By JULIE E. GREENE
6:00 AM EST, November 5, 2012
A soap opera called “Country Store,” child performers Geraldine Francis Main and Helen Davis, Bud Messner and his Saddle Pals, and Earl Mentzer were among the first popular on-air talent for local radio station WJEJ, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary.
Mentzer served as announcer, performer and ad salesman for WJEJ at its inception, according to an exhibit about the history of the local radio station at Washington County Historical Society’s Miller House in downtown Hagerstown.
Lou Scally, a well-known radio and TV personality who works for WJEJ, and Bob Savitt, a fan of radio and the historical society’s vice president, spoke about the history of WJEJ at the neighboring Alsatia Club before the exhibit at the Miller House opened Sunday afternoon. Approximately 35 people attended the lecture.
The lecture on the history of WJEJ and radio was the first in a lecture series the historical society is beginning, a series that will continue in 2013, historical society officials said. Future lecture topics are expected to include the history of local theaters in Hagerstown.
WJEJ began in the Hotel Alexander, on Public Square, in 1932. The operation moved to the Lovely Dame Building on West Washington Street in 1934, then to Franklin Court in 1938, before the broadcasting studio was moved to its current location on Haven Road in 1977, according to the exhibit.
The station was founded by a group of men that included Grover Crilley, Savitt said.
John Staub bought the radio station in 1972 and is its current owner.
In WJEJ’s early days, the programming was live, Savitt said.
Bill Paulsgrove, who performed for the radio station’s soap opera and did radio play-by-play of Hagerstown Braves baseball games at Municipal Stadium with Glenn Thomas, also reported live during the great flood of the Potomac River in 1936, according to Savitt and the exhibit.
Paulsgrove was doing a mobile report from the bridge at Williamsport when the bridge began to shake and he saw large pieces of debris in the river, Savitt said.
Paulsgrove “hightailed it out of there,” Savitt said.
WJEJ had a “Man on the Street” feature in the 1930s, in which a broadcaster went outside the West Washington Street studios with a microphone to conduct live interviews with people on the street about various issues.
One of several photos in the exhibit shows broadcaster Jack Watts during a “Man on the Street” feature with a crowd outside the studios.
The exhibit also includes several old-fashioned radios. Several old-style WJEJ broadcasting microphones are displayed in a crib.
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