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Pioneering Pa. broadcast family sells area stations

April 03, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In an age when people are inundated by dozens of cable television channels, AM and FM radio stations across the band and other media, it may be hard to remember a time when there was no electronic media based in Franklin County.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners on Thursday honored the Booth family as pioneers in local radio and television for more than half a century, declaring Friday "Broadcast Excellence Day." The family completed the sale of its three stations to Dame Broadcasting Corp. of Harrisburg, Pa., on Friday.

The Booth family, owners of Chambersburg Broadcasting Co., agreed to sell the three stations recently for $8.3 million, according to President Margaret Booth Ehle. Her father, Sam Booth, put Franklin County's first AM radio station, WCHA, on the air in 1946.

"It's really interesting to look at the company minutes from back then," Ehle said. Her father and partners had been working to get the station started when World War II interrupted the process. Booth and other partners ended up in the military, but continued correspondence with the Federal Communications Commission to get a license.

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The county's first FM station, WCHA-FM, went on the air in 1948, she said. The stations call letters were later changed to WIKZ.

Four years later Sam Booth put the county's first television station, WCHA-TV, on the air. Although it folded after a few years, Booth was a pioneer in another emerging television industry, bringing cable TV to Chambersburg in 1960.

"Sam proved to be an innovator," County Commissioner Bob Thomas said. Thomas said he worked for Chambersburg Broadcasting for 13 years, and in 1997 WSKL-FM, a station his late father Benjamin Thomas owned, was purchased by the company.

That station is now known as Kiss Country-FM. WCHA-AM duplicates some of its programming, while WIKZ is known as Mix 95, a rock station.

While Chambersburg Broadcasting sold it radio stations, Ehle said it still owns the Franklin Shopper, a countywide free publication established in 1984.

"Chambersburg Broadcasting has not just been a leader in broadcasting. It's been a leader in the community," said Thomas. He cited the company's involvement in community events, as well as broadcasting local news, sports and entertainment programming.

Ehle said the company has 25 full-time and a dozen part-time employees. "Everyone at this point has been retained by Dame Broadcasting," she said.

"The Booth family has been in the business for a long time and they were running successful radio stations," said Dame Broadcasting President J. Albert Dame. "The staff will all be kept," he said.

Dame, who has been in the business for 55 years, said he sold 21 radio stations to Clear Channel Communications last summer for $85 million. Since then he has purchased nine stations and hopes to acquire a network of 45 in the next few years, mostly in the mid-Atlantic region.

The stations he sold included WHP, a powerful talk radio station in Harrisburg, Pa.

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