RADIO DRAMAS OF PAST 80 YEARS
By Daniel McQuade – The Evening Bulletin -Philadelphia
Call it “throwback radio.”
David McCrork, a 59-year-old radio enthusiast from Lansdale, had acquired over the years a trove of old drama radio broadcasts from the 1930s all the way to the 1980s. He wanted to figure out a way to play the shows, which are in the public domain, to a large audience.
So McCrork, a broadcast engineer for several small radio stations in the Lansdale area, tested some transmitters and paid $1,500 for the one he deemed the best. In Feb. 2002, he began broadcasting under the Federal Communications Commission’s “Part 15” code, which allows any person to transmit unlicensed, low-power AM radio, provided they do not cause any interference with any other station.
“I didn’t want to fall into the category of being a private broadcaster who was totally illegal and who created a lot of interference for the neighbors,” McCrork said. “That would have been unacceptable.”
McCrork began broadcasting on 1250 AM, but he quickly changed to 1620 AM, after finding out that the higher frequency offered much less interference in the area. And if somebody licenses 1620 in the area?
“Well, I’ll just move to 1630 or 1640, then,” he said.
McCrork’s station’s call letters are WNAR-AM, which stands for “We’re Nostalgic About Radio,” and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
It reaches about a radius of one to two miles in both Lansdale and Telford, but can also be heard worldwide on the Internet at the station’s Web site, http://www.wnar-am.com.
The station plays a variety of programming, but mainly focuses on old radio dramas, like “The Shadow,” “The Life of Riley,” “Amos & Andy,” and “The Lone Ranger.” The station also plays current Christian radio drama “Unshackled” and gets news from the Information Radio Network.
McCrork doesn’t sell airtime on the station – though there are some commercials which he runs in exchange for content from places like the Info Radio Network – and really considers the whole thing just a fun hobby.
In addition to old programming, WNAR-AM also runs old advertisements from the 1940s and 1950s.
The station’s bumpers are taken from an old Norristown radio station (now WNAP-AM 1110) that used the same call letters until being sold in 1984. McCrork has edited them to say “Lansdale” instead of “Norristown,” though.
Doing announcing (and technical advising) for the station is Northeast Philadelphia resident Richard Franklin, who has been friends with McCrork since the two were in the same eighth grade class over 40 years ago.
He said he’s more of a fan of old-time music radio, but he enjoys WNAR-AM nonetheless.
“I used to like the old WFIL-AM when it was a top-40 station,” Franklin said. “Maybe I have it in the back of my mind to eventually do a similar thing with an oldies streaming station when finances and time permit. For now, I’m excited to be doing this work on WNAR.”
McCrork said some of his favorite shows on his own station are the “Information Please” quiz show, where listeners would submit the questions and answers, from the 1930s to the 1950s, and “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx.
“He was so spontaneous, just picking up what people say,” McCrork said. “His little one-liners and tongue-in-cheek digs were good, clean humor.”
A more contemporary program, “CBS Radio Mystery Theater” from the 1970s and 1980s, is also one of McCrork’s favorites. He said he liked the use of sounds and voice acting on the show. But, really, he says, he likes everything he puts on the air.
“What I love about radio is we haven’t delved into the in your face, blatant situations were everything is so explicit,” he said. “The current film producers can screw up a good story with explicit sex and violence…. On radio, it’s theater of the mind.”