WCEN AM 1150 - Mount Pleasant, MI
This page is a tribute to the early days of radio station WCEN, which served Mount Pleasant, Michigan for 51 years.
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Gary Bugh (Gary "B")
Jerry Downing ("Jerry Lee")
Larry Naessens ("Larry Allen")
Arnold "Arnie" Routson
Brandt applied to the FCC for a construction permit for the WCEN on October 16, 1948. The permit was granted April 21, 1949 and construction began. WCEN went on the air for the first time on August 8, 1949 as a 500 watt AM daytimer on 1150kc. The WCEN transmitter was located about one mile South of the city limits, just East of US-27 on Bluegrass Road. The 500-watt transmitter was made by Gates Radio Company. The transmitting antenna was a 300-foot, shunt fed, self-supporting tower originally belonging to WKAR (870, East Lansing). It was taken down from its original location at Michigan State University and re-installed at Mount Pleasant for WCEN.
WCEN studios were located in downtown Mount Pleasant at 112½ East Broadway, above Voisin's Jewelry store. Bob Meskill was Program Director when the station began broadcasting on Monday, August 8, 1949. The announcing staff consisted of Jim Bailey, Arnold Routson, and Paul Carey. They were joined on-air later that week by Frank Robinson. Click here for Paul Carey's recollection of the first days of WCEN.
In 1951 a three-tower antenna system went up and power was increased to 1000 watts daytime, with 500 watts directional at night. Steve Cole was Chief Engineer and General Manager of WCEN during this time. A new Gates BC-1F transmitter was installed at the transmitter site on Bluegrass Road. The nighttime antenna pattern had four lobes: the main lobe 7.7° East of North (covering Mount Pleasant, Clare, and vicinity), with smaller lobes to the Southeast, and Southwest and a minor lobe to the South. The nulls in the pattern were to the West and East. The antenna pattern was designed to protect co-channel stations CKOC in Hamilton, Ontario (50kw, DA2), CHSJ in St. John, New Brunswick (10/5kw, DA2), WIMA in Lima, Ohio (1kw, DAN), CKX in Brandon, Manitoba (50/10kw, DA2), and WISN in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (5kw, DA2). (In 1965 WISN moved from 1150 to 1130 with a power increase to 50/10kw, DA2. In retrospect, it might have been possible for WCEN to increase nighttime coverage by modification of the antenna pattern.)
The original 300-foot self-supporting tower was sold to North American Drilling Company and moved to West River Road, just West of Meridian Road, Northwest of Mount Pleasant. There, it was put into service as a 2-way radio tower. North American Drilling, which later merged with another company, no longer exists. The tower, however, is still in use today although it was hit by lightning many years later and now is about half its original height.
In 1953, the WCEN studios moved from downtown Mt. Pleasant to the transmitter site on Bluegrass Road, where they would remain until 1990. WCEN added FM facilities on 94.5 in 1959.
During these years, WCEN was typical full-service station with programming directed toward Mount Pleasant and Isabella County. The station was active in the community and would broadcast from a mobile studio known as "The Satellite."
Roger Brandt recalls his dad, Paul Brandt, "had as a primary goal of the station to broadcast what he considered 'good music' -- Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, etc. I aired a Rock-n-Roll program 'Grooveyard,' in the late '50s. That program was started by Dick Wood of the Wood family that owned an appliance store in Mt. Pleasant. When he left the area, I took over. Grooveyard aired from 7:30 - 9:00 P.M. Monday-Friday and was followed by Starlight Symphony a classical hour of music. When I left the station ... Dan Hole took over the program."
In February 1968, WCEN was purchased by Central Michigan Broadcasting. Charles E. Anthony was principal owner and General Manager. Anthony had been General Manager & part owner of WWBC (1250, Bay City) and previously worked at WBCM (then 1440, Bay City). (WWBC, owned by Water Wonderland Broadcasting Corporation, went on the air November 26, 1956. The station changed call letters to WXOX in 1962 and would later become WTCX, WJZZ, WKNX, and finally WNEM in August, 2004. The original WWBC call letters moved to Cocoa, Florida in 1964.)
The format of WCEN (AM) remained pretty much the same during the time Anthony and his partners owned the station. Terri Anthony recalls, "Oddly, Charlie (yes, I DID call [my father] Charlie - everybody did) never really thought FM would make any money. The only reason he ever owned an FM was because it was part of the package with the AM ... He experimented with FM just because he could. He considered it his 'gravy', as most of the money came from AM. In 1969, Gary Branson convinced Charlie to try country format. My dad balked, my mother said 'who LISTENS to that stuff?', and it was agreed that they'd try it. Gary ultimately left WCEN sometime in 1970 to go to work for Bobby Goldsboro. Anyway, country worked, so that was pretty much the format. Exceptions were made after sunset, as Larry Naessens was into oldies. And there WAS the Tiger Baseball contract to consider ..." To this day, country continues to be the format of WCEN-FM.
In May 1986, WCEN again changed hands when it was purchased by Sommerville Broadcasting. AM programming at the time was a mixture of big-band, religious, adult contemporary, and polkas, with a heavy emphasis on local news and sports. On FM, the programming continued as "94 Country".