WGPA Celebrates 70 Years on the Air
The owner of the Bethlehem Globe-Times newspaper, Rolland J. Adams, founded WGPA, in 1947. He owned the Globe times from 1933 until he retired in 1970.
As a gift to the city of Bethlehem, the Globe Times erected a star on South Mountain for the Christmas season of 1938. Adams had difficulty finding local radio coverage to publicize the star. That convinced him that Bethlehem needed its own radio station. Adams made several visits to the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) in Washington D.C. to request a radio broadcast license. When he finally secured in it in 1945, it was only the third license to be granted in the Lehigh Valley.
A modern building for the station was designed by Lovelace and Spillman architectural firm and was opened on February 8, 1947 at 428 Broadhead Avenue in Bethlehem. Art McCracken was the first radio manager. It broadcast at 1100 on the AM dial. At the time, the FM station “95.1” was included in the license allowing WGPA to simulcast on both stations. The AM station was only permitted to broadcast during daytime hours because at night their signal would interfere with other radio stations. Radio signals travel further when solar radiation is reduced.
Bob Wolken was the morning man, broadcasted from sunrise to 11 a.m. from 1952, when he was 18 years old, until he retired in 1997. Over the years he handled vinyl 78s, 45s, albums, tapes and compact discs. He oversaw the broadcasts of Lehigh University football games and wrestling matches.
In 1968, WGPA separated the AM and FM stations into two different formats. The AM format stayed the same, but FM became a “Beautiful Music” station. In September of 1972, the Globe-Times sold WGPA-AM and WGPA-FM to Arthur H. Holt, for $265,000. At the time, the FCC pressured mass media monopolies to break up their holdings. Holt was more interested in the FM station and grew it into a top rock station renamed WZZO-FM. Jim Stanford “the Bear Man,” was on as the wake-up personality, beginning in 1972, for 40 years. In 1993, Holt sold WZZO-FM to CRB Broadcasting Corporation for $9.375 million.
Henry and Mary Chadwick bought WGPA-AM from Holt in 1978 for $400,000. The Chadwicks returned to the disc jockeys format covering music from the early 1970s through the 1990s. In 1982, WGPA’s lease expired and the station was moved to the top floor of the Dodson Building. The Chadwicks began promoting the station as “Sunny 1100” in 1990. They increased their coverage of Bethlehem community events.
WGPA was sold to local polka star Joseph W. “Jolly Joe” Timmer, in 1992. Timmer moved the station to East Broad Street when he lost the lease at the Dodson Building. Timmer continued to offer talk shows and a variety of music including his popular daily polka shows. At one time, Timmer juggled shows on radio and television, a band and a music store. Timmer made seven polka albums. He played polka with his band for opening night of Musikfest for 30 years. In 1990, Timmer was inducted into the International Polka Association Hall of Fame.
The current owners, Ronald and Christopher Crumbliss of Kutztown, purchased “Sunny1100,” for $95,000 in 2015 from Timmer. They changed its format to “Ameripolitan,” which includes Rockabilly, Western Swing and music that honors the roots of country music. WGPA also streams it’s programming on the Internet.