WWHB Hampton Bays, NY

WWHB 1981-1984

1700 songs in rotation!After two plus years on-air in Hartford, I knew I wanted to become a program director. When the call came from Nina Fenton to program a new station in the Hamptons, I quickly accepted.
My apologies to YZ PD Dave Popovich who had just installed me into morning drive, but I was ready to call the shots.

This was small market heaven in the area I grew up. I had complete autonomy over the sound of the station, within reason of course. WWHB had signed on the previous fall under three absentee owners and a New York City radio veteran on-site in the dual roles of General Manager and morning personality. One year later, after he ran afoul of everyone and everything, the owners promoted Nina from the News Director position.

I was very proud of the way this station sounded. The original format was all over the road, along with songs that had at least one lyric in French. I changed it to soft AC and the station once made the ever-difficult Nassau-Suffolk book. (Someone in my family must have gotten a diary and never confessed.) Without consultants and group PDs, I borrowed much of the philosophy of Bob Henabery in keeping the station's music familiar. But in what could have been easily considered a non-rated market, I was able to take a few creative liberties.

Despite growing up seven miles away in Riverhead, I had never experienced the Hampton's scene up close. My only glimpse into that lifestyle came from behind a lawnmower during my two summers as a landscaper. WWHB's location in Hampton Bays assured us of rubbing elbows with the East End's ersatz affluent society. Not to be confused with the summer residents that possess great wealth (and waterfront property), these are a group of "have-somes" that were then compromised mostly of night club owners who charged $20 admission and double that for premium liquor drinks. Having station-sponsored nights meant skipping the velvet rope altogether and possibly a few complimentary trips to the bar.

In 1984, the station was bought by Eddie Simon and investors (including his famous brother, Paul) and I was replaced as program director by Eddie's chiropractor. Eventually, he struck a deal to have WNEW-FM from New York to simulcast over 107.1, a better move.

Today, the Hamptons are home to three times as many stations and I wonder where they find the advertising dollars. With the drinking age at 21 and a DWI infraction no longer a stern warning, most of those "must-be-seen-at" nightclubs have been converted to day spas or tout the real money as art houses. WWHB is now WLIR after multiple format and simulcast failures and our old competitor, WSBH, simulcasts WBAB.

As of June 2002, a pizza oven now sits where the old HB console used to be. The pizza joint next door expanded into the old, long empty, studios.

Keeping you company on the overnight shift: It had been snowing heavily for a couple of hours. Around 10:30pm, I got the dreaded call from the scheduled overnight talent. He was stuck at the airport which was more than two hours away. Now, I've had to go on the air at midnight a number of times. Local radio on the eastern end of Long Island is not teeming with readily available talent. But I was already on the schedule at 6am and really didn't want to do a 12 hour shift. I called the night guy already at the station and asked him to stay on. "No way" he retorted, "I've got friends I'm supposed to meet and I promised I'd be there." I knew which friends he was referring to. On my list of home phone numbers, his not only included his apartment, but also the numbers for the Post Stop Café and Magic's Pub in Westhampton Beach. Biting my lip, I told him I would get there as early as I could. He again reminded me he had no intention of staying past midnight.

Now I really wanted to get there before midnight and fire him. I dug through the 2+ feet of snow and got my car into the street. The plow hadn't been through. It took an hour to get the half mile to Montauk Highway, which unbelievably had been plowed. Maybe I had made too big a deal about the roads, but I quickly dismissed the thought. His reaction was unacceptable.

WWHB was in the King Kullen Shopping Center in Hampton Bays. When I drove up to the entrance, I couldn't pull in to the parking lot because plows had pushed the snow high along that side of the road. The gas station across the street was still open and I asked if I could leave my car there overnight. I then climbed over the snow bank and across the parking lot. His car was the only one in the lot and the drifts were almost to the windows. I let myself in and confronted him. It was short and quick, but I never did fire him. Didn't matter. It was 11:55pm when I signed on the log.

Nina Fenton / Santo CurcioHaving a storefront location in a shopping center meant the windows went from floor to ceiling. Blinds kept out the curious onlookers during the daytime, but at night they were usually left open. A large window in back of the studio gave you a clear view of 90 per cent of the parking lot. I started the first song and turned to watch him clear off his car. Across the street, the gas station had just closed for the night. Within fifteen minutes he managed to rock the car free and drive to one of the exits. But the snow had to be piled as high as 4-5 feet. I watched as he headed towards the other end of the parking lot. The snow bank covering this exit wasn't as high as the other side, so he made an attempt to blast his way through. I saw him back up a good hundred feet, then lurch forward, picking up speed. I'm guessing he hit that bank going roughly 25 miles an hour. The snow was wet and heavy. The top of the bank fell onto the hood of his car. Half in, half out, he was going nowhere. It was 12:35am.

In between records and announcing I would watch out the window. Back-up lights on, back-up lights off - the wheels were spinning to no avail. At this point, he had limited options. The tone of our conversation made clear he was not welcome back into the station. The diner was a couple of miles up the road with no guarantee of being open. Back-up lights on, back-up lights off. Occasionally he would get out and try a little digging. To say I didn't take any satisfaction from the scene in the parking lot would be incorrect. Meanwhile, I made a few calls and secured a replacement for 6AM. At least I wasn't going to have to do 12 hours on the air.

I think he stopped trying around 3:30am and decided to sit it out in the car. I guess he figured I would be tethered to the station until noon and eventually a plow would show up well before I walked out the door. At 5:30am, one did followed by the person coming in to replace me. It was 5:45am. My replacement stuck his head in the studio and pointed out the window. "Wasn't that ... " "Yep" I interrupted. He threw his coat on the chair and sat down. "I was wondering why he didn't make it last night." It's a good thing I had the phone number to Magic's Pub.

Epilogue: This was the first station I was ever fired from. It was August 1984 and new owner Eddie Simon was bringing in some high-profile talent (who's name completely escapes me) to replace me. When I was a teenager, it always bothered me that my family knew so many people from the luncheonette. This time it turned out to be advantageous as a letter writing campaign got me back on the air by September. The following November, I received the call from WWYZ wanting me back. After a night of fine dining and complimentary cocktails at the station Christmas Party, I announced my plans on returning to Hartford.

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