Tuesday, March 4, 2008

the groovy qv

Image from Jeff Roteman's KQV Page

KQV was one of Pittsburgh's five original AM stations (with KDKA, WCAE, WJAS, & WWSW), signing on as amateur station 8ZAE on November 19, 1919, the love child of ham operators and engineers Francis Potts and Richard Johnstone.

It actually beat KDKA to the airwaves by three years, but KD was granted the nation's first commercially licensed station in 1920 and with it, the title of nation's oldest radio station. In January 1921 8ZAE became KQV, which stood for King of the Quaker Valley. On January 9, 1922, the feds granted KQV its' own commercial license.

Only three other radio stations east of the Mississippi have a call sign starting with K. Besides KDKA, there's KYW in Philadelphia and KFIZ in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. KQV is the only one of the group that's not hooked up with a TV station.

KQV kept creeping up the AM dial as the years went by. The first license was for 833 AM. KQV grew to 500 watts and in 1925 switched frequency to 1090 AM. Two years later it moved to 1110 AM. In 1928 it moved to 1380 AM, and then finally to the current dial position of 1410 AM in 1941. We think that one might be a keeper.

KQV was among the first to broadcast Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games, even though cross-town rival WWSW had an exclusive contract to broadcast Pirate home games and KDKA had the rights to the away games. That little legal hurdle didn't stop it.

KQV pirated the Pirates. KQV rented space in a building overlooking Forbes Field, and spotters relayed the action to the studio where an announcer gave the play by play. Alas, the broadcasts didn't last very long. The team put up a tarp to block KQV’s vantage point.

In 1938 it was sued in Federal Court for broadcasting play-by-play accounts of Pirate games without the expressed written consent of the Pittsburgh Athletic Company (you knew there had to be a reason that announcers still mouth that phrase during every game.)

The judge ruled baseball games were subject to copyright law and threw out the stations’ argument that the game was a bona fide news event worthy of live coverage. But it was a nice try, and KQV is still heavy into sports.

In 1945 KQV was sold to Allegheny Broadcasting for $575,000. The network affiliation switched to the Mutual Broadcasting System, and KQV became Pittsburgh’s “Live and Lively” station.

Pirate’s Hall of Famer Pie Traynor was KQV’s sports director. Dave Scott was a one man act, doing soap operas, talk shows, man-in-the street interviews, a trading post program, and as Uncle Dave, a morning kid’s program.

In August of 1957 ABC bought the station from Allegheny Broadcasting for $700,000. KQV would become ABC's and Pittsburgh’s first Top 40 station. It debuted its new pop format on January 13, 1958.

KQV became a monster of a top 40 station during the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, flourishing as an ABC affiliate. It went by the catchphrases "Colorful KQV," "Audio 14," "Groovy QV," and "The Big 14" over the years.

Dave Scott successfully made the transition to Top 40 jock. As one of the “Fun Loving Five plus One” he worked with DJs such as Rod Roddy, Fred Winston, Chuck Brinkman, Gary Gears, Dex Allen, Hal Murray, Steve Rizen, Jim Quinn, and Jeff Christie (you may recognize him by his given name of Rush Limbaugh.) A pretty fair crew of platter pushers, hey?

And what middle aged 'Burgher doesn't recall the KQV studios at the downtown Chamber of Commerce Building, "on the corner of Walk and Don't Walk," where the DJ's would spin their wax behind a large street level window as bypassers gawked?

The station was a major force in breaking new music and introducing Pittsburgh to artists like Sonny & Cher, the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, the Beach Boys, and the Dave Clark Five in the 1960s.

The station also welcomed the Beatles to Pittsburgh on September 14, 1964. With the group at the height of its popularity, KQV and KDKA heavily promoted the upcoming concert, with each claiming to be “the Official Beatles Station.”

It was a no holds barred Beatlemania rating war. Chuck Brinkman and Dexter Allen got a NY interview with the Beatles, beating out Clark Race, and then bumped him off the plane ride home - in the Beatle's plane!

The Beatles held a pre-show news conference that their management said could not be covered live as there were no phone lines on site. So KQV applied for an emergency phone license to cover a “Beatle infestation.” KQV aired the news conference live as everyone else raced to their studio with their tapes.

When thousands of screaming fans streamed into the Civic Arena for the concert they saw “KQV Audio 14” banners above the stage and on the scoreboard. When it was time for the Fab Four to take the stage, Chuck Brinkman strolled to the mike and proudly said “KQV presents the Beatles.” KDKA's Clark Race never forgave Brinkman for beating him to the punch and groused about one upped on the air for quite a spell.

But KQV slowly began to decline after 1970 with the rise of FM radio, including its sister station WDVE, then known as KQV-FM. After a year or two of simulcasting, KQV-FM broadcast the pre-taped ABC “Love” format. Live local FM programming followed a year later.

The FM call letters were changed to WDVE in 1971. Why? Allen Shaw, Vice President of ABC's FM stations decided during the hippie era that "DVE" would conjure the image of the countercultures favorite icon, the dove of peace. You expected something heavy? Today it's Pittsburgh's top-rated station, pumping out classic rock, and long since split from its' parent station.

KQV was sold by ABC Radio to Taft Broadcasting in 1974. On October 15th, 1975, the station switched to its' all-news format, carrying NBC Radio's 24-hour News and Information Service. Even though NBC inexplicably canceled the service two years later, KQV remained "all news, all the time" and has now outlasted its Top 40 era.

In 1982, Taft execs told General Manager Robert Dickey that it planned to dump the station. Dickey sweet talked quadzillionnaire publisher Richard Mellon Scaife into helping him save the station. They formed Calvary, Inc. and purchased KQV for just under $2M. Calvary still owns the station, 30-some years later and is still going strong.

Besides its' news and public affairs programs, the station airs a number of sporting events, including NFL football, Notre Dame football, and Duquesne basketball in addition to some live high school sports. On the evenings and weekends they run old classic radio series to fill the air time.

But for a couple of golden decades, KQV had the ear of every teen in town.

(KQV has a zillion fans and some great pages - the best is Jeff Roteman's KQV Web Site. Another good history piece is on the KQV History Site. I used them both shamelessly in researching this post, along with Wikipedia.)

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