like: "This is WOHN, Herndon, We're testing (belch). It's a little past one in the morning. So, we're testing because the stupid Federal Communications Commission allows us to test after midnight. What I'm gonna do right now is play a few hits because I can't afford to buy any other records than hits, because that's all that they sell in record stores." Music included "Tell Her No" by The Zombies, "Band on the Run" and "Jet" by Paul McCartney and Wings, and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" by The Beatles. One break went "CKLWOHN"! This equipment test even carried a newscast, one story of which about was someone 'climbing Bob Howard's (WPGC's GM) vinyl belt!' The most consistent element of the program was the oft-repeated "Where's Jay" jingle. It was played over records and anything else that got in the way."
Or how about this story:
"The WOHN control room decor was very "Animal House" with suggestive (and scantily-clad) ads (cut from "Billboard") from Donna Summer and Helen Reddy adorning the walls. The cubby-holes underneath the cart racks carried the current issue of "Penthouse" magazine, as well as an ample supply of back issues.
Adds Skip McClosky:
"I remember the first day WOHN and Jay took over. The same country record (some dud by a local artist) was played over and over from sign on till noon. At 12 o'clock Jay came on in his Boss Jock Rock n Roll voice introducing WOHN in WOHNderland and shortly after a brief speech continued with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard."
"It's true Jay had cars parked throughout the field. He was missing a finger and the story is he got it caught in a fan belt while working on his VW Beetle. Besides the legendary 'Wheres Jay' phrase the other bit we used to do was bend back your index finger (as if it were missing) and imitate Jay's laugh which was like a "schnick schnick schnick". I went on to work at Channel 20 and WRC The Great 98 but used to go back and fill in from time. One day when I was reading the news Robbie Norton would signal me to turn on the spare mic. With great hesitation I did within the newscast and he would say "HI" (in a breathy voice imitating Jay once again). This went on about 3 or 4 times and thought this is not very professional at all so I stopped. He begged me to open it one more time which I did. Of course I expected another "HI" but instead I got "Does your mother know you're gay?" Needless to say that was the end of the newscast."
"I occasionally ran the board for Jay who did remotes for the station. There was no communication between station and remote site except for the one phone line that was being used for the broadcast. The was it worked was I would monitor Jay in cue, he would lay out the next break or ask a question (usually a yes or no). The way I would respond to him would be to clip the music very briefly....1 drop-out for yes 2 drop-out for no. Very hi-tech!"
"There was also the time that Jay was on the air and the mic wouldn't work. Now Jay was not your engineer type. He believed that the louder the you played music into the board, the further the signal went. Many pots were replaced from Jay 'slamming' them into the wide open position. Anyway, I came in and Jay was upset that the mic wasn't working and Chuck couldn't get there for another 6 hours. I looked into the back of a rack full of tubes and one was not lit. I found a replacement and plugged it in....KA CHUNK! The relays kicked in and all was well again. Thus began my engineering career."
"I remember working there when the false EBS test came down (instead of a test on the AP wire, they sent the actual emergency notice). I ignored it knowing that the test was sent the same time every Saturday morning. I got a call a few minutes later from Jay who was working at WEEL. He was in a panic saying we were being bombed. HUH? I know there was another jock there who was in the Navy and some guy who was more of a groupie, but they put him on the air. He was known as Flash!"
"WOHN was more of a home to the jocks than it was a station....I mean it literally. More than one actually move in and slept there. Pat Rollison remained thru much of the Beattie era as did another employee pat Johnson. We then had to distinguish between the two so Ms Rollison became Big Pat and Ms Johnson became Little Pat. It was about 12 years later that Little Pat and I were married. It was about 12 years after that that we each went out separate ways. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh....but that was radio!," adds Skip.
And what about the format? At various times, WOHN played either pop music or country music. Always with an ample supply of religious programming to help pay the bills. Another anonymous source tells it this way:
"WOHN's format was truly bizarre. Mondays thru Saturdays had a block of paid religion from 10 AM to noon. This was in addition to the Sunday morning religious programming. The daily "God Squad" ran no matter what the format, be it C&W, Top-40, or Lou Katz's AOR-ish "AM144", which had WOHN as the DC market station to break "Piano Man", by Billy Joel. The preachers on the "God Squad" are for the most part lost to the mists of time, but included Jimmy Swaggart, and R.W. Shambach (of tent revival fame) come to mind. Another gained some fame because of a chain of childrens homes he ran in Texas. The homes apparently attracted the scruitny of not only the Texas agency which was responsible for such, but the guy was later on "60 Minutes". For awhile in 1975, WOHN would patch out the audio chain during the God Squad, with the transmitter being fed raw out of the board. You heard a strong carrier, but until you got within a couple hundred feet of 2455 Fox Mill Rd, there was no audio. The "God Squad" was also a source of production studio fun for the air staff. There was a program called "World Missionary Evangelism" which became a frequent target on the Edit-all block! On one of the tapes, the hymn was cross-faded into "Betcha' Got a Chick On the Side" by The Pointer Sisters about 30 seconds after the start of the hymn, and crossed back into the hymn about 30 seconds about before the end of the hymn!"
Says Ed Rodriguez:
"Where's Jay?" were the first words spoken by WOHN owner Jim Beattie to all staff members EVERY MORNING upon arrival at the station! One day, after playing a pickup game of basketball with one of WOHN's paychecks, I was mid-tirade, screaming every epithet possible about the old man when I dropped my tone to a calm "Wh-where's Jay?" The audience/staff broke up laughing and a radio legend was born. By the early 1980's "Where's Jay?" was spotted scrawled, mainly in mens' rooms in the SF and LA airports, the 401 Expressway in Ontario (road trip to CHUM) Toledo, Detroit, and many other cities.
Adds 1440 alum "John":
"Here's a photo of WOHN's BC-1G transmitter, circa 1975. The second photo looks like it is from late in 1975. I recognize Gary Blau's oscilloscope (on its side) along with Gary's SWTP compressor (WOHN never sounded cleaner). You can also see one of the three (!) Revox tape decks Jim Beattie bought for WOHN."
Ed Rodriquez explains the story on the "Equipment Test" mystery:
"When we took the station Top 40, we ran the God Squad stuff directly into the tranny, bypassing our lethal "Solid VU" air chain. The Squad aired every morning from 9 to noon. During summer months, we signed off at 8:45 PM. We knew that equipment testing was legal after midnight, so on many nights we felt the need to calibrate the turntables. At least that's what the engineers TOLD me we were doing! The upshot was that we were always getting complaints from listeners that "We love your station... except we have trouble hearing it between nine in the morning and nine and midnight. Why? Our response was that there was an "atmospheric condition that caused a vector split between the numbers nine and twelve and that would cause interference in radios that were tuned to even or odd frequencies." Those who did not understand bought into it and those who did understand got a good laugh."
"As far as the question of Jim Beattie making a profit, paydays resembled the Cannonball Run races of the 70s. We all had shortcuts to get to the bank while there was still money left in the account and all speed limits were suspended. Jim also had a habit of telling prospective clients that "with one thousand watts of power and three different towers in the Northern Virginia suburbs, WOHN was effectively delivering three thousand watts to metro Washington." Needless to say, the signal went almost entirely north and west away from the city. Ahh, those were the days! And, yes, it WAS a radio Animal House," adds Rodriguez.
Another WOHN alumnus recalls:
"Jim Beattie was notorious for deferred maintenance on the place. This included the "W-O-H-N" letters in those funky black and white circles on the wood-veneered wall that sheltered the entrance. Every so often, one, more, or all of the letters would vanish. The driveway was a pothole (some were like craters!) alley equal to the Wilson Bridge. It got to the point where we started driving on the front grass from the driveway apron up to about half the length of the drive. Of course this trail became more and more noticeable as days went by. It was pretty funny when all the air staff used "The Jay Beattie Memorial Parkway", as we called it. It got funnier when the sales people, Judy the Bookeeper, and even Pat Rollison (the secretery/receptionist) started using it! Jim Beattie's response to this was to put tacks in the rutted trail we left. Eventually, he sprung for new gravel for the driveway."
"In back of the place, old-fashioned "T"-type wooden poles supported the transmission lines to the three towers. Unfortunately, they weren't treated very well (or were simply so old) that they were rotting away. More than once I remember seeing a brand-new 2X4 supporting the lines! The tower field must've had a spring under it, because there always seemed to be standing water in it. It was hilarious! Sunmmertime, it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, while it was a skating rink in winter. The muck in the tower field also claimed Jay's beat-up green Plymouth Satellite wagon. The area was littered with the remains of 45 RPM records."
This particular WOHN alumnus continues:
"One day I was working with one of our "Consulting Engineers", Bob Wooden, in putting a CB antenna on the WOHN building. For whatever reason, I was nominated to climb the ladder onto the roof. I busted up in laughter when I saw the roof of WOHN: It was almost completely covered with soda (mostly 7-UP) and beer (mostly Budweiser) cans, and two large snow tires mounted on equally large rims. (Maybe they'd come off the "WOHN-mobile") although there was a tale that they'd belonged to Bruce Craft, a former salesman)... There was probably enough metal on the roof to throw off the DA!"
"The interior of the palatial WOHN studios reflected the ambience of the exterior. The jock motto ("Where's Jay?") was seemingly everywhere. Even the clock in the station lobby had "Where's Jay Time" written on it. (So did the wall behind it, as we found when we painted the place.) Of course neither the transmitter, control room or the production studio were immune. The Plate Current meter on the transmitter was an early target, as was the inside of the rig. I found out about this when we were inspected by the FCC while I was on-air. The FCC guy also wasn't amused when he opened the back panel of the transmitter, and it stayed on the air! (Bypassed interlocks, natch) Of course I hadn't helped matters in that I'd played the "unexpurgated" version of The Spinners' "One of a Kind (Love Affair)", before I knew that we were being inspected."
Or how about this story:
"One day, after I'd finished an AM drive shift, we had a bunch of elementary school kids visiting for a tour of a "radio station". Since the kids had just heard me, Pat asked me to be their guide. As we were going from the sales office to the transmitter room, I picked up an old flourescent tube for a desk lamp and carried it with me. Of course, I waved it around and it started glowing. It was fun handing it to the teacher and the kids, most of whom had seen Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family" re-runs. Yes, there was RF leaking around inside WOHN. A considerable amount."
"One problem we'd occasionally have to deal with was the loss of the UPI wire. Unfortunately, I was on one day when this loss proved to be critical. It was the Sunday when an airliner diverted from National to Dulles slammed into Mount Weather, with the loss of all on board. I thought I was lucky that morning because I'd gotten to WOHN in time to find a sleeping UPI teletype, and dash back to the 7-11 in the Reston International Center to buy a "Post" and quickly "rip and read" (literally!) a 15-minute newscast for the 6 AM sign-on. Around 11 AM, Norm Silverstein called me at work and asked me why I hadn't aired anything about the crash (which was all over WTOP, WMAL, and WRC). I told him about the UPI problem, and he quickly drove over and we managed to ad-lib rather professional sounding coverage from what we'd heard on WTOP and WMAL!"
"In addition to Jim Beattie's "3,000 Watts", he used to tell the radio preachers (especially the inexperienced ones) that WOHN had "three towers, going staright up to the Lord", not like those little stations that only had one!")."
"Yes, I too streched the FCC rules for "Turntable Calibration"! Until a few days after one bitterly cold Sunday morning when as usual I fired up the rig at 5:45 (with 1KW, switching to 500 Watts at 6 AM sign-on!), did a quick "WOHN, Herndon, testing" ID, and played oldies with "WOHN 1440" jingles in between. I'd done this for several months and we never got a reception report until this one frosty morning when we were heard in Illinois! The DX'er even heard us after 6 AM with the 500 watts. That was probably the furthest WOHN ever got out. (Unlike WMAL, which made it to Hawaii back in the 1970's) I chickened out after his reception report arrived. I didn't wan't the FCC on my you-know-what for either my commercial or amateur tickets!"
And yet more memories from "John":
"When I started at WOHN, the format was truly bizarre. In addition to the C & W/Religion and Top-40/Religion, the music mix was unreal. While C & W, WOHN would play stuff like Statler Brothers ("Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott") and the unforgettable Bud Logan and Wilma Burgess' "Wake Me Into Love" mixed with "You're 16" by Ringo Starr and "Seasons in the Sun" from Terry Jacks (The latter a frequent nominee for the title of "Worst F------- Song of All Time") Combined with the C & W oldies which sounded like they came out of Don Reno & Bill Harrell's closet, the music "mix" (intentional bad pun) was absolutely amazing! One song I wish I had a copy of today was a C & W cover of "He's So Fine". It was one of those songs that you can easily imagine being played at a 1 KW daytimer."
"When it went Top-40, WOHN was more straightforward. With the exception of the mercifully brief excursion into "AM144", it sounded like those Top-40 daytimers I'd heard down south. Only difference was most of them had at least a class "A" FM to carry them not only after sunset, but into the FM-dominant era we have today. The only non-"AM144" exception to the standard Top-40 flow was our playing of a local band from Reston called "Artful Dodger". Somehow they managed to get a contract with a major label and actually released at least one album. It wasn't until about five years later that I finally saw a copy of it for sale. It was at the Nichols store in Fredericksburg (where I was living by then), and it was selling for $1.98 with a hole drilled into one corner of the sleeve. My girlfriend of the era wondered why I laughed so hard at seeing this LP. I explained, but she didn't quite understand. Especially when I left it in the bin! (Sometimes, I still wonder if she understands... She's been trying to figure me out for over 20 years now!)"
"After the sale of WOHN by the partnership which bought it from Jim Beattie, I understand that it was later sold to a businessman from New York. This was the fourth and final ownership of 1440 in Herndon. The calls went from WOHN to WVBK. And, WOHN finally had its moment of not just national, but international fame. On one April Fool's Day, the AM drive jock locked himself in the station, and played the Johnny Paycheck classic "Take This Job and Shove It" all day long. Yes, he played all the spots, newscasts PSA's, etc. But, for that one day, it was all Johnny Paycheck, all the time. The station went kaput not long after that."
"Yes, there were a lot of good times at WOHN. But, there were not so good times as well. And, neither Ed nor I have touched upon them Nor, should we resurrect some of the less pleasant moments lest they taint the pleasant ones. For we are today the product of those times. Both good and bad. We need to remember that while some of us stayed in Radio, while others of us have not. It is not important to know or to try to understand the "why", but to respect the life course that has been chosen."
Gone But Not Quite Forgotten
Today, the old WOHN site looks neater than it ever did as a radio station. Its three towers were cut down and replaced by a cellphone monopole, reflecting its new ownership and use: Bell Atlantic Mobile as a cellphone site. The bulk of the land is going to be donated to the Fairfax County Park Authority. Perhaps they'll call it "Radio Station Park", or even "WOHN Park"; but right now the undeveloped land is tentatively dubbed "Stratton Woods Park." Maybe one day when it is "developed" into a real park, FCPA will see fit to put up an informational plaque describing the history and shennigans which went on in the last AM station to operate in Fairfax County. "The Real" Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan have stars on "The Hollywood Walk of Fame". Doesn't the "little radio station in the woods" which launched so many careers deserve an appropriate memorial?
Remember that old Harry Chapin song, "WOLD"?
Perhaps someday they could put a statue on the northwest corner of the Fairfax Parkway and Fox Mill Road - where WOHN once stood - of an aging disc jockey - balding, developing a gut, puffing on a cigarette, sitting at a console, headphones always on, mike always ready, doing the phones, spinning the platters, quing the carts, ripping and reading, checking the meters, living the "minimum wage dream". Call it the "Tomb Of The Unknown DJ." The backbone of radio.