WBOC Owner Tom Draper Celebrating 50 Years in Broadcasting - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

WBOC Owner Tom Draper Celebrating 50 Years in Broadcasting

Posted: 08/31/2017 10:18:00 -04:00 Updated:
Tom Draper (Photo: WBOC) Tom Draper (Photo: WBOC)

By Steve Hammond

An important member of the WBOC family is celebrating a major milestone this weekend. Longtime WBOC owner Tom Draper is celebrating five decades in broadcasting. 

It was 50 years ago on Sunday, Sept. 3 that Draper's career in broadcasting began. At age 26 he bought a radio station in his hometown of Milford, Del. 

"The first song we played was "Getting to Know You," Draper recalled. 

And with that song, WTHD was on the air. Draper explained how he came up with the call letters for his station. 

"The joke is, 'W-T-H-D: Wonderful Things Happen in Delaware,' but it's really my initials, Thomas H. Draper."

At age 26, Draper was lucky to be surrounded by wise, business-savvy investors and advisors. 

"That's when I went to what I called Harvard Business School or Wharton," he said. "I didn't really go there, but I learned a lot about business."

Draper was always learning and listening. 

"I learn from people. I've never considered myself intellectual or the brightest guy in the room, but I listen," he said. "When I think I can learn something here, I'm all ears."

Five years later, Draper signed on an FM station in Milford: WAFL.

The stations thrived but at the same time, so did the TV industry. 

Draper's broadcasting career would take a big turn in the late 1970s when WBOC's then-owner, the A.S. Abel Company - which also owned the Sun papers in Baltimore - put the station up for sale. Draper was outbid twice.

It was a scary time for business owners. Interest rates were sky high at 18 percent and with millions of dollars on the line. Neither of the other potential buyers made it to the settlement table. 

Draper and his group of investors were asked to make a third bid for WBOC-TV and its two radio stations. 

"I said, 'OK, I'll buy it. You hold the paper two years at 10 percent interest only and no shenanigans. I'll buy it and I'll settle.'"

And the deal was done. Draper sold off the two radio stations to focus on TV. He said he again surrounded himself with smart, talented people to run the day-to-day operation while he helped to grow and expand the station's reach and popularity.

"I was a committed marketer and grower of WBOC and I was committed to the fact that I thought news and weather - information - was the core of our business," Draper said. 

The station's footprint grew dramatically from the Salisbury and surrounding area, to the area WBOC covers today. 

The TV business is expensive: the technology is always changing, there was the switch to high-definition, the construction of the WBOC NewsPlex and the station's bureau's in Dover and Milton, Del. 

Draper was always willing to take the chance and make the big investment and it has paid off. But through it all he said he is most proud of the many people who have worked at WBOC over the past 37 years. 

"When I walk down the halls we've got some great people," Draper said. 

They are people who love and respect this self-made broadcasting pioneer, who forever changed the media landscape on the Delmarva Peninsula. 



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