Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WAMO Back on the Air

Starting this week, WAMO 100 (101.1 FM and 660 AM) picked up the torch of those famous call letters, absent from the city scene for the past two years after the original WAMO was sold to St. Joseph's Missions, a Catholic talk-radio outfit.

Tim Martz of San-Franciso based Martz Communications purchased stations WPYT AM- FM in Wilkinsburg, and got control of the legacy WAMO call letters from an inactive eastern Pennsylvania station.  The new WAMO started airing taped stuff in late May, and is now unrolling live.

They have some big shoes to fill. They know it, and plan on being more than Pittsburgh's urban station. WAMO had a resume of 50 years on the air in this town, and most of them were spent as audio voice and fabric of the black community.

Early WAMO DJ Mary Dee has been credited by many with coming up with the black radio formula of serving up urban music mixed with a strong component of community involvement, and WAMO became its epitome. The new ownership promises to return the station to its roots; they're already reaching out for people to join the "WAMO Street Team," which hopefully will serve as more than a PR vehicle.

We'll see how that community rep thing works out. One thing that's certain, though, is that the hip-hop, rap and urban scene needes a jolt, and WAMO can provide it. Hey, just filling the urban void in Pittsburgh will be welcome; it's hard to fathom how a region as large as ours was left without a full-time urban station.

Another aspect of city living that may have fallen below the radar is Pittsburgh's ability to draw urban acts. They were a tough enough sell when WAMO was in its heyday, but without a station to promote the show and push songs over the long haul, many national acts just bypassed the area.

Now, WAMO 100 is joining with Live Nation to bring acts such as Bootsy Collins to Stage AE on June 24th, and rapper Lil' Wayne to First Niagara Pavilion on July 23rd. With locals like Whiz and Mac blowing up and other area acts right behind them, Pittsburgh may become a destination spot for urban shows.

Hey, they're having their on-air shakedown problems. Pittsburgh is an old-school town, and they'll have to weigh that when coming up with a playlist. Even when WAMO was all that, the mix among the latest hip-hop, adult contemporary, gospel, older sounds, local flavor and talk was hotly debated. Brittany Spears and Ke$ha seem to be a stretch for an urban format, too.

But that's all stuff the station manager, Laura Varner Norman, will sort out. And she has the local cred; a Pitt grad, she was a long-time sales exec for Sheridan Broadcasting and was hired away from Philly's Radio One.

People are waiting for jocks, too. WAMO always had a stable full of personalities in the past, but haven't announced a regular schedule of hosts yet (heck, they haven't even tweeted on their Twitter account or posted anything on their Facebook page) so it would seem they're still feeling their way around in the market.

We're hoping it all works out. The market needed an urban station, and the black community was looking for a nexus to reconnect with both musically and socially. WAMO has always been that presence.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic, just hoping that the station can become profitable enough to purchase an antenna that will reach residents in the suburban areas. Remember, WAMO spanned from Youngstown, OH to Greensburg, PA. We live in Beaver County and are struggling to hear the station without static.

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, anon, they did beef up the wattage but it's certainly not as strong as it could be. Hopefully they'll be able to add a couple of booster aerials to the network.

Anonymous said...

WAMO rules

Erica said...

Hey Ron, I've been scanning the Internet, trolling for old names, and in the process of searching for Ken Reeth (Brother Love), I came across your blog. Lots of cool stuff here. Ken was my dad's partner when they bought the radio station in California. My dad was the Mellon Square on Brother Love's show. I'd love to ask you a couple of questions, but the link to get in touch with you didn't work. If you want to get in touch, try me on Facebook or reply here. Thanks.

Annette Bassett Sanchez