TOMS RIVER – 92.7 WOBM almost never happened. It involves FCC rules about frequencies and Ocean County being sandwiched between major markets like New York, Philadelphia, and even Trenton and Atlantic City.
But expensive land in the Philly forced a move for its 92.5 FM station—today known as WXTU—that allowed for WOBM to land on the dial where it does.
“And while other radio stations came to Ocean County later (some due to FCC rule relaxations during the 1980s), all of them had to be placed far south of Toms River (toward Manahawkin) to protect New York City FM stations 0.2 MHz away – resulting in less signal over fewer people,” WOBM chief engineer Tom Trembly shared. “To this day, WOBM is the only Ocean County FM station located in the heart of Ocean County, putting the strongest possible signal over the most people.”
Bob Levy is the only person who started with the station, selling ads to eager local businesses before the station went on the air, who saw all 50 years at WOBM.
Levy gave an interview with radio personalities Shawn and Sue just two weeks before his unexpected passing on the station’s 50th anniversary, March 1. Levy was 86.
Five local “guys”—three of whom Levy was close to, one being his brother Ed—formed the station, the first day on air being March 1, 1968. Levy remembered the first song played as Herb Alpert’s The Lonely Bull, but other sources say it was Paul Mauriat’s Love is Blue.
“The area was excited. The only radio station in the area was WJLK in Asbury Park, and they were primarily Monmouth County,” Levy said. The headquarters was lodged in a little building in Bayville on Route 9 and crammed in about 1,000 people (to Levy’s memory) at its grand opening. It was snowing, and an opening promotional contest was underway.
“Every politician, every businessman, every hanger-on-er, it was amazing. You couldn’t get in the door,” Levy said about the opening. The contest? Guess the location of a buried treasure box on West Point Island (which Levy buried the night before, in a blizzard). The station would provide clues to listeners. No one had to dig up the chest, they just had to guess the location. After six clues, someone did. The prize? A “cheap” set of luggage and $200 in coins, “pathetic” by today’s prize standards.
The station was housed in that building in Bayville until about five years ago, when they moved into fourth-floor studios in Toms River, called the Bob Levy Broadcast Center. The station was born during a blizzard and ended its tenure in Bayville during Super Storm Sandy.
WOBM stood out, and still stands out, not for trying to be like New York or Philadelphia, but for being unapologetically Ocean County.
Steve Paul joined the station in 1970 while a student at Monmouth University. He worked as on-air talent and behind the scenes as an account executive, and had other duties. He hosted the morning drive radio time with Kevin Williams in the early ‘90s to 1996 and stayed with Nassau Broadcasting after it sold the station. While Levy’s ratings were king over all, their radio program had a 34 share—for those non-radio geeks, 1 out of every 3 radio listeners listened to them in the morning—which is unheard of today. Stations are happy with a 5 share.
“The reason we had that then-Arbitron ratings, today its Nielson, was because of the unbelievable listenership the radio station in Ocean County,” Paul said in a phone interview with Jersey Shore Online. “If anything happened in Ocean County, I don’t care what it was, if you were not a WOBM listener, if something happened—a disaster, a snow storm, a hurricane—you turned to WOBM because we were the only ones that had that. We were the only ones that had a real news department. There were many times Kevin and I stayed on the air all day.
“We were a true local radio station from day one,” Paul continued. “…In all those years of my career working any place, I’ve never worked any place where everybody would help each other. Even people who didn’t really like the other guy, the other girl. When it came down to it, whatever had to be done, we did it, because we knew we were working for the listeners.”
That generosity spilled outside the office, and not in the way of free T-shirts and bumper stickers. The station—okay, Bob Levy, but he got everyone else involved—raised money to buy Ocean County Police bulletproof vests. They raised money for The United Way of Ocean County. But the biggest by far was the help sent down to a little fishing village, McClellanville, South Carolina, destroyed by Hurricane Hugo.
The exact details escaped Levy’s and Williams’ mind, but listeners dropped off everything and anything that would help the residents of McClellanville: water, batteries, candles, and clothing. According to Williams, Bekins Van Lines of Tuckerton provided the vehicles, and the caravan of vehicles had a state police escort from Tuckerton to South Carolina.
And its work informing listeners, and now web users, and serving the community continues. Williams, who been with WOBM since 1979, said the station has spanned the generations. Listeners remember when their parents had the radio tuned in in the car or the kitchen.
“The radio station itself was built on news and information. Our industry has changed dramatically over the years, radio has had to change as well, but I do still feel pride that WOBM is still interested in being an Ocean County radio station, serving the people of Ocean County,” Williams said in a phone interview. “That 50 years, in which personalities have come and gone, formats have changed, but there is still the feeling that WOBM is indeed a local radio station.”
All throughout March, WOBM will be sharing “50 Memories in 50 Days.” That can be found at wobm.com/tags/50-memories-in-50-days/.