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95 years and counting

Broadcasting since 1924, WGBB is honored

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Wesley Carman III might have been 6 years old when he first tried to climb the massive radio tower in his yard at 217 Bedell St. in Freeport. He can’t remember, exactly, but he does recall trying it more than once. Carman, who’s now 65, mostly remembers his fascination with the radio station, WGBB 1240 AM, that broadcast from his backyard. Sometimes he would even sleep in the makeshift studio in the garage, just to be close to all the lights and the buzzing sounds of the equipment.

“I’m surprised I never got electrocuted,” Carman said.

WGBB was launched by Wesley’s great-uncle, Harry Harris Carman, who was known as the “father of Long Island radio,” in 1924. As the station’s 95th anniversary approached, David North, a broadcast journalist and a board member of the Press Club of Long Island, worked with the Freeport Landmarks Commission and the Historical Society to commemorate, with funding from the Press Club, the place where radio got its start on Long Island. A historical marker was un-veiled at the site on Bedell Street on Tuesday.

The station’s landmark designation is part of the Press Club’s ongoing project to illuminate Long Island’s journalism history, North explained. When he began looking into the beginnings of local broadcasting, his research eventually brought him to Freeport. North now believes that WGBB — nicknamed “Where Good Broadcasting Begins” and still on the air — was likely the first radio station on Long Island to broadcast the news.

“There were many people that found their communications skills and their footing at WGBB,” North said. “They got to know members of their community, and carried that forward in other capacities as writers and communicators.”

In the early 1990s, Freeport Mayor Art Thompson was also a news commentator for WGBB.

“This is an example of the great accomplishments that have taken place in the village of Freeport,” Mayor Robert Kennedy said at the unveiling ceremony. “And here they are, 95 years later.”

After Kennedy spoke, North climbed a ladder (while Kennedy steadied it) and unveiled the marker, which reads, “WGBB 1240 AM, founded here by Harry H. Carman, broadcast Long Island’s first commercial radio newscast circa 1924.”

Celebrating the dedication a little while later at Jeremy’s Ale House on the Nautical Mile, Ben Jackson, a member of the Landmarks Commission, said he remembered listening to weather reports on WGBB as a kid in the 1970s. Harry Carman’s grandnephew Douglas Carman, 62 — Wesley’s brother — recalled listening to the station to keep up with events in the village.

“Back then,” Jackson said, “turning on the radio was like turning on Channel 12 nowadays.”

Historical records show that Harry Carman launched WGBB a full decade before the Federal Communications Commission even existed. He obtained a commercial license on June 10, 1924, and went on the air — in the garage of the home he owned at the time — that Dec. 13.

By the late 1940s, the studio had moved to 66 S. Grove St. in Freeport. Harry Carman died in 1954. The radio tower Wesley tried to climb was replaced due to structural issues in the mid-1970s, but the updated tower still stands behind the two houses at 216 and 217 Bedell. The station moved again, to West Babylon, in 2001, and again in February 2018, to its current home at 2116 Merrick Ave. in Merrick, according to its website. On weekdays it now broadcasts the Chinese Radio Network, but it offers a variety of programming on weekends.