By: Tom Duggan – December 2007
WCAP radio (980/AM) may be located in downtown Lowell, but Colonel Sam Poulten and Clark Smidt say they are expanding the Lowell-based news and talk programming on the station to include Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill “and everywhere in between,” says Smidt who took over the station with Poulten last month as part of “Merrimack Valley Radio, LLC”.
“We’ve opened a remote studio in Haverhill at the Pentucket Bank building on Merrimack Street,” Poulten explained. “We’re planning to have a presence with remotes in Lawrence and Methuen and a whole host of other cities and towns in the Valley. We have already met with Jimmy Jajuga and are joining the Chamber of Commerce.”
“We plan on telling people about all the great restaurants and shops and events in Haverhill, Lawrence and Lowell and all the cities and towns in the Valley,” said Poulten.
“This is a very significant signal,” Smidt added.
“It’s 5,000 watts, day and night. Most of the other daytime AM stations have decided to broadcast foreign languages as opposed to what we have here. I believe we can be the ‘little WBZ’ of the Merrimack Valley in that, we will be the full-service radio station where we talk about all the news and restaurants and entertainment as well as the lifestyle habits of the people in the Valley.
“Lowell has had some great momentum and we want to keep that going and talk up all the good things that there are here. You know, most people are told [that] something wonderful is happening in Lawrence or Haverhill or Methuen … but those things aren’t on the top of people’s minds and we want to be the catalyst to change that. We want to get people talking about and thinking about what is going on in their community and connecting that to other communities.”
“We are going to have a newscaster in Haverhill as well as in Lowell, Lawrence and Methuen,” Poulten stated. “We will have people gathering local news, broadcasting in the different communities and covering local sports, especially the high schools. If it’s happening in the Merrimack Valley we are going to be covering it. And we will be following up with asking people to read the Sun or the Globe or the Valley Patriot.”
“But not the Eagle Tribune,” Smidt added. “Not until they make it right with Bob Ansin.”
The Eagle~Tribune, which owns 49% of WCAP’s former rival station WCCM radio, recently ran a bogus story claiming that men in tyvek suits were seen removing asbestos from the $200 million Monarch on the Merrimack project in Lawrence. According to Ansin, the story caused him to lose a $40 million investment shutting down the project until Ansin can secure more funding for the project dubbed ‘a city within a city” located in the Wood Mill, on Merrimack Street in Lawrence.
“In it’s day, when Curt Gowdy owned WCCM,” Smidt continued. “It was quite something when it was on the 800 position on the dial. Everyone listened to it. I was putting together SuperHits at WCGY (the FM station owned by Gowdy) around 1984-85 it was certainly a great radio station back then,” he said.
Poulten said his love of WCAP and the Merrimack Valley goes back to his youth. “Having been born in Lowell and falling in love with the most beautiful girl in Haverhill, Gail Kritzman, I am very connected to the Merrimack Valley. All the Lawrence and Haverhill kids, even though they had other stations to listen to, had WCAP as the big station [to listen to]. WCCM was a small station and WLLH and WHAV were small stations, but WCAP was what we all listened to.”
“The other part of that coin is that there are now big statewide radio stations like WBZ. If you want to listen to a statewide radio station, listen to WBZ,” Poulton explained. “We [WCAP] want to localize radio again. We want to super-serve the Merrimack Valley. It’s local, local, local, and we want to include the entire Valley. I want to get back to the way it used to be when people in Lawrence and Haverhill listened to WCAP for their news, music and local events.”
“We have the signal to do that,” he continued, “and we have the enthusiasm and expertise to do that. Clark has 41 years in radio, and I’ve been doing radio since the early ‘70’s. I know Haverhill, I know Methuen and Lawrence and Dracut. I’m on the Nashoba Regional School Committee. There are exciting things going on all over the Valley and we want to be the radio station to tell people what those things are.
There are enough businesses in the Merrimack Valley to make anybody happy. People do not have to go to the malls. They don’t. We have restaurants in the Valley to beat the band. We have entertainment and shops, we have the Spinners, which is the best class-A affiliate in the country. We have LeLacheur Park, it’s a great place to go out on a summer night. We have the Tsongas arena and the Merrimack repertory theatre. We want WCAP to promote those venues and be a cheerleader for those venues. But we want people to know we are not just a Lowell radio station.”
“We are also going to be promoting what is going on in Haverhill and Lawrence. There are as many great venues and restaurants and events going on in those communities as there are here in Lowell. Haverhill has Winnekenni Castle and all the stores on Merrimack Street, the antique mall … all these great places where people can shop and be entertained all within 25 miles. You can get just about anything you want, do anything you want to do right here in the Valley. Its a phenomenal place to be.”
“So, to have a radio station connected to all of these things with a radio signal that can be heard not only in the Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill area but in Manchester NH and Portsmouth NH. it’s a dream come true for me,” Poulten said excutedly.
Poulten and Smidt said that the station is also going to have a close affiliation with The University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
“We’re going to have UMASS Lowell students on the air. We are going to have them interning and we’re hoping [that] this will be the commercial station where they break the alternative music and discussions that they’re now using the FM signal to break.”
WCAP is not only changing it’s daily lineup and adding new voices to it’s talk radio format, but the station will be adding brand new technology and equipment so that each show will be streaming live on the internet.
“News is very important and local news is huge. [WCAP] has not been able to afford a big local news department in the past but we have some very interesting partnerships we are developing with strategic and significant news gathering organizations. We will have connections with publications like the Sun and The Valley Patriot .We will have coverage of local council meetings. But we are not going to be obsessed with it. We will be following news and covering news but we also want to make sure all the local events are being properly covered and people can take advantage of all the great local businesses we have here in this area.”
“We are getting the station back up to speed. The studio is fairly old and there was previously no sales department under Mr. Cohen. He handled all the advertising himself for years and it was great because he could do it that way …. he built the station.”
“But now that we’ve spent a couple of million dollars buying it, we have to change all that. We are very pleased that in week one we’ve already got three wonderful sales professionals who, between them have 90 years broadcast sales experience. We have some really effective broadcasters here to customize the advertising and make sure they get the most value for their advertising dollar because we want businesses to advertise here and be successful. The key is helping the small businesses.”
While most in the Valley may know of Clark Smidt’s extensive local radio experience, Colonel Sam Poulten is best known as a war hero. But many don’t know he also has a breadth of radio expertise.
“I got hooked on radio in college at WBRS, at Brandeis University’s college radio station when I was a freshman. By the time I was a sophomore I was doing a show called ‘Your Mother Should Know.’ It was big band, dixieland, jazz and swing station and we built a huge audience for a college show. The show’s introduction was the Beatles’ song called Your Mother Should Know.”
“When I graduated they asked me to stay on the staff of the radio station and I stayed on for four years, even after I was married. It was an interesting thing because I was doing the show on wind up Victrolas. We had two wind up Victrolas and we would have to go back and forth, change the needle after the song and wind up the other player. It took a little time and that caused me to have more [talking] on the air than other disc jockeys.”
“So we introduced Professor Quiz and his quizzical quiz questions. I would ask quiz questions and take phone calls and that gave us time to get the next record on. Then we got a wild cast of characters, Billy Bowen and the Orchestra, Suzie the Wonderdog and Judy the Topless Telephone Operator.”
“Someone at WBOS heard the radio show in the early 1970’s and thought that it would be a good Sunday night radio show. I said ‘sure,’ [and] went over to FM 93 … which had a 50,000 watt FM signal. We did ‘Your Mother Should Know’ and eventually spun off to do ‘Personality Parade’ where we interviewed all the legends of the big band and swing era. We actually went to BOS in 1974 and we had Benny Goodman, Harry James, the Mills Brothers, George Burns and Bob Hope. We had all the folks who made radio big in the 40’s and the 50’s.”
“That was sponsored by a deli on Harvard Street in Brookline. We started broadcasting that show from the window of the deli. We would go in and tape a half hour show, which we eventually expanded to an hour. ‘Your Mother Should Know’ was moved to Nicks’ Restaurant on Worthington Street. We had a small staff; a producer, engineer and myself. My wife Gail played one of the parts on the radio and we would broadcast from the WBOS studios. It was in the Bradford Hotel. We expanded the Sunday night show back into Saturday night. So we ended up with four hours on Saturday nights and four hours on Sunday nights.”
“I did that until the format changed at WBOS to disco. When the FCC made radio stations which were AM and FM split their programming, WCRB use to be AM and FM, so they had to create an AM signal. They decided to do big band radio and rehired all the great radio personalit-ies from the 40’s and 50’s. Again I did a weekend show on WHET. That station was sold and became WDLW where we did ‘Your Mother Should Know,’
“We moved Personality Parade to WNTN in Newton. Every New Years Eve we were the first radio show to do First Night. WCRB had a studio at the Copley Plaza Hotel. The first, First Night was broadcast from the lobby of the tea room at the Copley it was very small but we were first. We also launched a show that is still running called Sheer Madness, which was a stage show. The day it launched the characters came on the radio show. It was participatory dinner theatre and as far as I know it is still going today.”
“Eventually I came to WLLH in Lowell to do the show in the early 90’s before they were sold. I was on WLLH Sunday nights, and I was on WLYN.
“When WLLH was sold I brought ‘Your Mother Should Know’ to WCAP. Ron Morrison, my partner in real estate and I also did a show called ‘Real Estate Review. I decided that if the station ever went up for sale I wanted to buy it. I had already talked to a number of businesses and potential investors who were at the ready when the time came. That was eight years ago.”
“So, I had heard that someone had bought the radio station and the guys I had had on the string all that time said ‘hey, I thought we were ready to go’ so I came up the steep flight of stairs to see Mr. Cohen who said they were all rumors and they weren’t true. After the fourth or fifth visit he said there was someone interested in buying the station but he didn’t think it was going to happen. He gave me the other persons name and had Clark call me. The rest, as they say, is history and here we are.”
Colonel Sam Poulten joined the army in 1969 while he was at Brandeis University “I didn’t serve overseas,” he said. “I was very fortunate during the Vietnam war to be a medic reservist stationed at Fort Devans. I trained at Fort Polk Louisianna and Fort Sam, Huston Texas.”
“ My reserve job was at the Bedford Veteran’s hospital. Every Wednesday night I worked the wards and they still had WWI veterans alive back then. It was very interesting. In fact, I probably identify myself with the US Army reserves more than anything else I do in my life. I have been doing it for 38 years. I literally saw the world. I’ve had duty in El Salvador, Honduras Guatemala, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Romania, Kuwait, Iraq … all over.”
“In the first gulf war I was company commander for 309 combat support hospital. It was called up first for stateside duty at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Then we had a couple of weeks in England, I didn’t deploy to Saudi Arabia but others in my unit did. I was very lucky. So in the first Gulf they didn’t send me anyplace warm.”
“We also worked on Indian reservations. I am in the medical service corps. We aided victims of Hurricane Mitch, and because of my annual trainings all over the world, we actually did Your Mother Should Know from all over the world including Honduras and Guatemala.”
“In February, 2003, the 804th medical brigade deployed with 3 days notice. As the war began, Kuwait was the staging area for the invasion of Iraq. Our unit provided command and control for all the medical units in southern Iraq and Kuwait. I got to travel into Iraq, had duty in Baghdad, Um Kasar, visited the Spanish hospital ship, it was quite an experience. I spent my whole deployment at the APOD arial port of debarkation. 90% of the troops literally came through my tent, and though I don’t remember them all, I got to see them all as they were going in.”
“Because we were the major evacuation hospital, we did a lot of work with the wounded and unfortunately blew taps for 232 men and women.”
Both Poulten and Smidt say they are deeply committed to making WCAP the “voice of the Merrimack Valley” again.