The Final Sign-Off

No it’s not for this blog I can assure you of that. It’s hard for me to express in my body and soul what to think or say. So I am letting my fingers do the walking about what I am writing about. It was about 4:00PM this day as still hundreds of thousands were still in the dark from the freakish snowstorm that hit late last month. I had found out something else was about to go dark, one of the places I had spent some time when I was in radio. I am talking about 1400 WSTC in Stamford and 1350 WNLK in Norwalk. Two stations that have been in one Norwalk location on Westport Avenue since the mid 1990’s when Commodore Media then AM/FM took over.  Since about 2001 or so, Atlanta-based Cox Radio has owned the two stations along with their FM sisters 96.7 and 95.9. Sacred Heart University, which owns WSHU Public Radio, has purchased the two AM signals according to the Norwalk Hour.

Several people familiar with the deal said Cox had agreed to sell WNLK (1350 AM) and WSTC (1400 AM) — both based in Norwalk — to WSHU, a nonprofit organization that broadcasts NPR news, local reporting, classical music, and cultural programming from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

At least 10 staffers are being let go, and about 30 brokered radio show hosts will lose their shows in the move, the sources said.  WNLK and WSTC will go dark on Sunday at 6 p.m., at which point WSHU will take over programming. John Labarca, host of Italian House Party, which has been broadcast by Cox Radio since June 2008, will air his final live segment starting at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

“I was lucky to find Cox, everything was amicable,” Labarca said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Yeah, it’s hard to swallow, but I’m not angry. I’m honored to have the opportunity to say goodbye to the listeners.”

While the sale of WNLK and WSTC ends a longtime relationship with the communities of Stamford and Norwalk, Cox Media Group will be hanging onto its classic rock station WFOX (95.9 The Fox), which is licensed in Norwalk.

WSTC dates back 70 years when it had the call letters WSRR.  A few years later it became WSTC for STamford, Connecticut. The station had many owners according its page on the Hartford Radio History website including its present and last commercial owner Cox.  WNLK in NorwaLK, came on the air in 1948.

The story of WNLK is a bit more mysterious as not much info has been written on it except some of its locations including the former Kiddytown toy store building on Norwalk’s Wall Street and then to an office building on East Avenue before the mid 1990’s when both stations merged their programming and moved from 100 Prospect Street and the aforementioned 148 East Main in Norwalk to 444 Westport Avenue in Norwalk a few yards from the Westport border.

My first touch with WSTC/WNLK came about 1991 or so, back when the two stations had their own programming.  I think it was for some kind of internship when I was in high school.  I had worked with Len Gambino “The Coach” on the FCIAC championship game between the New Canaan Rams and my Greenwich High Cardinals.  I was supposed to take stats for the game that day, but it seemed too much a distant memory for me to even know what the heck I was doing. The Cardinals won the game that day.

I once worked in the building from 1999-2000.  Before then I was one day covering the Babe Ruth League World Series for CT Public Radio.  A regional game was being held at Scalzi Park in Stamford.  Also covering it was Chris Conley of what was then dubbed Fairfield County News Radio.  I had gone up to him and asked if there was any job openings.  He said there was and so I sent him a demo and resume.  Now realize I was doing part-time at what is now WNPR to go with another part-time gig at WSTC/WNLK.

I did a Sunday airshift of news anchoring, production and board operation for live talk programs, UCONN basketball and high school football as well as the first Stamford Holiday Parade in 1999.  Hosting that inaugural broadcast were Chris Conley, Ann Karrick, Kathleen Marple and the late Don Russell.  Chris and Don anchored and Ann and Kathleen were in the field. I also came in weekday afternoons for a reporter shift and a fill-in anchor spot when needed for the PM news block.  When Don Russell came back to doing a talk show on WSTC/WNLK I served as a call screener in an area in front of the WSTC studio.  Now this was before all those fancy call screening devices where a host can punch up a name on a screen hooked up by some computer interface.  I left there in March of 2000 on good terms because I had a student debt to pay off and I wanted a full-time job so I got once at WGCH Radio.  Three words…big career mistake!

By the way, what became of my holiday parade colleagues aside from Don Russell’s passing on last year? Well Chris went to Bridgeport and then to his present job, News Director and Operations Manager for Midwest Communications in Wausau, WI and the AM anchor of WSAU Radio. Kathleen Marple, who is a devoted Steelers fan, went to 1010 WINS.  Ann Karrack is now Miss Fill-in at the Cumulus AM station in Bridgeport.

WSTC/WNLK came in a pinch when the area needed it like in 2003 after a big blackout, or 2010 with the March Nor’Easter and this past August with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene.  Even Karl Chevrolet, the New Canaan based Government Motors dealer who has been on WSTC/WNLK peddling their wears for year chimed in at their Facebook saying…

A sad day in the history of local AM Radio….. Just think of how many times you have tuned into WNLK or WSTC to get the latest local news on things like winter weather, traffic, school closings and delays and local sports. I guess times keep changing, but no matter what, this is sad news!!!

And for fun, WSTC/WNLK scored a big coup in 2008 when they got John LaBarca to not only do the morning news, but also host his long running Italian House Party which dates back 40 years to his days on Long Island, then to the late legendary WMMM which ironically became WSHU-AM in 1998 then a certain “Service” radio station in Bridgeport (I will leave it up to you figure out what that word in quotes will mean to you as this post will be sent to John LaBarca’s Facebook page as I am a fan of his and being an American of Italian Dissent). At his Facebook page, the man called JLB made this statement…

This is only the beginning of my adventure! Check my page for my new role on the radio, It’s going to be Spectacular!

Where this will lead to, who knows.

But what IS known is this.  After this Sunday at 6:00 PM, 70 years of service to lower Fairfield County all goes away in favor of government controlled media in National Public Radio.  Doesn’t WSHU get enough coverage for NPR’s propaganda on 91.1, 105.7 and 90.1 not to mention WQQQ-FM in Sharon and two HD Signals (and this from someone who worked for an NPR station as a naive 21 year old whose life was changed with a disability diagnosis)?

Good-bye WSTC/WNLK. With now only WGCH left for some semblance of live local radio, it’s the end of an era.

UPDATE: Announced on his Facebook page, John LaBarca says The Italian House Party will still go on!

Just made an agreement to continue the show, WITHOUT a pause!! Sacred Heart University WILL carry it from 10am til 2pm beginning Sunday November 13th, on WSTC 1400am and WNLK 1350am !! To my ONLINE Fans, I will put up the new WEB Address to hear me Once Again!! God’s Blessings to My Family of Friends and Fans , without your support ..this would not have happened!

JLB, I would believe the web address would be  http://www.wshu.org

UPDATE: As of 6:00PM November 6th, 2011, WSTC and WNLK are now part of WSHU.  I listened to their final send off.  Despite the presence of my former co-worker Lisa Lacerra and WNLK AM drive man David Smith, I wish I had the chance to say good-bye.  I feel like I have been to a funeral.  As for what they have been up to David Smith is a host on Cablevision Government Access David Smith and Lisa Lacerra now works for Fox News Radio.

UPDATE (1/5/14) And as of last fall, JLB is back hosting the ORIGINAL Italian House Party on WHLI 1100, Connoisseur Media’s Long Island AM station, which despite its 10,000-watt daytime only signal (to protect WTAM Cleveland), can be picked up here in Southern CT.

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