Remembering 3WD, Schenectady’s Top 40 Radio Station

I received a note from a girl named Deborah, who contacted me from my earlier blog.

Hi, Chuck … if you worked at 3WD in the 80’s you may have known “Dave Michaels” aka, David Brady, one of the original owners. He passed away in July 2009.

I am truly saddened by the passing of Mr. Brady – or as I knew him, Dave Michaels.  He was a fantastic person to work with at 3WD – I always enjoyed chatting with him as we changed shifts (he had the afternoon shift, I worked from 6pm until midnight).

Yes, at one time I was actually a disc jockey.  Well, make that two times – I spent four years as an on-air talent at Hamilton College’s radio station, WHCL (88.7 FM), but my time at 3WD was as a professional radio DJ.

And therein lies a tale.

bumper sticker for radio station 3WD
bumper sticker for radio station 3WD

Growing up in Albany in the 1970’s, I had my choice of many pop/rock radio stations on the radio dial. If I wanted Top 40 radio, I could listen to 1540 WPTR or 980 WTRY on  AM, and when I got my first FM radio I could enjoy the crystal clear sounds of 92.3 WFLY and 106.5 WPYX, as well as “Rock 99” WGFM, which we all know today as The River.

But one Sunday morning, around maybe 1977 or so, I was spinning the radio dial trying to get from one AM station to the other (American Top 40 was on in a few minutes) – and lo and behold, I came across a station I never previously knew existed.

It was a small AM station from Schenectady, New York.  The station originally began in 1924 as station WSNY, and was the home radio outlet for the Schenectady Blue Jays baseball team in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  By 1968, the station tried its hand at Top 40 radio, broadcasting in that format until 1974.  Two years later, the station returned to the airwaves with the call letters WWWD (or “3WD”, as they were more popularly branded). They played an eclectic mix of Top 40 hits, oldies and “soon-to-be” hits. They spent an entire month proving – and disproving – and reproving – and re-disproving the similarities between Klaatu and the Beatles. They played records right out of the box, even if it took months for America to decide that song was a hit. As an example, 3WD wore out Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” – months before the song hit the Top 40 nationally.

My friends used to joke about the station’s quirky call letters, calling the station “Three-didildy-dee,” or “three-wheel-drive,” and continually professed their allegiance to either WTRY or WPTR or FLY 92 or Rock 99.  But for me, I enjoyed listening to a station that was willing to program by the seat of their pants. Call in a request on 3WD, they’d have it on the turntable in 10 minutes or less. You didn’t get that “I’ll see if I can find it” excuse, which basically meant, “We know you want to hear this song, and as soon as it comes up in the rotation – whether it’s in ten minutes or three hours – then you’ll hear it.”

I was home from college for a weekend in 1983. Because my train had a long layover in Schenectady, I had a couple of hours to kill. I walked down State Street, looking for the usual diversions – record stores, sporting goods stores, the like – and then I saw the sign in the window.


Holy crap. It was the home offices of 3WD. I couldn’t believe it.

I visited the 3WD station and spoke with two of the disc jockeys I remembered from my youth, and half-jokingly suggested that once I got out of college, I might join them in the multi-million dollar world of broadcast radio.

Four years later, in September 1987, I took a chance and filled out a demo tape, and sent it to 3WD’s general manager, Glen Von Calio.  A couple of days later, he told me I had the job if I wanted it – evenings, 6pm to midnight Monday through Friday, 6pm to 1am on Saturday.

So in September of 1987, I joined 3WD as an evening disc jockey. One of those same disc jockeys I listened to in my youth, Dave Michaels, introduced me on the radio.  I took my seat, and spent the next six hours in heaven.

Unfortunately, heaven lasted about two days. Then reality set in.

Low-power AM rock stations like 3WD were changing their formats to all-talk or all-sports or all-weather or all-farm reports, as people who wanted to hear the top hits wanted them in FM stereo. 3WD was also in the process of changing ownership, so there was virtually no effort to promote the station. My 6-hour shift coincided with 3WD’s other programming – which included New York Mets broadcasts, Syracuse University football and basketball games, and horse race results from Off-Track Betting. My thoughts of making “millions” in radio changed when I found out they take taxes out of minimum wage. And a snowstorm in October 1987 knocked half the radio stations off the air – guess which one was still on – and expected me to be at the studio on time for my shift? You got it.  Good ol’ 3WD.

And for all of you who’ve seen Play Misty For Me – trust me, when you’re on a low-power radio station, the women that call the request line would rather know the results from the fifth race at Aqueduct.

And that was another bugaboo with 3WD – no matter what was on the air at the time, whether it was a baseball game, a college football game, or the Emergency Broadcast System – the race results came first.  Reports from Aqueduct and Belmont and Yonkers and Saratoga Harness, along with the calls and the race results, took priority over anything else.  This practice continued for years, throughout the time when OTB owned the station.

Still, I stayed with the station for several months, building up a small audience with a 1950’s oldies program (when it wasn’t pre-empted for the Syracuse football team, which at that time was actually a college football powerhouse). On March 17, 1988, my radio show was the last program aired under the 3WD call letters – the station was finally sold, was rebranded as WVKZ, and 3WD became the first station in the Capital Region whose entire broadcast day was delivered via satellite from another state.

I left 3WD with a lot of memories – some good, some not-so-good – and a sense that I had accomplished one of my dreams, being a professional radio disc jockey. Okay, the only similarity between me and Wolfman Jack is we both howled (my howls came from viewing my paycheck).

What was once 3WD is now WVKZ, and went through several different formats.  I turned it on one time and heard country music and NASCAR; the next time I listened, it was talk radio from Mike Gallagher (or as I like to call his show, noise pollution).  Today, WVKZ provides a satellite-based “true oldies” format, and the station has improved from those “seat of your pants” broadcast days of the 80’s and 90’s.

And while 3WD might have been just another series of call letters in the spectrum of amplified modulation radio, to me it will always have a warm spot in my heart. In the one life we live, how rare it is that we get to fulfill our dreams and fantasies. And I did.

As far as I was concerned, they weren’t three-wheel drive to me.

Rest in peace, Dave Michaels… and thanks for being a great on-air radio personality and a trusted co-worker and broadcast partner.