WGUL Radio Has New Port Richey Roots
Explore the history of West Pasco’s first broadcast radio station.
Whether you've ever heard of the locally famous call letters WGUL depends largely on how long you've called Pasco County home.
Not only was WGUL West Pasco’s first broadcast radio station, its local programming also became somewhat of a local legacy through the years by offering its listeners with a wide-variety of music and talk shows.
And, still today a mere mention of those famous call letters brings back a flood of nostalgic memories for some who will likely proclaim, those were the days.
WGUL got its start in August 1963, when the FCC assigned the call letters to Jasmine Properties Inc., whose officers were Sam Y. Allgood Jr.; Reginald Sims, son of early New Port Richey promoter George Sims; W. C. Tranter; and R. C. Tranter.
Two month later, at 7 a.m. on Oct. 31, 1963, WGUL 1500 AM signed on the air as a daytime only station. According to the New Port Richey Press, at that time, Glen Dill was hired on as an announcer and also filled the position of salesman.
According to Thad Lowrey, the station’s first program director, they didn’t have much of a music selection and for several days had no commercial breaks. So, they asked the listeners to loan records appropriate enough to play on the air.
By the third week of operations, music didn’t matter and the significance of the local station as a news source was soon realized as everyone was glued to their TV and radios trying to make sense of the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
And, WGUL was in the thick of it with continued coverage and the reading of live bulletins coming across the AP news wire.
According to fivay.org, in 2008, Lowery recalled that listeners to the three-week old station didn’t believe they were broadcasting truthful information and called expressing their anger about the Kennedy reports.
From there, WGUL became “THE” local news source for New Port Richey, and on Sept. 19, 1969, the FM station began broadcasting on its original frequency of 105.5 MHz, according to Broadcasting Yearbook.
In those days the station covered everything local including live broadcast from the Chasco Fiesta Parade in downtown and Gulf High School football games with both taped delay and eventually, in 1969, live broadcast.
Besides local news, WGUL also had some popular local programming including Open Line, which mainly featured locals as guest to the show, although they did welcome several nationally recognized guests such as Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, Tiny Tim, Nancy Reagan, and Arthur Treacher, owner of the popular chain of fish restaurants by the same name.
In 1979, WGUL-AM 1500 adopted the popular “Music of Your Life” format and in the early 1980s WGUL-FM 105.5, known as “Pasco 105-1/2 FM,” switched to a 1960s oldies format, although popular local shows like Open Line were still retained.
While the FM programming was mostly automated, a popular oldies request show hosted by Marvin Boone was heard on Saturday nights.
In 1983, WGUL simulcasted the “Music of Your Life” format on both 1500-AM and 105.5-FM, ending their 1960s oldies format on FM.
And, while the station’s ownership transferred hands several times between 1963 and 1995, its New Port Richey studios always remained.
In April 1995, the WGUL studios were relocated from Counsel Square in New Port Richey to the Fountains in Palm Harbor and a new era in the station’s history began.
On Jan. 31, 2005, the WGUL AM-FM simulcasting ended and the call letters of the FM 106.3 station changed to WJQB.
At that time, the station adopted a syndicated 1950s and 1960s oldies format, billing itself as the "True Oldies Channel.” However, the AM 860 station retained the WGUL call letters and continued its nostalgia format, which continued to be programmed locally in the daytime.
In Febrary 2005, Salem Communications Corporation, a leading radio broadcaster focusing on Christian and family themed programming, acquired WGUL-AM and WLSS-AM (930 AM, in Sarasota) from WGUL-FM, Inc., for a purchase price of $9.5 million.
Six months later, on Aug. 12, 2005, WGUL’s on air personalities said their final good-byes and played WGUL’s last song, Thanks for the Memories, a duet by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross.
Personality Denny Bateman signed off with his traditional "Bye bye, and buy bonds” and at 5 p.m. temporary programming consisting of recordings of speeches by recent Republican presidents began.
While Salem Communications originally intended on changing the station’s call letters to WNTR, a press release dated Aug. 17, 2005, announced the company would keep the WGUL call letters.
In the press release Salem Communications, Tampa general manager Christopher Gould Sr. was quoted as saying, "WGUL has been a vital player in radio since 1963. By keeping these heritage call letters, we are paying tribute to the station's legacy and its value to listeners.”
Today, WGUL AM 860 is still on the air and remains an active part of the Tampa Bay community with its Conservative talk format. According to the station’s website,
“At WGUL AM 860, we’re committed to delivering the finest in conservative talk radio. We strive to provide the best in news talk programming to our audience, our advertisers and throughout the community we live in and serve.”