“A Central Moment in Time,” picks up where “Historical Moments at the YMCA of Youngstown,” left off.
On February 7, 2015, our association turned 132 years old. 2015 also marked the celebration of the 100th anniversary of our Central YMCA at North Champion Street. With our vast and rich history, there’s an endless list of fascinating stories to be told and shared with you, the members.
Radio at the Downtown YMCA
Next month will be the 90th anniversary of the first broadcast of WKBN Radio from the Central YMCA Building. Back on September 26, 1926, Youngstown’s first radio broadcast originated from the home of Warren P. Williamson. The signal was produced by a 7½ watt transmitter. In need of a proper studio, Mr. Williamson and his partner Arthur Brock entered into an agreement with the Y.M.C.A. to open a single studio on the third floor. In the December 3, 1926 issue of “The Spotlight”, (the name of the Y-News back then) General Secretary Leonard T. Skeggs made the official announcement, “that room 307 was being remodeled for a modern radio studio with a special room for the station, an operating room and office.” The station will be operated on wave length 360 meters, which was found to be the best wave length for the Youngstown listening area.
On Tuesday, December 28, 1926, the first broadcast was heard from the 3rd floor of the Y building. Some vocal and instrumental music was heard along with several talks. Monday, January 3, 1927, started a daily schedule of broadcasts with power increasing to 50 watts. The Y had certain broadcast times, starting at 7:30 a.m. with morning devotions known as, “The Morning Altar Service.” Local Ministers would read devotions and the first was Rev. Henry White of Westminster Presbyterian Church with a six-minute spot titled, “The Christian Native Breath.” Scriptures were read by Y secretaries, followed by a four to eight-minute talk from the minister. Next, Y Physical Director Ross Clarke would lead a 15-minute exercise program over the air to help those who did not have the means to get to the Y. A chart showing various home exercises would be mailed free to those who desired it.
In 1939 the studio was modernized and power increased to 1,000 watts. The early 40s saw WKBN become a full-time operation with power increasing to 5,000 watts day and night. The Y had 7½ hours of air-time per week for its programs.
As the end of the 40s approached, WKBN was in need of major expansion. Property was purchased in Boardman and construction started. On July 6, 1951 after a quarter of a century, the oldest continuous program on WKBN, “The Morning Altar Service” had its final broadcast from the Y building. A short time later, WKBN would be heard from its new studios on Sunset Boulevard and the third floor of the Y was being remodeled to move the BMC (Business Men’s Club which is now the HFD) from the basement to its present location.
Following the final “Morning Altar Service,” the pleasant voice of WKBN’s announcer signed off for the last time with… “Father, lead us day by day, ever in Thine own way. Keep us safely by Thy side. Let us, in Thy love abide. This is Bill Dunn, speaking on behalf of the Y.M.C.A. Wishing you a pleasant day.”
So, as you listen to WKBN for all your news, sports and weather, you’ll know that 90 years ago was the start of a 25-year partnership between the YMCA and Radio 57 on your AM dial.
Did You Know?
As the Central building approaches its 100th anniversary, there are some interesting facts most of its members may not know.
When Central was constructed (1914-1915), there was a roof top gym completely enclosed by a wire fence. The Business Men’s Club (now HFD) was originally located in the basement where the weight room area is now.
The Y had four working fireplaces back in the day with two still visible in the Cardio Center on the first floor today. For the first 25 years of its existence, WKBN Radio was housed on the third floor at Central. Room 307 was remodeled into a studio, and on December 28, 1926, the first broadcast was heard from 17 North Champion Street.
Back in 1901, the original Central Y formed its own “Country Club” in Mill Creek Park. Renovating an old homestead near Pioneer Pavilion for the clubhouse, tennis, swimming and boating at Lake Cohasset were available, along with great meals served inside or out on the large wrap around porch.
The Y’s original pool closed in 1954, and still exists completely intact under the Hammer Strength weight room floor. After it closed, it became a Civil Defense shelter in case we were attacked.
The dorm rooms located on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors known as Dorm City were run like a city. There was a Mayor to oversee all three floors, and each floor had council members that helped with resident concerns, set up field trips or sporting events that pitted one floor against the other, Ping Pong and basketball at Central, and baseball at Mill Creek Park.
The Central Y had a four-lane bowling alley and a billiards room whose main purpose at the time was to keep young men and boys from entering those establishments outside of the YMCA where they may have been subjected to cigarettes, alcohol, and questionable language.
Did you know that all the aforementioned stories happened many years ago at Central? As we close in on our building’s centennial, there are still many stories to be told.
See you next month!
Summer Camp Edition
Camp Fitch 101
As Camp Fitch prepares for its 101st summer, there are many “believe it or not” moments that have occurred over the years on the shores of Lake Erie. As this writer approaches a 50-year affiliation with Camp as a former camper, staff member and now volunteer, I hope you will enjoy the following anecdotes.
Camp Fitch was named after John Fitch, a local businessman who also had Fitch High School named after him. Curly Johnson, our third Camp Director, was given his nickname not because of his resemblance to Curly Howard, but for his curly locks of hair.
In the summer of 1924, the first campfires were spotted on Pygmy Island by two campers stargazing out over Lake Erie. A number of years later when the Farrell telescope was installed, pygmies were actually seen many miles out on the remote island boarding canoes and heading south toward Camp. Back in the 1920s and ‘30s, one of the favorite meals at Camp was roasted groundhog and corn on the cob. Beetle Bailey is not a cartoon character by Mort Walker, just ask Gino DiNucci. You have to go back to the early ‘70s to know that last one.
At one time, there was a four-story stairway from Sunset Point (right behind Friend Circle) down to the beach. After all these years during stunt night at Family Camp, how many Russians actually performed the famous Russian midget skit? During a typical summer at Camp, how many bunches of bananas were picked from the legendary banana tree?
In 1930, Kane and McCleary lodges were built using timber from Camp property for roughly $25,000. At one point, it was proposed to build Lake Fitch on the other side of Abels Road from Lake MIVIMA. Norris Lodge was not named after action and karate star Chuck Norris. There have been more weddings at Camp Fitch than at Camp David. Over the last 50 years, Bob Zajack has taken over one billion photos at Camp, believe it or not!
While some of the amusing anecdotes may have you thinking twice, you better believe Camp Fitch is the best summer experience a kid could have! There are still openings available for Camp’s 101st season, so log on today at www.campfitchymca.org for more information.
M.C., L.C., and H.W.
In the spring of 1914, ground was broken for our current Central Y building. Our General Secretary (CEO) who was there for the fundraising and start of construction was Edmund McDonald. Before the job was completed, McDonald had accepted the top position at the St. Louis YMCA. While the search went on for a new General Secretary, the Board of Trustees appointed Assistant Secretary, M.C. Gibson as acting CEO. Gibson’s tenure would last for four months when L.C. Haworth was hired to take over the reigns at Central. Haworth would see to the completion of our new Y, and welcomed former President William Howard Taft, who was there in November of 2015 to give the dedication speech.
In July 1916, Haworth was called to start the Y mission in India. Committed to 14 months of service overseas, Haworth was replaced with H.W. Reed, Assistant Secretary who had replaced M.C. Gibson in the same position. A very capable leader, Reed would serve until Haworth’s return in September of 1917. The next month, Reed would accept the General Secretary position at a Y in Elmira, New York. Haworth would eventually move on, and was succeeded by Leonard T. Skeggs. Over the years, the transition from one CEO to the next has been smooth, resulting in 100 years of uninterrupted service and 17 CEOs.
For three men with the initials M.C., L.C. and H.W., doing good work at 17 North Champion Street all those years ago set the groundwork to make us one of the best Ys in the country today!