Story by WOBM Chief Engineer Tom Trembly

The answer to this question involves a deep dive into the arcana of FCC rules, but it’s one that will bring back a cliffhanger story!

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has requirements where radio stations on the same frequency (other stations on 92.7 FM) or adjacent frequencies (0.2 MHz up or down the dial) must be separated by certain distances to prevent interference.

For the Toms River area, this made the prospect of getting an FM radio station a virtually insurmountable challenge.  As the largest city in the US, the New York City area has 20 FM stations, each spaced 0.8 MHz apart in pattern across the entire commercial FM dial (e.g. 92.3, 93.1, 93.9, etc.).  And as another large city, the Philadelphia area has 19 FM stations, mostly spaced 0.2 MHz above NYC (e.g. 92.5, 93.3, 94.1, etc.).  Combine Toms River’s location roughly the same distance from both cities with some additional FM stations from the Trenton and Atlantic City areas, and every possible FM frequency is just too close to another station.

Fortunately, a stroke of good luck in the Philadelphia area during the 1950s just barely allowed a station on 92.7 to fit near Toms River!

In 1953, Westinghouse (one of the major broadcasters of the day – it also owned KDKA, billed as the first radio station) shut down its 92.5 KYW-FM Philadelphia.  FM radio began in the 1940s, but heading into the 1950s, the big new thing was television.  AM was king on the radio side, and some believed that TV was destined to completely replace all radio (this didn’t happen).  As a result, FM was often viewed as a money-losing distraction with few listeners.  Many of the earliest FM stations shut down during this time, the thought being that FM could never be viable.

However, some forward-thinking entrepreneurs saw a future in FM.  Enter Mel Gollub, a Philadelphia area radio personality known as “Mel Stewart”.  In 1958, he signed on his own radio station on the vacated KYW-FM frequency, 92.5 WIFI.  (His call letters were said to resemble “hi-fi”, or high fidelity, as FM was described in the day.)  And thanks to a decision he made, Toms River was able to get its own FM station!

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In the Philadelphia area, all major FM and TV stations have their transmitters in the “Roxborough tower farm”, or atop tall buildings in Center City.  During the 1950s this was also true, with the operative word being “major” broadcasters – an upstart FM station was going to need to find a cheaper location.

Mel Gollub’s 92.5 WIFI was originally going to locate its transmitter in the Philadelphia suburb of Glenside, just north of the city and not too far from the other area FM stations.  But this was populated land, and certainly not cheap.  So to further reduce costs, the decision was made to build WIFI outside of Norristown, about 10 miles northwest of the Roxborough antenna farm.

Locating 92.5 WIFI near Norristown would prove very beneficial to Ocean County.  At the time, the FCC required a new FM station on 92.7 to be at least 65 miles from another FM station on 92.5.  Had WIFI been constructed near where the other Philadelphia area FM stations dwell, there would simply be no place in Ocean County that WOBM could “fit”.  But since WIFI was constructed so far northwest, it allowed some of the easternmost land in Ocean County to meet the 65-mile minimum distance requirement for a new station.

The stage was set... on a very crowded FM dial, there was now a place where a Toms River FM radio station could fit!

Today WIFI is known as 92.5 WXTU, Philadelphia’s country station.  A later owner was able to get it into the Roxborough antenna farm alongside most other Philadelphia FM stations, but it uses a special directional antenna to protect WOBM.  And while other radio stations came to Ocean County later (some due to FCC rule relaxations during the 1980s), all of them had to be placed far south of Toms River (toward Manahawkin) to protect New York City FM stations 0.2 MHz away – resulting in less signal over fewer people.

To this day, WOBM is the only Ocean County FM station located in the heart of Ocean County, putting the strongest possible signal over the most people!