Saturday, June 23, 2012


A flooded downtown Wilkes Barre. 


If there was every any doubt about WARM being the community station that it was, all of that was eliminated on the weekend of June 22nd, 1972. On the night of the 22nd, the river banks in Corning, New York started to overflow. Civil Defense officials said that was going to be serious trouble. The Civil Defense office in Luzerne County did not order an evacuation until the morning for fear of causing a major panic. Throughout the morning, as volunteers tried to sandbag the dikes, it became apparent that the water was going to destroy the dikes. WBAX AM located on Route 11 was broadcasting. Morning man Sam Lagouri, later a WARM producer in its talk radio era of the 90s was ordered out of the facility in Edwardsville and barely beat the on coming water with his car. WILK was under water as was WBRE TV on South Franklin Street in Wilkes Barre along with its AM & FM combination. WARM stood as the only radio station that was on the air and organized. All hands were on deck. And the music stopped that day too. Not since the assassination of John F. Kennedy did WARM stop its Mighty 590 format of contests, music and fun. It was a total public service effort with civil defense advisories, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer reports, live coverage of news events, as well as live on the scene broadcasts. WARM staffers George Gilbert, Terry McNulty and Ken Curtis toured the areas that were flooded in a boat. The late Dick Bolan who had a brother involved in Civil Defense somehow got hold of a Jeep and waded through flooded areas that were waste high to give reports on what area landmarks were under water. The medium of radio, so important to the imagination now became the mind’s eye TV or newspaper as shocked area residents imagined a flooded downtown theatre, favorite restaurant or department store. Terry McNulty was quoted as saying that he “would never forget the mud and disease”. McNulty said it was one thing to cover a story from afar but to see people who lost everything was incredible. The reports gathered by the WARM staffers was put into a two record album called “River On A Rampage”. The album was later sold and the proceeds were given to the flood recovery efforts. WARM News had an association with UPI (United Press International Radio) and sound was sent to the wire service so that reporters like Pye Chamberlain and Walt Rogers could detail the tragic events in WARMland. When local media people got their act together, a Flood Broadcast Network was formed. All local stations banded together to do what WARM (located in Avoca) was already doing. WARM declined to join the broadcast network. After the flood, WARM became more of a force than ever. While flood victims began to clean up after the horror, it was not uncommon to hear a transistor radio booming out the Mighty 590.. Michael Lewis, a Williams College Professor who grew u p in Kingston said that the play list on the radio during the summer of ’72 seemed like it was preordained. Songs like “How Do You Do”, “Day By Day” and “Lean On Me” were like anthems as people began the arduous efforts to begin again. WARM News was very busy reporting on the visits of President Nixon, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development George Romney as well as weekly visits from Governor Milton Shapp, Lt. Governor Ernest Kline and Community Affairs Secretary William Wilcox.  When businesses began to figure out how to rebuild, close or relocate, WARM was the key ingredient in informing the public.The sales department was working 18 hour days to keep up with the demand of businesses that wanted to advertise. Phil Condron who later became General Manager of WARM in the 80s was a sales person at the time. He told Philip Eberly the author of “Susquehanna Radio: The First 50 Years” that even though the station sales staff made record money, “We’d have foregone the windfall for less rainfall”. Looking back on forty years since the Flood, the historical significance of what WARM did during those trying times will never be forgotten by those of us still around who were ear witnesses to history. Current WARM staffer Brian Hughes will interview legendary broadcaster David DeCosmo this Sunday at 7AM on the Mighty 590 as the two talk about Agnes and WARM, 4 decades later.

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