The First Days of WCEN
WCEN went on the air for the first time on August 8, 1949 and broadcast only during daytime hours from a transmitter site South of the city limits, just East of US-27 on Bluegrass Road. Studio facilities were located in downtown Mount Pleasant at 112½ East Broadway, above Voisin's Jewelry store.
Paul Carey recalls that he went to work for WCEN "a couple of weeks before we went on the air. They were still building the big studio while we were writing up commercials and learning to run the Raytheon board. We used the World Transcription Service at that time and we had to learn to place the needle on the INSIDE of each track (those big 16-inch discs tracked from the inside out) and that resulted in numerous mistakes on the air."
"Our Program Director (who hired us all) was Bob Meskill, out of Chicago. Bob had a nice voice and 8 years of experience in radio. He hired Jim Bailey and Arnold Routson, both of whom had no commercial experience. Routson had attended the Columbia School of Broadcasting in Chicago for 2 years while Bailey had gone there 1 year. I was the 3rd and last one hired and always felt Meskill hired me because I was local. I was between my junior and senior years at Michigan State at the time."
"We went on the air on Monday, August 8th of '49 and by mid-week, we were exhausted -- even though we were just a daytimer then. But, Meskill and Brandt wanted us to sound like WJR or WGN and we'd have all 3 announcers around the breaks, doing the programs, commercials and IDs. So, on Thursday, August 11th, Frank Robinson (from Bay City) joined us and was put right to work on the air. That was the blind leading the blind as we taught Frank the board while on the air."
"As to our programming, the first week on the air we tried a lot of (remote broadcasts) to get people's attention. One day, we did a pickup from the stage at Central during a coach's clinic and aired an off-color joke. We strung a line out of the window over Broadway down to the Exchange Bank corner and did an 'On the Street' interview show. Never forget, I rounded up the fire chief to talk with Arnie Routson ... Well, the chief told him about a tragic fire the night before that burned a home to the ground. Routson, not listening and thinking of his next question, said, 'That's fine, Chief. Now, tell me ... '"
"At the end of our first week, Bob Meskill and I broadcast a baseball game from Island Park. We had a card table set up behind the screen and during the game, with our mikes wide open, an old high school pal came up, slapped me on the back and said, 'How ya doin', you old son of a b------!'"
"We did some local 'live' programming, largely the preachers on Sunday morning and we did have a guitar player who had a program very briefly in the early days. He worked for free and then used WCEN in the banners where he worked music gigs."
"In the early days, almost all our air-time consisted of scripted, transcription shows. Routson, for instance, did a kind of home-makers show from a script ... Jim Bailey did an early show, from 7:30 to 8:00 called "I De-Clare" with all the sponsors being from Clare. Cute, huh? We had half-hour Ziv produced programs on 16 inch discs that we tried to sell. The Freddy Martin Show, for instance, was bought by the Champagne Velvet Beer distributor ... I would do several music shows during the day, using the scripts provided by World."
"We had a United Press teletype so we were able to do newscasts and sportscasts ... but there was very little local news in those early days."
"When Chet Rogoza came to work for us to do continuity, we put him to work doing a polka show. I remember Dick Bing being there ... a real nice guy. Then, there was Monroe McPherson (who later) wound up running his own radio station in Greenville."
"Frank Robinson and I teamed up to do the first broadcast of a Central Michigan football game in that fall of '49. We taped it on a Wollensack recorder on a Friday night and it was played back on Saturday morning (as) 'CEN was strictly a daytimer then."
"Dick Enberg, of course, got his first experience on WCEN in the late 50's. Dick had contacted me in Saginaw and I critiqued his first football broadcast ... and he wrote me a lengthy letter after he'd gotten the job of play-by-play for the Indiana University basketball network while he was at grad school there. Then, when I was producing the Tiger's network at WJR in 1965, Dick was teaching at U of Cal-Northridge, got the Ram's and UCLA jobs, called me from our Tiger booth to tell me. (I) don't know that he was (ever) on the payroll at WCEN, but he did do play-by-play there."
Thanks to Paul Carey for his recollection of the first broadcast days of WCEN.
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