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WRKL began broadcasting in rural Rockland County, New York on July 4, 1964, at a time when the area was becoming a suburb of New York City. The 1,000-watt AM station featured some music but focused mainly on local news, community bulletins, and talk. The popular call-in show "Hotline" was known for featuring controversial guests and topics. In 1967, WRKL was firebombed after an appearance by a representative from the Congress for Racial Equality. The station resumed broadcasting a few days later after a strong show of local support and went on to earn several prestigious awards for journalism, including the DuPont-Columbia award for outstanding political coverage. The station was sold in 1999. This collection documents WRKL's founding and activities.
The collection is open for research use. One audiotape is restricted access.
Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.
2.75 Linear Feet
The WRKL Station records span the years 1953-1989 with the bulk of the material dating from 1964-1977. The collection contains business records, photographs, awards, audio materials, architectural plans, and newspaper clippings. Ten books belonging to this collection have been integrated into the Library of American Broadcasting's book collection. Architectural plans and promotional posters are housed in the Library's map case.
The WRKL Station Collection documents the origin of AM radio station WRKL in Rockland County, New York. Husband and wife Al Spiro and Betty Ramey took out a mortgage on their home and scraped together sufficient funds to start a local radio station. Built on a shoestring and originally housed in two forty-foot trailers located in a swamp at Route 202 on the Mt. Ivy Peninsula, WRKL, Rockland County's first local radio station, began broadcasting on July 4, 1964. WRKL's format consisted of news, call-in shows, and some music. "Hotline," a one-and-a-half-hour call-in show with the purpose of giving a voice to WRKL's listeners and serving as a forum for Rockland County opinion, featured controversial guests and often sparked lively debate. Ramey once described "Hotline" as a "town hall for the community." As a local radio station, WRKL relied upon the local community and interaction with its citizens for its development. 12,000 people attended WRKL's first birthday party in 1965 and WRKL captured over 90 percent of the local audience by that same year.
On July 22, 1967, Al Spiro invited a member of the Rockland County Congress of Racial Equality onto "Hotline" to discuss racial tensions. The station received several threatening phone calls after the broadcast, and on July 24, 1967, the station was firebombed. The fire destroyed both trailers that housed the radio station, the record collection, and the station's equipment. The presence of two gasoline containers alerted officials to the suspicious nature of the fire that was later ruled an act of arson. White supremacist groups commonly used violence, including arson and bombings, during and after the Civil Rights Movement efforts of the 1950s and 1960s to suppress and intimidate anyone seeking or representing racial equality. The perpetrators were never identified.
As word of the fire spread, WRKL was deluged with offers of assistance from citizens of Rockland County, radio employees, and other radio stations. These offers ranged from volunteer labor and monetary contributions to donations of radio equipment from other radio stations. As a result of this outpouring, WRKL was back on the air within four and a half days after the fire. The first program broadcast after the re-opening was "Hotline."
In 1968, not long after the firebombing, Al Spiro suffered a heart attack and died. Upon the death of her husband, Betty Ramey, a former art teacher, took control of the management and operations of WRKL. In addition to running the station, Ramey also took over hosting duties of "Hotline." In 1969, WRKL won the prestigious DuPont-Columbia award for outstanding political coverage. WRKL won numerous awards over the next several years, including: the Edward R. Murrow Award (for Northeast U.S.) for Courage, Enterprise, Social Awareness of Significant Community Problems in 1977; the N.Y. Associated Press Broadcasters Association's Grand Prize in 1971-1973; and the New York State Broadcasters Association's Outstanding Public Affairs Program and Outstanding Public Affairs Series in 1978.
Ramey continued to run the radio station until 1985. She served as host of "Hotline" until November 27, 1985. Under the ownership and management of Betty Ramey, WRKL continued to offer to its audience an opportunity to not only keep current with local, national, and international news, but also a forum in which to air their grievances and debate controversial topics. In 1985, Ramey sold the station to Rockland Communications and resumed her pre-WRKL career in the arts. She currently lives in New York with her husband James W. Ramey. WRKL was sold to PolNet in September 1998, which changed WRKL's format from news to all Polish programming. As of June 2013, WRKL ran Spanish religious programming.
This collection has been organized into four series:
The WRKL Station records were donated to the Library of American Broadcasting, University of Maryland Libraries, by Betty Ramey in June 1998.
The following books were removed from the WRKL Station Collection and integrated into the Library of American Broadcasting's book collection:
Oversize blueprints separated from other materials and placed in map case.
Part of the Special Collections and University Archives