Southern Maryland radio stations got their start six decades ago -- Gazette.Net



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It was nearly 61 years ago that the first local radio stations appeared in Southern Maryland, as WKIK and WPTX began broadcasting on the AM dial.

WKIK was first on the air on Jan. 7, 1953, broadcasting from Loveville at 1370 on the radio dial, according to “History of St. Mary’s County, Maryland,” by Regina Combs Hammett.

Started by three men associated with a Warsaw, Va. radio station, WKIK featured local and national news, popular and folk music and farm, home and church services, Hammett wrote. Chevrolet and St. Mary’s Roller Rink were the only sponsors on that first day. The station operated from 6 a.m. to sunset and on Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to sunset.

Lexington Park was only 10 years old in 1953, host to Patuxent River Naval Air Station and its newcomers to St. Mary’s County. Among them was Jack Daugherty and his family.

Daugherty, a World War II pilot, found resentment when trying to do business in the county seat at Leonardtown so he decided that Lexington Park should be built up to support itself. It needed its own newspaper, its own bank and its own radio station, he decided.

In 1952, publisher Sheridan Fahnstock, another veteran of the war, moved the office of The Enterprise newspaper from Leonardtown to Great Mills Road.

On Feb. 4, 1953, Daugherty and Bill Chapman, another Lexington Park businessman, got their new radio station WPTX up and running on 1570 AM. The bank came later in 1959 with the establishment of Maryland Bank and Trust.

WPTX was supposed to start broadcasting on Jan. 21, 1953, but that was postponed when a copper belt used to transmit radio impulses was broken during road construction, The Enterprise reported.

The day after it did begin broadcasting, the newspaper noted the station had “complete new coverage, classical, popular and folk music, and events of outstanding interests in the county.”

WPTX was broadcast “from high atop the Daugherty building in Lexington Park,” Tom Daugherty, Jack Daugherty’s son, said recently. The Daugherty building was where Raley’s Home Furnishings is on Great Mills Road today.

Jack Daugherty had his own morning show called “Happy Jack in the Morning,” his son said, where “he would give news and sports. His theme song was ‘The Syncopated Clock,’” Tom Daugherty said. “My father was a morning person. The rest of our family was not,” he said.

The on-air schedule for WPTX in February 1953 started at 7 a.m. followed by the national anthem. “Gramps Country Store” came on at 7:02 a.m. with news and weather at 7:31 a.m. and then sports.

At 1 p.m. was “Silver Strings,” followed by “Johnny’s House of Music” at 2:05 p.m. “Hillbilly Chef” came on at 4:15 p.m. followed by “Rhythm on the Highway” at 4:30 p.m. The station signed off at 5:44 p.m.

WPTX moved to 920 AM in 1954, where it remained until 2001 when it moved to 1690 AM.

In the early 1950s, WPTX disc jockey Nappy Hawkins would let Tom Daugherty into the station when he was 7 or 8 years old, “and I’d spin records for my parents. They really liked Big Band music. No kid could do that today,” he said.

There was also Richard Portee, a Lexington Park tailor. “He had a show called Rockin’ with Richard. It was early rock and roll,” Tom Daugherty said.

“WKIK was more country and WPTX was more Top 10 music,” he said. “There was always friendly rivalry between Leonardtown and Lexington Park.”

“The radio station became an immediate success, we used it to the best of our ability and to promote the community,” Jack Daugherty wrote. “So with the newspaper and the radio station we were able to get the town moving and on the map to a certain extent.”

Dick Myers grew up in Washington, D.C., and would spend summers in Mayo in Anne Arundel County, where he could pick up WPTX and WKIK. After college and a stint in the Army Reserves, Myers applied to start a radio station in Prince Frederick at 92.7 FM, which the Federal Communications Commission approved.

Meanwhile, however, Myers saw that WKIK was up for sale and he and his mother bought the station in 1967.

WPTX could easily be picked up in Lexington Park and southern St. Mary’s whereas Leonardtown, Hollywood and the 7th District in St. Mary’s could more easily pick up WKIK.

Because farmers were up early, WKIK played country music from 6 to 7:30 a.m., Myers said, and then adult contemporary music until 3 p.m. “Then the kids came home and we went rock for the rest of the day,” he said.

And though he did the country music show in the morning, “news was my thing. I introduced radio news to Southern Maryland,” he said.

For generations, the two county newspapers came out once a week. The radio stations could provide national and local news much faster, like school cancellations or funeral notices, Myers said. “It was hyper local. It filled a void,” he said.

In 1972, Myers brought on George Clark as co-owner of WKIK, and the station began broadcasting 18 hours a day in April 1976.

At WKIK from 1967 to 1977 “we were on all cylinders,” Myers said. “We were really cooking. It was fun.”

Starting in 1968, WPTX and WKIK both vied to start an FM station in St. Mary’s. It wasn’t until August 1976 that WPTX got approval from the FCC to open an affiliate station on the FM dial. WMDM started broadcasting on 97.7 FM that December.

The local radio stations were bought and sold several times since their inceptions.

Myers and Clark sold WKIK in 1977 and the station eventually went off the air in January 1992. It was then owned by Robert E. Johnson, who said “economic conditions left the company with no other choice than to shut down.”

Today, Somar Communications owns the radio stations in Southern Maryland. Another radio station was purchased and converted to become a resurrected WKIK. WSMD 98.3 FM was started in 1988. WKIK on 102.9 FM was purchased in 1994 and is simulcast with WKIK 1560 AM.

Somar Communications bought WMDM 97.7 FM and WPTX 1690 AM in 2001 for $2 million.

jbabcock@somdnews.com