Cudmore: Amsterdam radio tales


Amsterdam got its own radio station in 1948 when local business leaders headed by former longtime Mayor Arthur Carter formed Community Service Broadcasting and started WCSS.

Carter, who had been doing a radio program called Carter’s Comments on WSNY in Schenectady, operated the Amsterdam station until 1953.

Walter T. Gaines was hired then as station manager and entertainment and controversy ensued for a few years. Gaines did several radio programs himself: “Singspiration,” “Walt’s Mike” and “Midday Merry-Go-Round.” He also operated WLFH radio in Little Falls and owned a chinchilla farm. Chinchillas are small rodents valued for their fur.

When Gaines parted ways with WCSS in 1956, he tried to start a competing radio station in Amsterdam called WGAV. WCSS objected and the Federal Communications Commission ruled against Gaines’s application in 1958, saying he had misrepresented his financial qualifications.

Longtime WCSS morning host Lloyd Smith recalled that Gaines started calling the WCSS building, which was red at the time, the “little red mansion on the hill.”

WCSS then was housed in its own structure on Midline Road adjacent to its radio tower. Today the building is home to an accounting firm, Spagnola & Spagnola. The structure has a white stone front and gray sides. WCSS studios today are located downtown at Riverfront Center and the station is owned by Cranesville Block.

Succeeding Gaines as WCSS manager in 1956 was Phil Spencer. Spencer ultimately bought the station. 

Amsterdam did get a second radio station in 1961 at first called WAFS. Today the station is WVTL, located at its transmitter site on Route 30 in the town of Florida and operated by Roser Communications of Utica.

Popular Albany disc jockey Bill Pope was the first manager and morning host at WAFS in 1961. The studios were above Segel’s Jewelry, then at the corner of Market and Main streets in downtown Amsterdam.

After six months, Pope left WAFS for a radio job in Glens Falls. Soon, he was back in Amsterdam selling commercials and hosting the “Rolling Home” music show for Phil Spencer on WCSS radio.

“He was an unforgettable character,” Spencer said. “If you asked me to describe five guys who were special among all the people I’ve met in broadcasting, he would be one. He was talented, great at public relations, a terrific person for the station. He was an emotional guy. He would really feel it if you had a loss. He was an excellent ad libber.”
Spencer said that Pope never let longtime vision problems slow him down, “We used to do 85 percent of our business in Amsterdam back then. I would drive Bill downtown and park behind Bosco Greco’s gas station opposite the post office. Bill and I were the only salesmen. I’d work one side of the street. He did the other.”

Joe Spencer was a son of WCSS owner Phil Spencer and his wife, Fran. Joe became a television correspondent for ABC news. He died in a 1986 helicopter crash while on his way to cover a strike in Minnesota. ABC network anchor Peter Jennings and a young Bill O’Reilly spoke at Joe’s funeral in Amsterdam.

Lloyd Smith was born in Albany and became morning man for WCSS for many decades, starting in 1969. Quick with a joke, knowledgeable about the local scene and a music aficionado, Smith also was a radio engineer. He died in 2014.

Smith was married to Diane Hale. Her mother, Dorothy Johnson Hale, had been a sales person and copywriter at WCSS, who hosted a show called “Woman’s World” in the 1960s. Hale provided recipes, fashion news and advice on her program.

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