Radio station once known as WMCK goes off the air
While McKeesport-licensed AM 1360 moved long ago from the Tube City, there still was a local tie in its front office.
Alan Serena is a lifelong Mon-Yough resident whose four-decade association with a station once known as WMCK ended on Wednesday when WMNY-1360's news-talk format signed off permanently.
For a time he owned it.
“My fondest memories will always be that 11-year period of 1985-96 attempting to provide the Mon Valley with its own radio station, decades removed from its grandfather, WMCK,” Serena said. “Being born in McKeesport and growing up and living in Liberty made that important.”
AM 1360 may return Nov. 1 if Bishop Loran E. Mann's Pentecostal Temple Development Corp. succeeds with plans for the station donated by Renda Broadcasting.
Serena, senior vice president of Green Tree-based Renda, started his tie with AM 1360 when as WIXZ it operated at 318 Long Run Road.
“That was on June 4, 1974, when I was an entry-level sales rep right out of college and we were beautiful music on the AM dial,” Serena recalled.
Beautiful music was one of a variety of AM 1360 formats.
As WMCK it signed on in 1947 as a full-service station from the Elks Temple in downtown McKeesport.
It also went to beautiful music for a time in the 1960s but was best known then for the late Terry Lee's “magic” that bridged the first ownership change. In 1969 Mon-Yough Broadcasting sold WMCK to Cleveland-based Westchester Corp., which renamed it WIXZ and aired “solid rock and gold” for several years.
In 1974 Renda bought WIXZ.
“A year later we went country and the station began to take off,” Serena said.
In 1977, WIXZ moved to studios along Route 30 in East McKeesport.
“That visibility really paid off,” Serena said. “I also moved into sales management that year. The next year we picked up Carnegie Mellon University football and I got to work with the legendary Bob Prince, who was doing play by play. Radio was still fun back then.”
In 1985 Serena formed a company that bought WIXZ for $1.42 million from Renda.
“We immediately switched our positioning to the ‘Mon Valley's Source For Music, News and Sports,' and our entire focus was to serve the region from Forest Hills to Norwin Hills and from Pleasant Hills to Penn Hills,” Serena said. “We knew that our day and night signal was always good in these areas and we knew these communities were not fully served by Pittsburgh radio.”
AM 1360 used 5,000 watts non-directional during the day from a tower across the Monongahela River from the Waterfront. It ran with 1,000 watts at night from a four-tower array across the Youghiogheny River from Olympia Shopping Center.
“We attempted to provide a localized alternative to the adult listener (with) our constant presence at International Village, Festival of Trees, Elizabeth Riverfest, and many community day celebrations, as well as being on as many as five high school football stadiums on any given Friday night,” Serena said.
News was positioned to serve the Mon-Yough area.
“This was all a part of the plan back then, and to a large part it worked,” Serena said. “We even carried West Virginia University football, and I got to work with Jack Fleming, as he did daily sports news and commentary.”
WIXZ transitioned by the mid-1990s into becoming Pittsburgh's first all-sports station, Prime Sports Radio 1360.
“With our established success with high school football, basketball and hockey, and our pioneering coverage of local and NASCAR racing, it was a natural progression for us to go 24/7 sports,” Serena said.
In 1997 Renda took back AM 1360 for $1.25 million and Serena rejoined that company.
“I was blessed to have so many talented and dedicated people working with me, and for very little money,” Serena said about his decade as a station owner. “They did it for the love of radio and the opportunity to break ground in areas like high school sports, motor sports, event marketing and community service. Some of these people I still work with today.”
“The greatest of them all was Alice Mushalko, my business manager and my right and left hand person,” Serena said. “Alice died recently and unexpectedly. I can't think of International Village or the Festival of Trees without thinking of her.”
Mushalko was known to many Daily News readers.
“Some called her Mrs. Wickzee, and for good reason,” Serena said. “She was one in a million.”
Renda's reacquisition meant a move for WIXZ from East McKeesport to Green Tree and other changes.
“A more conventional news-talk format appeared as WPTT,” Serena said. “My day-to-day involvement went away as I moved into corporate operations for the entire company working with all of our markets in Oklahoma and Florida back then.”
Renda sold some of its out-of-town stations, but still operates in Jacksonville and Fort Myers-Naples in Florida, as well as WJAS-1320 and WSHH-99.7 in Green Tree, WHJB-107.1 in Greensburg, and stations in Indiana and Punxsutawney.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or [email protected].