STEUBENVILLE -Tom Abernethy's first thought was something was wrong with his radio.
The creator and host of the WSTV-AM's "Phone Party" always tuned into the station where he worked for 40 years every morning, but he wasn't hearing the signal when he turned on his radio Monday morning.
The local radio station management has declined to comment on why the station has ceased broadcasting and referred all inquiries to the corporate offices in Pittsburgh.
MEMORIES — Tom Abernethy, the original host of WSTV-AM's 'Phone Party,' looks at photos and letters from his career at the radio station. WSTV-AM went off the air Sunday night, and no one from the station or corporate ownership will explain why the station 'went dark.'
Several messages left on the chief executive officer's voicemail were not returned.
"I received a phone call from a friend who told me the station had gone dark and was off the air. It was hard to believe. It was like losing a friend," said the man once called the Morning Mayor of Steubenville and the Voice of the Valley.
Abernethy still has that smooth baritone voice heard on the air every morning from 1959 to 1999.
"In those days we had no way to take calls off the air. The phone was next to me and there was no delay system in place. But listeners were very receptive to the talk show, and I got to know people from their calls into the show and recognized their voices," recalled Abernethy.
"We started out in the Exchange Building and moved to the present location in the mid 1960s. In 1978 I moved to the morning show and stayed there until 1999. That was a mix of music, news, sports, weather and a little chat," he noted.
Word of the station's apparent demise spread quickly this week through the loose network of former employees who worked to make local news, sports and talk a standard staple of the 71-year-old radio station.
"I started as a summer intern in 1956. When I graduated college in 1960, I was offered a job doing some disc jockey work, sportscasting, and by 1968, I was fortunate enough to become general manager of the station," said Bill Chesson.
"Some great people worked at the station including owners Lou and Jack Berkman, Red Donley, Tom Abernethy and Scott McMurray. Hearing that the station has closed is like losing a child. It is a tragedy," Chesson added.
"I began broadcasting sports in 1975 with John Greiner. They asked if I could be a color commentator for high school football games and I told them I was a fast learner," laughed John Nese.
"I have enjoyed it all these years and worked with some pretty good people. We did football, baseball and basketball. In the earlier days we didn't just cover Big Red and Central. We did other high school games as well. If the station is done I will miss it. I hope they will broadcast football games on the FM station because I enjoy the work and enjoy working with Jim Huggins doing football games," Nese noted.
Gene Stabile worked at the station from 1978 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1994.
"The best time of my life was to go cover a football game, sit in the warm press box, get some dinner and watch the game and wish you were down there playing again. The talk show was fun because there was a new issue every day," said Stabile.
"I hope someone will start up the station again. I really believe we need a radio station that broadcasts local news and sports and local talk. People enjoy that," he added.
Charles Calabrese worked in the radio news department under the late Scott McMurray.
"When I was working there WSTV Radio was known as a community-minded station. I feel sad that the AM radio stations that were an integral part of their communities are going away. Local radio used to be all about entertainment and a lot of local information. We have lost something important to our community," said Calabrese.
Mike Donovan joined the radio station staff in 1984 as an evening disc jockey, "playing the music of your life."
"I had come there from a very small radio station and was surprised when the station engineer came by to replace my very good head phones. He said they were replaced on a regular basis so everyone always had top-notch equipment. It was the way they operated," Donovan said.
"After a few years there, Bill Chesson called me into his office and said he wanted me to host a talk show because talk was the future of AM radio. I told him I had nothing to say but he said I would be fine. Thank goodness, because I believe he extended my career with that move," added Donovan, who is now retired and living in Florida.
Former afternoon talk show host Pat Campbell is now working for a Tulsa, Okla., radio station.
"When I came there from Erie, Pa., I was blown away by the way the community accepted me. The staff at the radio station was very supportive and very professional. It was a great place to work, and Steubenville was a great place to live and play," remarked Campbell.
"My talk show was noon until 3 p.m. and it made me realize the importance of talk radio. Steubenville was the right size town to hold their elected officials responsible. People listened because they wanted to know what was going on in their community and we tried to keep people informed. I have a lot of good memories of Steubenville and WSTV Radio," Campbell said.
In more recent years Dave Elias worked in radio news at WSTV for five years before departing for a television news job at WTRF-TV.
"It was an opportunity for me to learn from the best professionals around. There is still a need for local news and talk and it is sad to realize there is no longer a local radio station in Steubenville," said Elias.
"If it wasn't for my internship at WSTV, I probably would have never worked in news, first in radio and later in newspapers. If you wanted to know what was going on you read the Herald-Star and listened to WSTV news. This is sad for our community. We have lost a 70-year-old institution," stated Paul Giannamore.
Gerald DiLoreto, a former educator and current Steubenville city councilman, grew up listening to the radio station of his hometown.
"I can remember sitting on the floor listening to the radio in the 1940s. We have lost a great tradition that was the voice of Steubenville for so many years," said DiLoreto.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)