Growing up in Albany in the 1970's, I had my choice of many pop/rock radio stations on the radio dial. If I wanted Top 40 radio, I could listen to 1540 WPTR or 980 WTRY on the AM dial, and when I got my first FM radio I could enjoy the crystal clear sounds of 92.3 WFLY and 106.5 WPYX, as well as "Rock 99" WGFM, which we all know today as The River.
But one Sunday morning, around maybe 1977 or so, I was spinning the radio dial trying to get from one AM station to the other (American Top 40 was on in a few minutes) - and lo and behold, I came across a station I never previously knew existed.
It was a low-power AM facility from Schenectady, New York, 1240 AM WWWD (or "3WD", as they were more popularly branded). They played an eclectic mix of Top 40 hits and "soon-to-be" hits. They spent an entire month proving - and disproving - and reproving - and re-disproving the similarities between Klaatu and the Beatles. They played records right out of the box, even if it took months for America to decide that song was a hit. As an example, 3WD wore out Thelma Houston's "Don’t Leave Me This Way" - months before the song hit the Top 40 nationally.
My friends used to joke about the station's quirky call letters, calling the station "Three-didildy-dee," or "three-wheel-drive," but for me it was a station willing to program by the seat of their pants. Call in a request on 3WD, they'd have it on the turntable in 10 minutes or less. They even played local hits like Blotto's "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard" - imagine that, a local group’s songs in heavy rotation with the Bee Gees and Chic.
I was home from college for a weekend in 1983. Because of a long layover for my train in Schenectady, I had a couple of hours to kill. I walked down State Street, looking for the usual diversions - record stores, sporting goods stores, the like - and then I saw the sign in the window.
3WD - AM1240 - SCHENECTADY
Holy crap. It was the home offices of 3WD. I couldn't believe it.
I visited the 3WD station and spoke with two of the disc jockeys I remembered from my youth, and half-jokingly suggested that once I got out of college, I might join them in the multi-million dollar world of broadcast radio.
Four years later, in September 1987, I did join 3WD as an evening disc jockey. One of those same disc jockeys introduced me on the radio, I took my seat, and spent the next six hours in heaven.
Unfortunately, heaven lasted about two days. Then reality set in.
Low-power AM rock stations like 3WD were changing their formats to all-talk or all-sports or all-weather or all-farm reports, as people who wanted to hear the top hits wanted them in FM stereo. 3WD was being sold, so there was virtually no effort to promote the station. My 6-hour shift coincided with 3WD's other programming - which included New York Mets broadcasts, Syracuse University football and basketball games, and horse race results from Off-Track Betting. My thoughts of making "millions" in radio changed when I found out they take taxes out of minimum wage. And a snowstorm in October 1987 knocked half the radio stations off the air - guess which one was still on - and expected me to be at the studio on time for my shift? You got it.
And for all of you who've seen Play Misty For Me - trust me, when you’re on a low-power radio station, the women that call the request line would rather know the results from the fifth race at Aqueduct.
Still, I stayed with the station for six months, building up a small following with a 1950's oldies program (when it wasn't pre-empted for the Sugar Bowl-bound Syracuse football team). On March 17, 1988, my radio show was the last program aired under the 3WD call letters - the station was finally sold, was rebranded as WVKZ, and 3WD became the first station in the Capital Region whose entire broadcast day was delivered via satellite from another state.
I left 3WD with a lot of memories - some good, some not-so-good - and a sense that I had accomplished one of my dreams, being a professional radio disc jockey. Okay, the only similarity between me and Wolfman Jack is we both howled (my howls came from viewing my paycheck).
About six months later, while rifling through my local used music store, I saw boxes and boxes of records - all with "3WD" handwritten or stickered on the labels and jackets. They were all the records I remember playing, the hits and the misses and the smashes and the trashes, all branded with "3WD" to keep them in the studio in case somebody got sticky-fingered and left with their own personal record collection.
I asked the record store owner about them; they said somebody just dropped the whole lot off for twenty bucks. I bought about 100 singles and took them home, adding them to my growing record collection.
While 3WD was just another series of call letters in the whole spectrum of amplified modulation radio, to me it will always have a warm spot in my memory. In the one life we live, how rare it is that we get to fulfill our dreams and fantasies. And I did.
As far as I was concerned, they weren’t three-wheel drive to me.