Remember WHAV on Giving Tuesday
WHAV, in its current incarnation, is the region’s oldest, continuously operated Internet radio station. Its planned FM radio station is largely dependent on the generosity of local donors.
While most people were unaware audio could be transmitted over the Internet, WHAV began “webcasting,” as it was called, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2004. Even at the start, programming was scheduled 24-hours-a-day at WHAV.net. It was always the intent to place an FM radio station on the air, but federal broadcasting rules then in place ruled out the possibility of a new Haverhill station any time soon. General Manager Tim Coco introduced the new initiative.
“Consolidation of the broadcast media in recent years has failed to serve the public interest. With the passage by Congress of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, more than half of the nation’s 12,000 radio stations were sold—primarily to the large conglomerates,” said Coco, who was employed by the former WHAV AM and FM stations in the late 1970s. “The results have been reduced program choice, decreased diversity of voices, higher advertising costs, lost jobs and other harmful effects,” he added.
Internet radio—with its potential for super high-fidelity audio, no interference and worldwide reach—held great promise. With most Haverhill households still dependent on dial-up connections, however, Haverhill Community Television generously allowed WHAV’s sound to be heard on channel 22 as background sound while the community calendar flashed upcoming events. Methuen Community Television came next, followed by other area public access television stations.
Stephen M. Amirault, a radio veteran with stints at WLLH, WCAP, WNBP, WCCM and the original WHAV, was recruited as the station’s founding program director. Other former WHAV alumni would also return performing various roles. Among them were, Jack Bevelaqua, who brought back the “Open Mike Show;” Marc Lemay, former WHAV news director; and Phil Christie, who’s first on-air job was for WHAV in 1948.
Construction Brings New England’s Most Modern Studios
With the introduction of new technologies and a growing number of programs and personalities, WHAV set out to build the most modern radio studios in New England. Architect Angelo Petrozzelli designed impressive facilities, featuring abundant quantities of masonry glass block reminiscent of radio’s art deco heyday. Builder Todd Michel began construction of the Ward Hill headquarters during the fall of 2005 and studios were ready for occupancy during early spring, 2006.
One of the station’s most ambitious programs aired March 16, 2007—the 60th anniversary of WHAV. The show featured Tom Bergeron, who began at WHAV in 1972; Gary LaPierre, known for his work at WBZ, but began his career at WHAV in the early 1960s; and Christie.
While the WHAV call letters had been covered under a Massachusetts service mark since 2004, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded WHAV federal trademark protection in 2008. Federal registration was sought to ensure the call letters would forever be associated with audio broadcasting in Haverhill.
Around this same time, veteran ABC journalist Tony Seton’s “SetonnoteS” began airing over WHAV. Seton covered Watergate, eight elections and five space shots and produced Barbara Walters’ news interviews for ABC television. He visited WHAV in 2009, delivering a talk, “From Cronkite to Colbert: Journalism in Transition.” The event served as a fundraiser for creation of WHAV’s Edwin V. Johnson Newsroom and took place at Maria’s Galleria Banquet room in downtown Haverhill.
Dedication of the Edwin V. Johnson Newsroom took place Nov. 18, 2009 with his widow Patricia Johnson, Mayor James J. Fiorentini and former colleagues and students in attendance.
“Ed Johnson was WHAV’s longest serving employee, beginning only a few years after the Haverhill Gazette placed the radio station on the air. Over a 34-year career—and three station owners—he demonstrated a commitment to objectivity, accuracy and truth in reporting,” Coco said. “Mr. Johnson nearly simultaneously inspired several generations of students as instructor of English and public speaking at Haverhill High School from 1953 to 1989. He is credited with launching the careers of a number of students, including Tom Bergeron,” he added.
Hope for New FM Receives Boost with 2010 Legislation
After five years and four versions, both houses of Congress passed the “Local Radio Community Act” in December, 2010. The new law, signed by President Barack Obama Jan. 4, 2011, provided hope a new WHAV FM would one day go on the air.
In 2011, WHAV joined the nation’s oldest public radio network, Pacifica. The affiliation brought such programs as the “Thom Hartmann Program,” “Democracy Now” and physicist Michio Kaku’s “Explorations” to WHAV listeners. The radio station also officially became a non-profit corporation under the umbrella of Public Media of New England Inc.
While waiting for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open a filing window for new stations authorized under the 2010 law, WHAV began fundraising for its proposed FM station. It sponsored the New England premiere of “Corporate FM: The Killing of Local Commercial Radio” by filmmaker Kevin McKinney June 19, 2013, at Chunky’s, Haverhill. In concert with the movie, WHAV named a panel to discuss radio’s future. It was moderated by former WBZ and WCAP broadcaster Scott Fybush and featured McKinney; Dan Kennedy, assistant professor, Northeastern University School of Journalism; Donna L. Halper, associate professor of communications, Lesley University; William J. Macek, owner of WPKZ, Fitchburg, and New England radio owner/operated for 22 years; and Lemay, communications manager, Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.
Although the FCC designated a new FM application-filing window would open during the fall, 2013, the government shut down after a Washington budget dispute. When the government reopened, WHAV filed engineering and legal documents Nov. 18 for a proposed new radio station. The filing came nearly 70 years after the Haverhill Gazette first proposed an FM station for Haverhill. In 1944, The Gazette hired famed WOR broadcast engineer Jacob “J.R.” Poppele to conduct a survey of possible FM radio sites in Haverhill. In 2013, David J. Doherty, who knew Poppele, provided engineering services for WHAV’s new application.
WHAV found itself in a fight among three other competing applicants for the new station in 2014. The FCC dismissed two of the other applications while WHAV settled with the Catholic church to enable both organizations to build stations.
Preparing for new radio service, WHAV launched an expanded local news effort with the hiring of Dana A. Esmel, formerly of WCCM and WCAP, as news director. An expanded news website launched at WHAV.net in June, 2014. In an online post, Kennedy called the appointment a “big move for WHAV.”
A construction permit was awarded to WHAV Jan. 9, 2015. While WHAV held the permit, it still faced three obstacles— raising money to build FM transmitter facilities, getting the WHAV call letters back from an oil barge that had been using them since 2008 and finding an antenna site.
Tom Bergeron Helps WHAV ‘Make Waves’
WHAV launched its “Make Waves: Bring Local News to FM” with Tom Bergeron as honorary chairperson in February. The campaign remains underway and donations may be made online at gofundme.com/mjp130 or by mailing checks to WHAV, 189 Ward Hill Ave., Haverhill, MA 01835.
Last March, Kim E. Demory of the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center and Joseph H. Reniers, senior vice president of Kirby Corp., worked with WHAV to return the call letters to Haverhill.
To overcome the final obstacle—identifying a cost-effective antenna site—WHAV is appealing to local politicians to remove siting restrictions before the FM permit expires during the spring of 2016.