As WBACH celebrates its 25th anniversary, we thought you might like to know a little bit more about the station's history. The timeline below is based in part upon station records and in large part on personal recollections. Corrections are welcomed. Please use the Feedback form on this website for any comments or questions.
FCC assigns new frequencies to communities around the U.S. which did not have "local" FM service. One of these frequencies, 99.3, is assigned to Kennebunk, Maine.
License for 99.3 ends up in the hands of veteran Boston-area broadcaster Alexander Tanger and his wife, Brenda. Tangers are no strangers to classical music as a radio format: son "Woody" Tanger owns the commercial classical stations in Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia while son Douglas has recently put on the air the original WBACH station in Gloucester, Mass. The Tangers’ Vega Corporation begins construction on what will become WBQQ in February. Studios are constructed in the Lower Village of Kennebunk and a transmitting facility and tower are erected near Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport.
WBACH makes its debut in Maine on Wednesday, November 27, the day before Thanksgiving. Station operates with a very small staff, using a syndicated (by tape) classical format produced by a San Francisco radio station. Music is mastered onto 8mm videotapes and played "bach" via a computer-controlled automation system....very avant garde for the early 1990s!
Tangers use announcer voices from their family's other stations for station identifications, etc. The voice of Scott Hooper, then working at the Tangers' original WBACH station in Massachusetts, is heard in Maine for the first time.
In May, another commercial classical music station makes its debut in Maine: WAVX (106.9, Thomaston). Then known as the "Classical Wave," the station would eventually become WBACH's home several years later. Studios are located along the Rockland waterfront, with a transmitter site in Thomaston, near the Rockland line.
Construction begins on another Tanger-owned radio station, 104.7 licensed to Kennebunkport. Years later this will be a home for WBACH.
In August, crews from the ABC radio networks descend upon the station. WBACH's studio becomes the recording studio for former First Lady Barbara Bush and her "Mrs. Bush's Storytime" radio series.
October 10, Scott Hooper arrives as WBACH's Operations Manager and (future) morning host. Planning begins for "Breakfast With Bach" but first a CD library must be built up.
In December, 104.7 goes on air as WQEZ, broadcasting a light Rock format.
The live morning show "Breakfast With Bach" makes its debut on October 30. The taped programming from the San Francisco station is used at other times of the day.
WBACH celebrates its 5th birthday by opening the studios to listeners who wish to visit. More than 200 stop by.
Ownership of WBACH transfers from the Tangers' Vega Corporation to Mariner Broadcasting, headed by WBACH's general manager Louis Vitali.
Live programming expands with the addition of an afternoon show, hosted by radio veteran Gary Dixon.
The taped format which the station had been using is no longer produced and the tapes are getting old. In an effort to bring a quality sound to WBACH, Mariner begins using the satellite-syndicated "Classic FM" format, a collaboration between Sony and Warner Bros. New York City radio veterans such as Dennis Elsas and Candace Agree are heard in Maine for the first time.
In January the famous Ice Storm of '98 knocks WBACH off air, but only long enough for the generators to kick in. Station continues broadcasting on generator power for nearly a full day. No damage to any equipment.
Early in the year, the owner of the Portland area's commercial classical station, WPKM(106.3, Scarborough), puts the station on the market. Mariner acquires 106.3, transfers its operations to the Kennebunk facility and places the WBACH programming on its air. This marks WBACH's first expansion, the beginning of what will one day be known as "Maine's Classical Network."
With the 106.3 acquisition, WBACH also inherits its jazz host, Arnold Olean. "Classic Jazz" becomes a Saturday evening fixture on WBACH and remains so to this day.
"Classic FM" fails, potentially leaving WBACH without a major source of programming. To the rescue comes Charles River Broadcasting, owners (at that time) of Boston's legendary classical music station WCRB. Charles River's "World Classical Network" brings to a number of stations around the U.S. satellite-delivered programming featuring the WCRB talent. Announcers such as Laura Carlo, Ray Brown, Mark Calder and Dave MacNeill are now heard on WBACH each day, leaving a few vacationers wondering how Laura/Ray/Mark/Dave got from Waltham (MA) to Kennebunk every day.
Late in the year, an unexpected development: owners of Thomaston's WAVX (106.9) show interest in selling the station. Mariner agrees to purchase. Call letters are changed to WBQX. Station staffs are blended. WBACH's afternoon host Gary Dixon leaves and is replaced by 106.9's afternoon host Jay Lundstrom, who moves to Kennebunk to assume his additional duties as WBACH's Production Director.
WBACH debuts its website wbachradio.com.
Laurena "Reeny" Gilbert, who had worked at 106.9 during its early days, returns to Rockland as that office's operations manager. She produces many of the sponsor announcements heard on the station and would eventually become an on-air host.
In September, the National Association of Broadcasters names WBACH "America's Classical Station of the Year." Quite an honor for that upstart little station from Maine!
Mariner Broadcasting sets its sights on one final expansion of WBACH, to be made final in the new year.
Mariner purchases WMDI-FM (107.7, Bar Harbor) and replaces the station's non-classical format with WBACH. The company's four WBACH signals now sweep from Seacoast New Hampshire along the entire Maine coastline to portions of Atlantic Canada. 106.9's signal helps the station to reach far into the interior of Central Maine as well, and 107.7's signal carries WBACH from the Downeast coast to Bangor. Rough estimates place WBACH as reaching more than 75% of the populated areas of the state. Mariner opens a more centrally-located office and local studio for 107.7 in downtown Ellsworth.
On September 11th, WBACH breaks format to provide news coverage following that day's terrorist attacks. Station receives kudos for returning to tasteful musical programming in the evening. Great care is taken to make the "sound" of the station appropriate for the mood of the day.
Mariner Broadcasting sells its radio holdings, including the four WBACH stations, to Nassau Broadcasting. This New Jersey-based company is in a major growth phase and also acquires several Portland-area radio stations at the same time.
Nassau Broadcasting acquires Boston's WCRB. Programming from the World Classical Network, which was sold to another party, is discontinued on WBACH and WCRB assumes control of the musical programming for both WBACH and itself. WCRB staff announcers continue to be heard during some of the time periods on WBACH. In addition, WBACH's Scott Hooper becomes WCRB's midday announcer, broadcasting from Maine.
Nassau Broadcasting re-assigns various of its Maine stations to different frequencies. WBACH is removed from 99.3 and 106.3 and placed on 104.7, reducing the station's "reach" in portions of Southern Maine.
Nassau sells off WCRB to longtime Boston public station WGBH. Most of the WCRB announcers are not retained. Programming decisions for WBACH become local again, and the station promotes its Rockland operations manager "Reeny" Gilbert to evening host.
Laurena "Reeny" Gilbert retires from fulltime work at WBACH in September. She continues hosting evenings and efforts begin to locate a small studio at her home. On December 7th, while "tracking" (radiospeak for pre-recording the announcer's portion of a radio program) Laurena suffers a stroke and is left unable to speak clearly. Various industry friends of the station pitch in to help cover evenings, and eventually former WCRB host (and alumnus of the original WBACH operation in Massachusetts) Mark Calder becomes permanent evening host.
Creditors initiate a Chapter 7 proceeding against Nassau Broadcasting. Stations, including WBACH, continue operating. Financial problems are at the corporate, and not the local, level.
Chapter 7 action is converted to a Chapter 11. Agreement in bankruptcy court forces Nassau Broadcasting to dispose of all of its broadcast holdings by auction. Nassau's nearly 50 radio stations, from Maryland to Maine, are sold off piecemeal. The 3 Maine stations on which WBACH was heard eventually wind up in the hands of 3 different owners. Only Binnie Media, the new owner of 106.9, agrees to keep the station classical. The other two stations drop the format on September 13th and November 30th, respectively. WBACH is now only heard on 106.9 which, fortunately, has always been its most powerful signal.
Binnie Media assumes control of 106.9 WBACH at the end of November. Station is re-affiliated with the World Classical Network.
Binnie Media installs new DIGITAL transmitter on its Country-formatted station The Wolf (WTHT, 99.9, Auburn). The HD format allows several different programs to be fed to receivers which incorporate the newer technology "HD Radio." WBACH's programming is placed on WTHT's HD-2. Central Maine listeners with the new generation HD radios can now hear WBACH's programming almost as sharp as if they were standing in the studio with the announcer.
WTHT has a low-power translator in the Greater Portland area (W245AA, 96.9, Portland), and in April, WBACH's programming is placed on that station. Though the signal range is limited, WBACH has a strong in-Portland signal for the first time in its history. The event is promoted via WBACH's first ever television commercial.
After more than 20 years, the WBACH operations center in Kennebunk is closed and WBACH moves in with the rest of Binnie Media's Maine stations in Portland's Time and Temperature Building. May 17th is the final broadcast from Kennebunk.
On November 27, WBACH celebrates 25 years of bringing classical music to Maine.
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Alexander Tanger, who first put WBACH on the air in 1991, passed away two years ago at the age of 94 following a very full career in broadcasting (see Boston Globe obituary here). Mr. Tanger had left Brooklyn College in the 1930s because he couldn't afford the books. Much later in life, he returned to that school and completed his degree. Mr. Tanger was selected as the class speaker at his 2001 college commencement, and his touching remarks can be seen and heard here.
Gary Dixon, WBACH's original afternoon host, passed away last year (2015) at the young age of 65. Gary remained a listener to, and a champion of, WBACH until his death. We were fortunate to have seen him and swapped stories with him shortly before he passed.
Scott J. Hooper,
WBACH Program Director
27 November, 2016