70th Anniversary Moments – “The Founding Fathers”. Frank Smith, Tom Price and Charles Onderka.

This year commemorates the 70th anniversary of when Beaver County’s first radio station, WBVP, was heard over the airwaves for the the first time on May 25, 1948.  To mark the historical event, each week, another “70th Anniversary Moment” will be showcased on the airwaves and published on the station’s online feeds.

Frank Smith around 1950. Photo courtesy of Jeff Snedden/Beaver County Times file photo.

This is the time of year, when 70 years ago, three new entrepreneurs and business partners from Pittsburgh would have been anxious and excited about the start up of their new venture in Beaver County, PA.  That’s because Frank Smith, Tom Price and Charles Onderka were about one week away from officially putting WBVP on the air.  The staff of WBVP had already been hired, and test broadcasts had already aired late at night to prepare for the sign on, which would occur on Tuesday, May 25, 1948.   One of those early staff members was  Alan Boal.  Boal, who was from Freedom, had met Frank Smith while Smith was the General Manager at WWSW in Pittsburgh.  Boal gave fellow Pitt student, and announcer at WWSW,  Rege Cordic,  a ride to the studio from campus and had the opportunity to meet Smith and discover this wild new world of broadcasting .   Boal was brought aboard to help put WBVP on the air and commented about those test broadcasts conducted on WBVP in the recently published book, now available on Amazon,  Behind The Microphone – The History Of Radio In Beaver County, PA.  “(They) kind of broke all of us in. . .  It was mainly just a trial run, with the transmitter and everything.  That’s how we started out”.

Tom Price in 1959. Photo courtesy of Judy Rowse.

About a year earlier, the Federal Communications Commission awarded Frank Smith, along with his partners, Tom Price and Charles Onderka a class C license to broadcast at 1230 kilohertz from a 150 foot tower at 250 watts  located just across the  river from Beaver Falls in Pulaski Township.  As we all are very familiar with now, their new radio station was assigned the call letters of WBVP.   Prior to breathing life into their enterprise in Beaver County, Frank Smith and Tom Price both worked for WWSW, which at the time was found at 1500 A.M., and the studio was located in the Sherwin Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh.  WWSW was owned by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette at the time, so they didn’t have to go far to find the third partner, as Charles Onderka was working in the business office over at the paper division of the company.  According to WBVP Chief Engineer in the 1960’s, Jim Roush, the three partners pooled together around $13,000 to get their new radio station built and on the air.  While thirteen grand would equal around $137,000 nowadays, adjusted for inflation, it was still quite a feat for the three business leaders to buy and develop the 50 acre transmitter property in Pulaski Township, build a transmitter building, put up a tower, and outfit an office and studio in Beaver Falls with furnishings and equipment. The original office and studio location for WBVP was one block south on the same side of Seventh Avenue in Beaver Falls, located in the third floor above the Rio Grill and Kaufmann’s Drug Store back when. The building still exists today and is now the home of Vocelli Pizza and Valley Home Medical Equipment.

Frank Smith, Tom Price and Charles Onderka were already very successful media executives in

Charles Onderka in 1958. Photo courtesy of Judy Rowse.

Pittsburgh and were already enjoying the fruits of their labor when all three decided to uproot and migrate to Beaver County.  In research conducted for   Behind The Microphone – The History Of Radio In Beaver County, PA. , Judy Rowse, Tom Price’s daughter, reported that prior to moving the family to Beaver, her parents, Tom and Marion Price, had just settled into a brand new home in Mount Lebanon with the rest of the brood.  Frank Smith and his wife Lillian put roots down in Patterson Township.  Charles, and his wife Mary, Onderka, bought a home in Chippewa.

The three men ran the company like a giant extended family and held celebration picnics for the whole staff every year on May 25th to mark the anniversary of the first radio broadcast on WBVP. The tradition continues this year as WBVP will celebrate the Occasion with a 70th Anniversary Gala at the Grand Ball Room of the  Brodhead Hotel in Beaver Falls with current and past employees, spouses and special invited guests, that includes entertainment from The Jaggerz and a keynote address from from retired broadcasting magnate and Allegheny County politician, Jim Roddey.

Frank Smith, Tom Price and Charles Onderka operated WBVP for 19 years as the first owners, selling it to Hall Communications in 1967.

“70th Anniversary Moments” is presented by  Abbey Carpet and Floor,  Albert’s Heating, Cooling and Plumbing,  Aliquippa Giant Eagle, The Beaver Falls Municipal Authority, Beaver Valley Auto Mall, Beaver Valley Sheet Metal, Castlebrook Development, The Community College Of Beaver County,  Farmers Building and Savings Bank, Freedom United Federal Credit Union, Hank’s Frozen Custard and Mexican food, The Health Huts, Kitchen City, Laughlin Insurance Agency,  Rochester Manor and Villa and Young’s Jewelry and Coins.