December 5-12, 2002
WCTM, Eaton, Ohio
If you've ever driven I-70 between Dayton and Indianapolis
during daylight hours on any day but a Sunday, your radio dial
might have drifted across the 1130 spot on the AM dial just as
you approach the state line. And if it did, you're likely to
have heard something long gone from the radio spectrum in most
of the rest of the country: honest-to-Drake-Chenault beautiful
music, mixed with the occasional standard being played right
from a dusty LP.
when you think that's enough to merit pulling off the highway
and listening for a bit, the station gets even more unusual:
a computerized voice announcing the time and temperature, and
then - every fifteen minutes or so - a soft-spoken announcer
who tells you you're listening to "WCTM Eaton, Radio Ranch
At this point, if you're anything like the radio obsessives
who usually visit this page each week, you've pulled off the
highway completely and headed south into Eaton to find out the
story behind this very unusual little radio station.
That's just what we did a few weeks ago - except that in our
case, the original encounter with WCTM took place months ago,
when our colleague Clarke Ingram took an interest in WCTM after
learning that its owner, Stanley Coning, had taken ill and the
station had gone off the air. When Coning recovered from open-heart
surgery and returned WCTM to the air in early September, Clarke
was there rolling tape on the event. And when he learned that
Coning was to be honored by the Eaton community choir the Sunday
before Thanksgiving, a return trip was clearly in order.
From Eaton High School, where the concert took place, you
can look a block west to US 127 and see an unusual eight-bay
FM antenna, mounted on a tower with the "WCTM" calls
prominently displayed. This was the original WCTM, 92.9 FM, which
Coning and three partners put on the air from this site back
In the early seventies, Coning sold WCTM-FM to Great Trails
Broadcasting, which changed the calls to WJAI and then, a decade
later, to WGTZ. The format changed from beautiful music to top
40 as "Z93," and the station's focus changed from Eaton
to Dayton, 25 miles to the east, with the legal ID cleverly couched
as "WGTZ, Eaton Dayton alive!" (Say it out loud and
it makes sense...)
But all along, Coning wanted back on the air. (This is, after
all, a man who was kicked out of high school in the thirties
for paying more attention to radio magazines than to his schoolwork.
Sound familiar?) His original intention was to build WCTM as
an AM station, but the scarcity of available frequencies led
him to build the FM first, despite the lack of listeners on that
band, and worry about the AM later.
After selling the FM, Coning (which rhymes with "awning")
turned all his attention to getting an AM daytime license, a
process which took more than a decade of fighting off 14 other
applicants and culminated in a license for 250 watts, daytime-only,
from a three-tower site east of Eaton along US 35 near West Alexandria.
the help of engineer John Baumann from Dayton, Coning turned
the site of a former drive-in theater into an AM station, modifying
three towers of different sizes so they matched each other, burying
his own radials (260 of them!), and building a studio in a prefab
garage building next to the middle tower.
When WCTM signed on at 1130 in 1981, it picked right up where
WCTM-FM had left off a decade earlier: same beautiful music,
same reel-to-reel automation, same Stan Coning. And time pretty
much stood still out here for the next two decades. Coning's
wife passed away in 1989, and after that the station pretty much
became his life, signing on at 7 or 7:30 each morning and signing
off at 5 each afternoon, except on Sunday when the station was
In recent years, the station had fallen into some disarray,
with piles of tapes and paper filling most of the available space
in the building. Then Coning suffered a series of heart attacks
and a car accident, leaving WCTM off the air for much of 2002.
Many thought they'd heard the last of WCTM, but they underestimated
Stan Coning and his friends in the radio community. Several volunteers
are helping him clean out the studio (a recent triumph was the
excavation of the studio turntables, allowing Stan to supplement
the beautiful music reels with LP cuts), maintain the equipment
(a Nautel transmitter now powers WCTM in place of the antique
Collins tube gear) and spruce up the grounds (recent months saw
Coning and volunteer Grant Wadsworth cutting down the brush that
had taken over much of the transmitter site).
WCTM's 250 watts do surprisingly well, covering most of the
Dayton market to the east and reaching west beyond Richmond,
Indiana halfway to Indianapolis. And the audio quality is remarkably
good, considering that most of the beautiful music tapes WCTM
plays are original from the late sixties and early seventies.
At the age of 79, Stan Coning is still living his dream, running
his very own radio station just the way he wants to, six days
a week, every week of the year. We should all be so lucky!
Want to see more neat sticks all year
round? Nashville's WSM (at left) is one of the more than
a dozen Tower Site images featured in the 2003 Tower Site Calendar,
coming this fall from Tower Site of the Week and fybush.com.
If you liked last year's edition, you'll love this one: higher-quality
images (in addition to WSM, this year's edition includes Providence's
WHJJ; Mount Mansfield, Vermont; Buffalo's WBEN; KOMA in Oklahoma
City; WTIC, Hartford; Brookmans Park, England; WPAT, Paterson;
Four Times Square, New York; WIBC in Indianapolis; WWVA in Wheeling,
W.V.; WGN Chicago and more), more dates in radio history, a convenient
hole for hanging - and we'll even make sure all the dates fall
on the right days!
This year's edition comes off the presses this week, and
shipping will begin December 9. Order now for delivery in time
for Christmas! And this year, you can order with your Visa,
MasterCard, Discover or American Express by using the handy link
Better yet, here's an incentive to make your 2003 NERW/Site
of the Week subscription pledge a little early: support NERW/fybush.com
at the $60 level or higher, and you'll get this lovely calendar
for free! How can you go wrong? (Click here
to visit our Support page, where you can make your NERW contribution
with a major credit card...)
You can also order by mail; just send a check for $16
per calendar (NYS residents add 8% sales tax), shipping included,
to Scott Fybush, 92 Bonnie Brae Ave., Rochester
Thanks for your support!