In the late 1960s WLOB Ruled the air

(This story ran originally in 2003.)

Ask anyone over a certain age who grew up in the Portland area if they remember the radio station at 1310AM from the late 1960s and early 1970s and you’ll get a curious reaction. First they’ll get a faraway look in their eyes and then they’ll kind of smile and mention names like Bobby Fuller and Snyder and Snyder. During the late sixties and early seventies. WLOB ruled the airwaves, at least as far as young people were concerned, and if you were even the slightest bit “with it,” that’s where your radio was tuned. WLOB disk jockeys were big stars locally. Many went on to long successful careers in radio or other media. Some were important figures later in Portland radio and TV.

Fixaris, Fuller and Jeffrey>
R-L Frank Fixaris, Bobby Fuller, JJ Jeffrey in 1960
WLOB came on the air in the winter of 1957, the fourth radio station in the Portland market. The station broadcasted at a thousand watts during the daytime. After the sun went down the crew shut the station down so it wouldn’t interfere with distant, more powerful stations. In the wintertime, sometimes that meant no more signal after 4:00. In 1958, with only five local AM stations, no FM stations and only three television stations to choose from, being on the radio made all the personalities on WLOB local celebrities, particularly among young people, who enjoyed WLOB’s top 40 music programming.

Jeff Weinstein was a disk jockey on WLOB in those early years. Back then the FCC required that a radio engineer with a First Class license be on site whenever the station was broadcasting. At age fifteen, Weinstein became the youngest First Class licensee in the United States. After some encouragement and tutoring by program director Howard Leonard, Weinstein went on the air Sunday mornings as “Little Jeff” counting down the top fifty songs on WLOB.

On November 6 1959, competitor WJAB came on the air at 1440AM with 5000 watts licensed for daytime broadcast from Westbrook. The competition between WLOB and WJAB stations was fierce. Among the disk jockeys on WJAB in the beginning were JJ Jeffrey, Jim Sands and Frank Fixaris. Bob Fuller, who worked at both stations at times in the sixties, describes the WLOB format in those days as “a bland top 40.” WJAB, by contrast, was a more modern top 40 format, “It just sounded more alive.”

Sticker It's WJAN for MEWithin four months of it’s debut, WJAB was perched atop the ratings in Portland. “It was like an overnight success” Fuller says. WJAB stayed on top of the ratings and foremost in the mind of young listeners until 1965. Bob Fuller recalls he had a 57% of the audience listening to his afternoon show in one ratings period in 1964. In today’s crowded Portland market the top stations might get as much as a 17 share.

During this period, unable to compete with WJAB, WLOB had switched from top 40 to “elevator music” in 1963. 1965 WLOB got a license to be on the air at night. Owner Mel Stone sold the station and the new owners brought Top 40 back to WLOB. It didn’t take long for LOB to become top dog in the market once again. “It was quick,” according to JJ Jeffrey, who also worked at both WJAB and WLOB in that era.

Personalities 1966

Disc Jockeys in those days had wacky nicknames and crafted on-air personas to go with them. Joe Shevenell was “Surfer Joe” on his WLOB weekend evening shows from 1964 to 1969, where he worked while attending the University of Maine, Portland. Shevenell’s persona derived from the surfer chic of the time exemplified by bands like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.

“I’d insert little bits with sexy young ladies' voices inviting me to spend the afternoon with them, riding around in a convertible rather than go surfing – that sort of thing. It was a lot of gags.”

WLOB 1966 Playlist
This playlist was published by WLOB in October 1966

He’d pepper his delivery with surfer slang and create a party on the air in the studio complete with sound effects in the background. “I remember one night in particular, a couple of guys showed up at the station with a case of beer and said ‘where’s the party?’..and I said well that’s just kind of an illusion I’ve created.”

Today Shevenell has a hot air balloon business. Even today, listeners remember “Surfer Joe” when someone introduces him that way, “To me it’s incredible how people still remember him.”

When Bob Fuller and announcer Jim Sands left WLOB, veteran broadcaster Rick Snyder and his wife, Mary Jo, made their debut as a husband and wife morning team, Snyder and Snyder, in November of 1967. Rick Snyder says, “It was a remarkable time. The Beatles were still around and music was great. It was a very interesting time to be in that city on the radio”

Rick Snyder recalls, “When we came to town it was a big promotion. “We got a huge story in the newspaper…The whole thing was amazing to me.”

WLOB Building
This building, on Warren Avenue in Westbrook was built for WLOB in 1964. Today it is home to both WLOB and WJAB

Rick Snyder says the ratings race in those days, “Was a real dogfight between WLOB and WGAN,” where Bud Sawyer did the morning show. Snyder says in one ratings book, The Snyder and Snyder Show ended up with forty percent of the morning audience. Today Snyder is general sales manager for a small radio group in Vero Beach Florida, yet he still sometimes meets up with people who remember Snyder and Snyder. “Every once in a while I run into someone from Portland and they still remember.”

“The morning show itself was a husband and wife team. We played records and we talked about the baby…we did shtick, but it was more of a record show than anything else. It was a top 40 radio station and we really had no template of how to do it, so we did what we thought sounded good – and it worked!” says Snyder.

WLOB disk jockeys made extra money spinning records for dances. “We did the Westbrook Armory every Friday night, and we did Fry Hall which is where the downtown Holiday Inn is now.” Bob Fuller and Jim Sands did St. John’s Hall in Biddeford and in the summer they’d do The Palace in Old Orchard Beach. Sometimes they’d rent the hall themselves, sometimes with promoters. “To live a certain lifestyle we really relied on that extra income.” Radio announcers in a market the size of Portland have never been really well paid.

Fuller, Sands and the Dave Clark 5
Bob Fuller, Jim Sands and three of the Dave Clark 5

By the mid 70s, , AM radio stations could hear the footsteps of upstart FM signals. WLOB simulcast their signal on FM for a time in the sixties, but they sold their FM station to newsman Fred Miller around 1970. Miller renamed the station WDCS and programmed a combination of religious programming and classical music.

WJAB got an FM licensed in Scarborough at 106.3 called WJBQ. Rick Snyder, who had left WLOB in 1971 to work in television, became the general manager of the new station, which put on a top 40 format in competition with WLOB. FM was taking over and WLOB could no longer compete with the rising FM stations, including the newly ascendant WJBQ. Snyder says “We(WJBQ) were kicking their butts…so they sold (WLOB) to a religious broadcaster.” WLOB carried religious programming for many years.

Fuller in the Studio

Bob Fuller on-air on WLOB in 1966

Many people who passed through both WJAB and WLOB in those early days became important figures in Maine media. Disk Jockey Frank Fixaris was the primary sports announcer on Channel 13 for many years. He was on in the morning on WJAB as part of the team “Shoe-man and the Fix.” Fixaris died in 2006 at age 71. “The Famous” Jim Sands went on to become much more famous in the more lucrative Boston market. JJ Jeffrey was a successful personality in Boston and later Chicago. Bob Fuller went to California where he specialized in television announcing and later got into managing radio stations.

Bob Fuller and JJ Jeffrey returned to Maine in 1975 to purchase a little FM station in a trailer in Litchfield. The free-form format of underground rock and roll helped WBLM eventually become one of Portland’s top stations. Their company, Fuller Jeffrey Broadcasting, took advantage of deregulation to amass a group of stations in the Portland market. They later sold their group to Citadel Broadcasting, one of the country’s largest radio operators. JJ Jeffrey, however, didn’t part with all his stations. Citadel wasn’t as interested in the lower power AM signals. Today independent broadcaster JJ Jeffrey owns both 1440 WJAB and 1310 WLOB.

by Chad Gilley
October 27, 2003