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Ithaca’s Big Little Market

Steinhauses chronicle Ithaca radio in latest Arcadia book

Peter King and his brother Rick Sommers, the Brothers Steinhaus, have completed their Ithaca radio project.

The latest in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, “Ithaca Radio,” really does live up to series theme, images.

Ithaca, N.Y., has a reputation as a “big” little market. Not so much size-wise nor lucrative demographics, but as a transit point for radio talent — in front of and behind the mic. It doesn’t have many stations, indeed the book focuses on only four, but it has two college radio stations (a third began as a college station) with strong radio programs.

A sampling of names that appear in the book: Dave Ross, Pam Coulter, Keith Olbermann, Doug “Greaseman” Tracht, Stacey Cahn, Bettina Gregory, Bob Kur, Bill Diehl along with authors, the Steinhaus brothers, Peter King and Rick Sommers.

In addition to these newsmen and DJs, a number of sportscasters began at those Ithaca stations. It also needs to be noted that Ithaca’s quadruplets have also supplied plenty of behind the scenes engineers, PDs/GMs and radio executives.

Much of the book focuses on the two colleges, Cornell and Ithaca College, with their dueling stations, WICB and WVBR. The two stations have acted as farm clubs for bigger market teams for decades.

“Ithaca Radio” has a fantastic collection of pictures (admittedly heavy on the 1960s–1980s) including insanely young radio noobs like Peter King Steinhaus, with more hair than he’s had in decades, Keith “Unibrow” Olbermann and Pam Coulter, who looks like she might blow away if someone turned a fan on.

There’s also a wistful picture of a very young Jessica Savitch at WICB.

Like other “radio” books in the Images of America series, much of the gold in the book for those interested in radio history, is the older pictures and the chronicling of the evolution of the radio industry — programming, engineering and on-air facilities.

King and Sommers got Olbermann to do an introduction that reads more like an extended college yearbook entry. Larded over with name dropping and cliquish phrasing, it might actually be appropriate given the influence college radio has in the Ithaca market. To give Olbermann his due, not long ago he ponied up big bucks for new studios for his WVBR alma mater.

“Ithaca Radio” is $21.99.