.....I believe the Aspinwalls sold the station in 1988, and it became a brokered-time (i.e. toilet) station. .....
I was an unwitting and unwilling eye-witness to that transformation which did not happen overnight but slowly, painfully, destroying whatever slim hope for success it might have had. Twenty-three years later, it is not only a toilet but practically non-existent as far as radio listeners are concerned.
After some interesting times at WOVV (now WLDI) and Hot-105, I had gotten tired of music radio and was writing copy at the old Colee and Sartory ad agency in West Palm. It was at that time (1988) that Arnold Lampert bought WPBR from the Aspinwalls. The late Jim Lord Chaplin was hired as the new GM. He'd been the owner of WDKC in Fort Pierce (formerly WFTP and presently WJNX), and had been my GM at WOVV during my second stint there, Sales Manager during my first.
I had long been interested in News/Talk and had some experience in it in Vero Beach, so I tuned in to see what had changed: very little, as it turned out, at least not for the better. It was as dry as unbuttered toast. No imaging or promos, no re-joins, no music beds under any commercials (all one-voice straight reads) and so on; in short, some decent air talent but no thought to formatics or presentation and a very outdated sound. Much of the weekend programming was recorded repeats of weekday shows, complete with the old newscasts! I wrote down a long list of station "fixes," and sent it off to Jim Chaplin, simply as a friendly gesture.
Within days, he called me to set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of coming on board as PD. That hadn't been my intention, but what the heck. Then just before the scheduled meeting, he called again and told me I'd be meeting his replacement! But the new GM hired me and I was off, racing headlong into another Manic Moment in Media.
Yes, I'm biased, but in this brief window of opportunity the station began to shine. Suddenly WPBR had a new production library, jingles, an identity (Talk 1340), and a new and improved line-up. Former TV anchor Rick Snyder (sp?) mornings, author Terry Garrity ("The Sensuous Woman") middays, Steve "Boom Boom" Cannon in afternoon drive. Plus, a full news staff including Ted Besesparis (glad to hear he's doing well, WRKO
), J.K.Wells and Donna Alexander plus a couple part-timers. After 7 pm, Bruce Williams, Joy Browne and Larry King rounded things out. We also switched from Mutual to NBC news, although under Westwood One they were pretty much the same product with different window-dressing. WPBR hadn't cracked a 1 share in a long time, but in our first (and only) book, we rose from 0.9 to 1.8. You do the math.
They were doing the math at WJNO, methinks. In a few months, Cannon got an offer from WTVN Columbus where he'd spend the next 20 years. He swore he had NOT sent them a tape. Snyder had gotten a better offer and vanished before Steve did, forcing yours truly to take over the position once occupied by Doug Stephan. I was surely no improvement, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
And I had to do it because sales lagged far behind our slow but steadily growing listenership. Our old-school sales manager was a holdover from the Aspinwall ownership and complained openly and bitterly about all the changes. He also failed to notice that West Palm Beach was developing a year-round economy, not just a tourist-season one. And he wouldn't want to lower himself by going too far inland as most of his existing clients were on the island.
So bit by bit, over my objections, more blocks of time were being sold, although as long as they stayed in weekend fringe time, I could live with it. But they didn't. One of these shows was a well-known local psychic, who I witnessed making her amazing predictions by reading them verbatim from supermarket tabloid papers.
Although Lampert held the license, Everett Aspinwall still owned the building and tower on Lake Worth Beach. As the new licensee fell behind in payments, part of a revised agreement found Ev and Val back on the air weekdays from 9 til 10am. I wasn't thrilled about that initially, but they did prove to be very nice people and supportive of our efforts to improve the station's sound.
And then, about 10 days before Christmas, Lampert laid off more than half the air staff, ushering in the era of 24/7 pay for play garbage. I kept my job, but didn't want it. The remaining staff was invited to a holiday party at Arnie's. I stayed away. By February I'd landed a job at what is now "Radio Ink" and left the beachfront studios forever.
Even with brokered time, WPBR couldn't afford those studios. A few months later they relocated upstairs from a liquor store on Dixie Highway. Lampert's brother was in the tower business, and suddenly the COL was no longer Palm Beach. The building across from the pier is still there, but the tower between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic is long, long, long gone. Even the liquor store went out of business not long after the station moved in!
So that is the tale of what, in my opinion, had been the station's Camelot period before joining the first wave of AM stations to become broadcast houses of ill repute. I am not tearing up, but I am tearing my hair out, so I think I'll wrap it up too. If you'd like to know more about WPBR, the Library of Congress suggests you dive head first into an outhouse.