I noticed in today's edition of the Belleville News-Democrat an insert devoted to the high school football season. Most of the area high schools start their season tonight. It got me to thinking about how much fun and excitement there used to be for me on the first day of the high school gridiron campaign a few decades ago.
Back in the 70's and early 80's I worked for WIBV radio. Those of you old enough to remember will recall that the station was essentially the KMOX of the Metro-East. We had local news, talk shows, farm reports, obituaries, the community calendar, all of the community-oriented programming that made up a full-service radio station in those days. And, of course, we broadcast TONS of high school sports. That's the reason I wanted to work there coming out of college. Because there was such a variety of types of broadcasting to learn from, and be involved in. The station was what, I believe, radio stations licensed to serve certain communities should be....a real service to the community.
Right now, that same station at 1260AM, with new call letters of WSDZ, is known as Radio Disney. It's license is owned by the Disney company and it broadcasts a bunch of pre-teen oriented music and fooling around. This "niche programming" is delivered by satellite to the transmitter and doesn't really do much for anyone except pre-pubescent kids. It's still licensed by the FCC to serve Belleville and the surrounding area, but gets away with programming the stuff it does because of the very lax, "market driven" laws governing the broadcasters of the nation these days.
The station operates out of offices at West Port Plaza in Maryland Heights. It has no real connection to Belleville other than the fact that the transmitter and towers are still located just off 159 between Belleville and Smithton. The Disney people have spent a lot of money and tried mightily to re-configure the station's signal to serve more of the St. Louis region, but really haven't had much success.
All that said, I wish there was an economic solution to re-capturing the station and bringing it back to the type of service which the community had back in the 20th Century. We broadcasters had a great time serving the metro-east with the meaty, and some would say "small town", programming of those days. And I'm sure many in the area would appreciate having a station that pays attention to local issues, events and lives to call their own again. The economics of the current situation just don't seem to support that possibility though.
The first day of football season...when we usually broadcast one featured game and had reporters calling in updates from several other games around the area...was one of the highlight days of our broadcast year. The business community, until the early 80's, ate it up and supported our efforts with lots of sponsorship money. We brought a level of attention, and community pride, to the area gridiron programs that I'm sorry to say is likely gone forever.
You have to go far away from the big cities to find stations that absorb themselves in high school sportscasting these days. Sad...but that's the nature of the broadcasting beast in 2005. I certainly have some great memories of those days. And the first day of high school football season always takes me back there with a smile.