The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

November 16, 2013

Still local after all these years

790 at 75 on your radio dial

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

SHENANGO VALLEY — He pulled out a 1945 request to the FCC to allow the station to broadcast beyond normal hours so it could play a Sharon-Farrell basketball game; a 1945 ownership report; a 1940 request to build a bigger transmission tower; and a 1958 broadcasting license.

Greenburg, sales manager, sports director8 and unofficial station manager, pulled from a wall a 1960 Herald story about disc jockey Joe Jansen, who locked himself in the broadcast booth for more than four hours to play the “Beat ’Em Bucs” fight song during the Yankees-busting World Series year.

Jansen came out after then-Hickory Township police threatened to arrest him because of the bottleneck of traffic on Pine Hollow Boulevard from supporters.

WPIC is celebrating its 75th anniversary, something Greenburg called “pretty amazing.”

“It’s such an engrained part of our community,” he said. “WPIC is a branded name. Everybody knows WPIC.”

The radio industry has been evolving because of changes in listener lifestyles; the way people get their information and music; and economic factors, Greenburg said. WPIC has been caught up in that, he said.

However, the station has not moved away from its initial purpose, and that function likely will keep it operating into the future, said Greenburg, who has been with the station since 1999.

“We still feel the station is serving the community,” he said. “We still provide local programming about 20 hours a week. We’re still doing pretty much what we did back in 1938 – serving the Shenango Valley.”

The station went on the air for the first time at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 28, 1938, founded by The Herald. Its studio and transmitter were built at what became known as FM Corners at Pine Hollow, Mercer Avenue and South Buhl Farm Drive, while Herald staff delivered newscasts from the newspaper’s downtown Sharon office.

John Fahnline Jr. was the first president and station manager.

In 1947, WPIC-FM went on the air.

Tony Butala of the Lettermen noted the station’s role in his singing career with a note congratulating the station on its anniversary.

“This was the radio station that put my voice on the air for the first time,” wrote Butala, of Sharon.

The Herald sold its interest in the stations to Regional Broadcasting Inc. in 1959. Regional later sold the stations to Connoisseur Communications, which subsequently sold them to Cumulus Media Inc., the current owner.

WPIC-FM has since been transformed into Y-103, one of the biggies of the eight stations Cumulus owns in the Youngstown-area market.

WPIC-AM has gone to a news-talk format, much of it provided through syndication, but Greenburg stressed that Cumulus allows local programming and is open to hearing ideas for new local programs that might preempt the expensive, syndicated shows.

“It’s been a good relationship,” Greenburg said. “If we’re doing something good on the local level, they say, ‘Keep doing it.’ ”

Cumulus showed its faith in the station by replacing the original transmission tower in 2006, a project that cost more than $150,000.

The station at 790 on the AM dial still has local newscasts, although they are not produced locally, local obituaries and a weekly show aimed at seniors hosted by Sam Bellich, executive director of Mercer County Area Agency on Aging.

“The Ron Errett Show” is an evening staple after 20 years, taking on local issues, and high school sport broadcasts remain a big draw.

On Sundays, religious shows and ethnic music programs further the hometown mission.

“I think we have a nice mix of stuff,” Greenburg said.

He noted that a radio is not something you need anymore to hear radio, with smartphone apps and web streaming. The Internet has actually expanded WPIC’s audience as people from across the country and even overseas – most of them former Shenango Valley residents – tune in to, say, hear a local football game.

WPIC had 3,000 unique web listeners in October, and Greenburg said industry experts estimate that a station typically has 10 times more local listeners than Internet ones.

As radio stations struggle to capture revenue from its Internet listeners, Greenburg said a big draw for radio is that it continues to be free.

“There’s still a fraction of this community it’s important to,” he said.

“The key for this station to survive has to be as much local programming as possible,” he said. “You need to provide a product you can’t get anywhere else.”