WHAV’s First Christmas: Parallels Between 1947 and 2016

Baritone Vaughn Monroe helped kickoff WHAV’s first Christmas in 1947. His “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” would prove prophetic.

Theodore Ferrus operates WHAV’s first AM transmitter, made by Raytheon. Today, just a few feet away is 97.9 WHAV’s new FM transmitter.

Theodore Ferrus operates WHAV’s first AM transmitter, made by Raytheon. Today, just a few feet away is 97.9 WHAV’s new FM transmitter.

There are many parallels to be drawn between Haverhill’s Christmas seasons of 1947 and 2016—both featuring a new WHAV radio station.

Then, as now, the new radio station sent its signal from a transmitter site and building designed for that purpose atop Haverhill’s Silver Hill. Then, it was AM radio; now FM, but the principles driving each are the same. WHAV’s original General Manager John T. “Jack” Russ made that clear as WHAV effectively kicked off the 1947 Christmas season.

“The pride we have is not merely in putting up and equipping a modern broadcasting station. It is equally pride in the earnest and effective co-operative work by everybody who had anything to do with putting WHAV on the air. And it is pride in having used the opportunity to give this community a new medium for the transmission of information and entertainment,” Russ said at a Whittier Hotel ceremony Dec. 5, 1947. “This is the service of supplying the members of the community with the information they need for intelligent citizenship. This is the service of defending and advancing the interests of the community.”

In 1947, WHAV AM signed on March 16. In 2016, 97.9 WHAV FM signed on Sept. 21. In a sense, both were “soft” launches. In 1947, WHAV’s program offerings were limited while it was forced to operate from temporary studios on Merrimack Street. WHAV today has yet to release its full roster of community programs while scouring for money for the now-nonprofit station. It took nine months for WHAV to move into its new How Street building. It was the dedication of the new How Street studios that launched the Christmas season in 1947.

“WHAV Studio Is Opened At Impressive Ceremonies…Station Dedicated to High Standards,” roared the Haverhill Gazette’s headlines Saturday, Dec. 6, 1947. “State and City Government Officials Join in Tribute After Tour of How St. Building.” The Whittier Hotel, Washington Square, ceremony the night before between 8:30 and 9:30, was under the direction of William H. Heath, Haverhill Gazette editor. Heath praised Russ.

“He had the vision to see the opportunities in radio and the faith in Haverhill to believe they could be successfully developed in Haverhill.”

‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Arthur W. Coolidge speaks at Hotel Whittier as WHAV celebrated the opening of its new studios.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Arthur W. Coolidge speaks at Hotel Whittier as WHAV celebrated the opening of its new studios.

Earlier, baritone Vaughn Monroe, who sang “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and brought the recording to number one on the Billboard Best Sellers music chart in 1946, performed at WHAV’s new studios.

Although a national star, Monroe didn’t have far to travel to reach WHAV. In 1940, Monroe built The Meadows, a restaurant and nightclub on route 9, Framingham, and, in 1946, began hosting his “Camel Caravan” radio program from there.

His appearance—marked by “almost 300 screaming youngsters,” known as “bobby sockers,” at the 30 How St. lobby—seemed to foretell a snowstorm that night as the weather outside was indeed “frightful.”

Out-of-town guests for the formal opening found themselves delayed by horrid travel conditions as the “first real winter storm blanketed the area” with three to six inches of snow, The Gazette reported. One of those was Lt. Gov. Arthur W. Coolidge, a fourth cousin to President Calvin Coolidge and descendent of Gov. Bradford, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Bulfinch, designer of the Massachusetts State House. He offered greetings on behalf of Gov. Robert F. Bradford.

Haverhill Mayor Albert W. Glynn was among the first to address the crowd, extending official city greetings. Of Russ and Heath launching WHAV, Glynn said, “I feel certain they have made one of the greatest contributions ever made to our civic life.”

Yes, there was pride in the new radio station in 1947, but the owners knew it wouldn’t last if they couldn’t pay for it. Then, as now, onus was now on the sales team to deliver. The Gazette teased the effort with a photograph of part of the sales force, including James Toohey, copywriter; June Jordan, sales force worker; and Florence Migliori, bookkeeper.

Then, WHAV was on the air Monday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Today, it broadcasts 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

In time for Christmas, 1947, WHAV announced its line-up of dramatic programs. Among them was “The Magic Christmas Window,” airing Monday through Friday, from 5:15 to 5:30. Purchased from NBC, the show was described as, “Favorite fairy tales come to life when two typical youngsters discover the secret of walking into The Magic Christmas Window with living toys.”

WHAV could not attract a national network affiliation in 1947, but it was allowed to buy previously aired NBC programs. Besides “The Magic Christmas Window,” other NBC shows aired by WHAV were “The Haunting Hour,” featuring such well-known stars as Frank Lovejoy, Jackson Beck, Eve Arden and Betty Furness, and “A House in the Country,” a soap opera telling the story of Joan and Bruce and their trials and tribulations. The station also carried popular Canadian shows such as “The Happy Gang Program,” with singer-accordionist Eddie Allen and trumpeter Bobby Gimby, and “Reflections,” featuring musical director Samuel Hersenhoren.

GiveBig to MyStation

givebig-to-mystation-23097.9 WHAV FM is also celebrating its first Christmas. Russ’ succinct 1947 statement is difficult to improve upon. “This is the service of supplying the members of the community with the information they need for intelligent citizenship. This is the service of defending and advancing the interests of the community.”

With this mission in mind, WHAV is taking part in the first ever “GiveBig to MyStation” giving days to support community radio. GiveBig to MyStation, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Dec. 29 and 30, is an initiative of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters in partnership with Click & Pledge. It is an innovative online and social media fundraising event that encourages listeners and supporters of community radio to donate to their favorite radio station during the two-day campaign.

“As the only Haverhill-based news source, 97.9 WHAV makes a difference every day, reporting local news not found elsewhere, giving a voice to civic groups and providing emergency information,” said President and General Manager Tim Coco. “I’m sure many do not realize how rare, difficult and costly it is to build a new FM station,” he added.

Donation pledges may be made any time before Dec. 29, but won’t be charged until that day. Make pledges to support WHAV here. Proceeds from GiveBig to MyStation will go directly to support non-profit WHAV’s mission.

“Giving days have proven to be successful models for many different kinds of nonprofits and we think that community radio is a natural for this type of social fundraising effort,” Coco said.  “We are excited to be part of this unique fundraising effort.”

For more information, visit GiveBig to MyStation, or call 978-374-2111.

Christmas Lineup 2016

Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24

There are two satirical additions to WHAV’s traditional holiday schedule of Christmas Eve programs, “Henry Morgan Show” and Norman Corwin’s “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas.” Between programs hear traditional Christmas Carols, sponsors’ On-Air Greeting Cards and “NORAD Tracks Santa.”

6 p.m. G.M. Hooker’s ‘Kiddie Christmas’

“Kiddie Christmas” is a 1978 program by the late George “G.M. Hooker” Moonoogian, popular Haverhill High School instructor. He narrates the entire “Kiddie Christmas” in a raspy voice reminiscent of Wolfman Jack. The show includes Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Ding-a-ling, the Little Elf, Everett the Evergreen, Stan Freberg’s Christmas Dragnet, I’m Gonna Put Some Glue ‘Round the Christmas Tree, Dasher With the Light Upon His Tail and The Little Drummer Boy. It also includes rare holiday messages from Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas, Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations, Frederick Earl “Shorty” Long and the Supremes. The program isn’t for audiophiles—the rare, original records are scratchy, but enjoyable.

6:30 p.m. Henry Morgan Show

Children band together to form a new OPA—“Overthrow Parents Authority”—by creating a lobbying group to go to Washington with a proposed law to make everyday Christmas. Fran Warren sings “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.”

7 p.m. Jack Benny Program

It’s Christmas Eve, 1944, and Jack keeps getting shocks from the Christmas tree lights.

7:30 The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

Famous radio playwright Norman Corwin’s unusual Christmas satire begins in Hell as villains Ivan the Terrible, Circe, Salome, Atilla the Hun, Lucretia Borgia and Nero plot to murder Santa Claus. The entire show, which first premiered in 1938, is written in rhyme. This 1942 version still features a character named Sotto Voce occasionally interrupts with notes for the audience.

8 p.m. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show

Radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen brings his characters Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker out for his 1955 Christmas show. His special guest, young daughter Candice “Candy” Bergen (who later played Murphy Brown on television), reads “Twas the night before Christmas” with a little-remembered reference to Haverhill’s own John Greenleaf Whittier. The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” is told—from the perspective of the wolf, Charlie McCarthy! Other regulars include Gary Crosby, Ray Noble, Carol Richards, Jack Kirkwood, Gloria Gordon, The Mellow Men and Santa Claus’s helper Frank Lawson.

9 p.m. It’s a Wonderful Life

Jimmy Stewart returns as George Bailey in this radio adaptation of the 1948 movie. When Stewart regrets ever being born, his guardian angel grants his wish on Christmas Eve. Besides Stewart, others appearing are Donna Reed as Mary Hatch and Victor Moore as Clarence.

10 p.m. Miracle on 34th Street

Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Edmund Gwenn, stars of the classic 20th Century Fox 1947 movie, return for this radio adaptation. In the story, Macy’s founder Rowland H. Macy insists a man named Kris Kringle (Gwenn) play Santa Claus in the store even as another store manager tries to have Kringle committed for believing he is the one and only Santa Claus.

11 p.m. A Christmas Carol

Lionel Barrymore plays Ebenezer Scrooge in this 1939 Mercury Theater on the Air production of Charles Dickens’ timeless story, “A Christmas Carol.” Radio listeners closely identified Barrymore with the grouchy character since he performed the role almost every Christmas between 1934 and 1953.

Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec. 25

Christmas Eve programs repeat from midnight to 6 a.m., followed by favorite Christmas songs, sponsors’ On-Air Greeting Cards and episodes of “The Magic Christmas Window” until 6 p.m. Holiday announcements are by the late WHAV news anchor Ralph Hall.

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