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Radio Daze Columns in chronological order. Includes columns from "What's In It For Me?" published by WIFM Radio, AND ONLINE columns which appear ONLY here
Take Link below to ORIGINAL "Radio Daze" columns from 1997 and 1998 http://www.theproductionroom.net/radiodazeold.htm - Original Series (1997-1998) Radio Daze
By Mike Walker
He’s Baaack! (And Wif-um is 50!)
This is a happy time for me. It’s my first "Radio Daze" column in over a year. I left WIFM in February of ’98 to concentrate on my home-based radio production business. This after an 8 year run, the longest I’ve stayed at any station. And it wasn’t my first job at WIFM. My radio career was born in 1974 when Leon Reece hired me as an announcer…a month before my sixteenth birthday.
Recently work produced in my studio has aired on my favorite station. And now my column is back. I am so pleased…not only to be doing this work again which I love so much, but at the occasion which lead to it…the 50th birthday of WIFM! I’m not sure I can find words adequate to express how proud I am of this station, of the hard work and sacrifices of so many who have gotten us to this point, and of my own association with the station…which spans fully half of it’s life. Perhaps I can’t find adequate words. But in future columns I’ll try. Hopefully the sentiments I’m unable to express can be voiced by those I will interview, and of whom I will lovingly write.
A history of WIFM is at least in part a history of fm radio, because WIFM
is one of the oldest fm stations in
After leaving the military, Armstrong’s passion for improving the technical quality of radio led him to several inventions, which are still in use in today’s radios. Armstrong’s "regenerative" circuit made it possible for radios to amplify weak signals, bringing in even very distant stations with minimum fading and noise. And his "superhetrodyne" circuit, still used in the vast majority of radio receivers, introduced much needed "selectivity" to the receiver market. Put simply, it made it possible for you to listen ONLY to the station you were trying to tune, without interference from it’s neighbors. Money made from licensing receiver manufacturers to use his patents enabled Armstrong to continue his research, and pursue the goal of a radio system that was immune to static. The result of this research was fm, or frequency modulation.
In the late 30s the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) set aside a
band of frequencies for fm broadcasting. Armstrong even established his own
radio network called "The Yankee Network", with stations throughout
Always a patriot, Armstrong voluntarily gave his fm frequencies back to the government for military use at the start of WW-II. This "original" fm band used frequencies now occupied by tv channels 2 and 3. Consequently pre-war fm radios were useless after 1941.
While Armstrong’s fm system worked beautifully, and provided stunning sound quality, it never brought him the recognition, or financial rewards he deserved. In fact David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA/NBC, and a one-time friend of Armstrong’s stole his fm technology to provide the sound for television. Armstrong was never paid a cent by tv manufacturers, at least not during his lifetime. In frustration, marital and financial ruin, Armstrong took his own life in early 1954. Ironically, after his death his widow won a pending lawsuit, and collected millions of dollars in damages from those who had infringed upon her husband’s patents.
After WW-II, the FCC established a "new" fm band…the one we use today (88.1-107.9 mhz). Which sets the stage for the birth of post-war fm, and of WIFM. In future installments I’ll chronicle WIFM’s history. Doing so should prove quite a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m glad to accept.
By Mike Walker
Radio is magic. Voices traveling through thin air at the speed of light. No voice is too soft; no event too distant to prevent it’s coming in loud and clear on your radio. How would you define magic?
Radio is a daily visit with an unseen friend, often many miles away. It’s news and information that comes to you, rather than expecting you to come to it…as with television. Radio is the most immediate and personal of all media. Although dozens of people may work at your favorite station, when you listen to radio the illusion is complete. Only two people are involved: you, and your favorite personality…your friend.
The magic of radio is nothing new. At WIFM alone it’s fifty years old. But harnessing the magic in a way that was both practical and economically viable took some time, and experimentation. The need to make the magic practical at WIFM led to some interesting, and in hindsight sometimes amusing solutions to problems.
In the early days fm radio was an enigma. Anyone could see the potential of this new medium. The sound quality was so good. Amazing in fact…especially to broadcasters, frustrated with the noise and interference that still plagues am today. Of course fm stereo has its share of problems too…most notably "multipath" distortion, caused by signals being "scrambled" by multiple reflections from mountains and tall buildings. "Multipath" distortion can sound bad, but it’s primarily a problem with stereo reception. This was way before fm stereo. In fact, in the pre-stereo days fm radio had much lower noise, and was far less prone to interference than today. (Increased noise and interference wers accepted as a fair price to pay for broadcasting in stereo). As I said…the potential for fm was obviously enormous. But that potential was many years, decades as it turned out, from being realized. The sad fact is that early fm stations were mostly a financial drain to their owners. Almost nobody had fm radios! That’s why WIFM added an am station very soon after the fm. Businesses must generate revenue in order to survive!
So WIFM, like a growing number of stations in the 40s and 50s, had an am
station which paid the bills, and an fm station which sounded incredible, but
hemorrhaged money. Since this hemorrhage couldn’t be
stopped, the best that could be done was to minimize it. There was another
option, of course. Stations like WIFM could have simply let their fms die. Many did…at
least temporarily. WHKY FM in
One could ask, "why not just carry the same programming on the fm as the am?" That’s done in many places today. But in those days the FCC had rules preventing am/fm "combo" stations from "simulcasting" more than a small percentage of their day’s programming. The reason for this was to encourage them to operate their fms as separate entities, maximizing the diversity of available programming. These rules lasted until well into the 80s. So WIFM found ways to program the fm station as cost-effectively as possible.
A really high tech solution was found early on. In 1948 RCA had
introduced the 45 rpm record, and
In the 60s and 70s the number of fm radios grew sufficiently that it became feasible to produce some separate programming for WIFM fm. On a typical day of the WIFM of the mid 70s, for instance, am and fm simulcast Leon Reece’s "Good Morning Show" and "Open Mike" from 6-8am. Then pop/rock music began on am at 8, and continued throughout the day. WIFM fm carried country music from 8am-12noon (by this time pre-recorded reel to reel tapes had taken the place of lps for "unattended operation". From noon to 5pm either Wade Chapel, Leon Mikels, or Dick Paulsen (for many years WIFM’s chief engineer) hosted a gospel music program. "Automated" country tapes returned from 5-7pm, and from 7pm-midnight the pop/rock music programming from the am was picked up by the fm. WIFM am was a "daytime" station (licensed to operate only during daylight hours), so the fm allowed it’s programming to continue after dark.
By utilizing these cost-cutting measures, WIFM fm was able to survive until fm broadcasting became financially viable. Thus the magic of radio was made practical. So now you know the secret of WIFM fm’s survival through the lean decades. "Practical Magic".
By Mike Walker
I don’t mean to alarm you, but WIFM is haunted.
Not the new building on
As an announcer at WIFM from 1974 until 1977, I spent many nights in the old building. Sometimes I was completely alone. But most nights somebody else was there for at least part of my shift.
During my first "tour of duty" at WIFM, Ralph Shaw was News Director. And as anyone who knows him can testify, Ralph is a force of nature! In his youth Ralph was tireless. From the time he first visited the Elkin Police Department an hour or more before sign on each morning, until he had filed his last news report on whatever meetings may have occurred on a particular evening on the 10:05pm news, Ralph never stopped. Very rare was the evening that Ralph didn’t put in at least one appearance.
During this same time period, a young couple from
In those days WIFM had no dedicated "production room" (a studio where commercials, newscasts, and other program elements that are recorded before airing are produced). But since WIFM AM could legally broadcast only during daylight hours, one of the station’s two studios was vacant at night. So staff members frequently scheduled production sessions "after hours". Leon Reece was one of them, frequently stopping by to produce commercials at night. The point of all of this is that, although I spent many nights at WIFM in the 70s, I wasn’t alone in the building often enough for it to occur to me that perhaps I wasn’t alone at all. I did hear sounds I couldn’t explain. But because so many visited so often, I always assumed I had "just missed" one of them. Had I known the stories then that I do now, I would have paid more attention to those sounds.
"BANG" a door slammed. "Clip, clop, clip" came footsteps down the hall. "Is someone there?" I heard no answer. On this particular Saturday night in the fall of 1994 I found myself alone at WIFM at night for the first time in years. As Program Director, it was expected that I would cover any shift an announcer on my staff couldn’t. "Bang"…I was sure I heard the front door slamming again. I arose from my chair, and walked to the front of the building to investigate. Not only was I alone, the door was locked.
By this time, I had heard stories of "Will". Multiple staff members had told me of their experiences and the sounds they had heard. Do I believe in ghosts? As I sit at the computer in my living room writing this, the answer is "of course not!" But, were I to find myself alone in that building at night once again, well, I’m not so certain!
By Mike Walker
In The Beginning
"I’ve loved it. If I were a young man, I’d be out there again…building
stations, running them, having fun". The words of James
Childress of Sylva
The list of stations he gave life to reads like a "Who’s Who" of small market
radio. Included are WRGC Sylva, WOXF
By the way, there’s a pattern to Childress’ choice of call letters. "Lots of them are for my family’s initials. WKRK, for instance, was named after children Kim, Ronnie, and Kathy. WKSK got its call letters from the initials of my daughter Suzanne."
As for WIFM "I bought it in 1954. And despite the fact that Elkin
was the best little radio market I’d seen up until
then, within a week I knew I had made a mistake. In ’54 there was an attempt to
WIFM’s original owner, Al Hinshaw is deceased. But Mr. Childress offered some insight into the earliest days at the station. "Al put the WIFM on the air in ’49 as an fm only. Al’s brother owned a radio repair shop, and the two of them were big believers in fm. They pushed it like crazy. But with almost no radios, there weren’t any listeners. In about ’53 the am was added. But it didn’t do well either."
"I bought WIFM in ’54. I lost money, but still had fun. In those days we used "block" programming. Music was mostly pop, but there were also "blocks" of country, and gospel. There was live music too…lots of live music. One of the greatest talents was David Reece (Leon’s brother). David turned out to be one of the nation’s best gospel singers. Preachers screamed on Sunday mornings, but I never allowed preaching at other times on any of my stations. It’s bad programming".
In his youth Jim Childress was an aspiring singer/songwriter. He sang on some of his stations in the early days, but eventually "gave up one dream to pursue another".
And what of radio’s future? "It’s still a great business. I’m about to turn 75. But if I were younger and could find good managers, I’d buy or build one every year. The future is bright for for fm and am. I love this business".
Me too, Jim. Thanks for the interview,
for your tremendous contributions to broadcasting in
By Mike Walker
Hail To The Chief!
"Is that a helicopter?" I asked the person next to me. The year
was 1975. I was a junior at East Wilkes, and played in the band. Although I had
worked at WIFM for several months, I was there as a trumpet player, not a
broadcaster. I was excited. How often does a sitting
"Yes, I think it is a helicopter. Shhhhh listen…it’s definitely a helicopter"…answered my band-mate.
"Look alive, everybody…get ready for "Hail to the Chief" barked young band director Keith Secreast, who 24 years later still leads the band at East Wilkes.
What had been just a dot in the sky could now clearly be seen to be a large helicopter. As the side turned toward the band, and the Presidential Seal became visible, I got a lump in my throat, and began feeling misty eyed. I was about to see the president…in person!
The helicopter landed perhaps 30 yards away in an open field. It was so loud I was sure the president wouldn’t even hear us. No matter…he was there. So were we. And just like him, we had a job to do.
"READY" Mr. Secreast screamed, as he raised his baton. "1, 2, 3, 4". We all began playing, although I have no idea how well. Between the noise from the helicopter, and the sheer excitement of seeing the president, I doubt any of us played our best. We couldn’t hear each other. The only way we stayed in sync was by watching Mr. Secreast’s baton.
Gerald Ford has always seemed such a likable man. He even campaigned nicely. The ’76 election may have been the last time candidates were civil to one another…as two genuinely good men challenged one another’s political beliefs and agendas, not their personal and character flaws. Had it not been for the cloud surrounding Watergate, and the pardon of President Nixon, the ’76 election may have gone a different way.
The president moved quickly from the helicopter to an area where people waited to shake his hand. I put my trumpet in the trunk of my car, and returned to the crowd, hoping to meet the president. My mind flashed briefly to discussions at the station in preparation for the event. "Will the Marti (remote broadcast relay transmitter) reach Elkin from West Wilkes?" "We’ve used it there for ballgames before. With a good antenna site, it should work fine".
Inside the gymnasium Leon Reece and Ralph Shaw had begun broadcasting. When I put my trumpet away, I had switched on the radio for perhaps 30 seconds to make sure everything was ok. The signal was a little "crackly", but stable. WIFM would be able to successfully broadcast the president’s speech.
Suddenly my hand was clasped in a warm, firm handshake. "Hi there…nice of you to come". "Thank you Mr. President".
He was gone. It was 4:45. There was no way I would make my 5pm airshift at WIFM on time. I needed to find a pay phone.
As I drove back to Elkin, listening to WIFM’s broadcast of the president, something occurred to me. I had met the president without going through any security checks. Even after leaving, opening the trunk of my car, and returning, the Secret Service Agents ignored me. There probably seemed to be little threat to him in these days before the world had heard of "Squeaky" Fromme, and Sarah Jane Moore.
A guest column by Karen Kelly
*Karen Kelly and Russ Pomeroy worked at WIFM from 1975-1978 (M.W.)
Only yesterday I woke up and happily went to work at WIFM with my husband, Russ Pomeroy.
Only yesterday I sold commercials while Russ entertained us on the air. Russ thrived on talking with his listeners. We had the great joy and honor of loving our work and being able to share it. He produced the women's talk show I hosted on WIFM, "Our World, Too". It was a delight to see him smiling at me from the control room. He would make sure I sounded my very best, as we prepared for a live edition of the program. I went to school and learned the radio business, but I never loved the radio business until I lived it through Russ' eyes.
Only yesterday I was greeted by the smiling face of WIFM secretary, Kathy Long. I never heard a harsh word from that patient, kind lady.
Only yesterday I talked with Leon Reece, the station manager - a
talented, fair and easy man to work with - a man who inspired trust and
confidence in us all, including our audience. One April Fool's Day, he
announced that the telephone company wanted people to hang their telephone
receivers over a bucket to drain water which had gotten into the lines from
recent heavy rains. People did it. We trusted
Only yesterday satin voiced Chuck Kenney, was keeping listeners company. Chuck had a knack of keeping things easy and low-key in the control room.
Only yesterday Ralph Shaw flew past me in the hallway with a hot news
story to report. I was in awe of him and his news ability. It was Ralph who
first contacted Russ and me at WPAQ in
Only yesterday, I met young Mike Walker, who was barely out of high school. Radio had him, and would never let him go. Mike's enthusiasm was intoxicating. He would excitedly tell me about a new "Audio-Tronic-What-Cha-Ma-Call-It". I never understood the "tech talk" , but his attitude was so contagious I found myself wanting one, too!
A lot has happened since yesterday.
Russ and I went on to work at many stations, eventually living our dream of co-managing one. Russ passed away about 13 years ago, and is missed by all of us who loved him.
I answered another calling, and became an ordained minister. God blessed
me again with a wonderful husband, Tony, who works for the US Postal Service, and
also helps me in the ministry. We have a happy and blessed life in
While it is not good to "live" in the past, it is good to "look" at the past, and be grateful for our blessings. Thank to those who made us feel at home. Thanks to the staff of WIFM. Together, we got the job done, and enjoyed each other’s company.
On Sunday mornings now, I say, "Good Morning and welcome to our Sunday Morning service!" Often after the service someone says "Reverend, it sounded like you were introducing a radio show." God understands. He knows that I have a permanent case of "Radio Daze".
*Many thanks to my dear friend Mike Walker, who invited me to share his "Radio Daze" column. After 20 years apart, Mike, located me through computer e-mail. We picked up our friendship, right where we left off - like it was only yesterday.......(Karen's e-mail address is Justbeone@aol.com I'm sure she would enjoy hearing from you. MW)
By Mike Walker
Here and gone
Thanks again to Karen Kelly for her recollections of WIFM in the 70s in last week’s column. I began my radio career in 1974, so when Karen and Russ (Pomeroy, her husband) arrived, everything about broadcasting was still fresh and new to me.
In those days I couldn’t imagine anything cooler than being on the radio. The idea that it was possible to talk at once to thousands of unseen listeners seemed like magic. I thought those who earned their living as radio personalities were the most fascinating people alive.
In Russ Pomeroy I found a kindred spirit. Russ adored radio as much as I did, and his enthusiasm and creativity inspired me in ways I’ve only recently begun to understand.
Russ was the first true ‘production wizard’ I met. He thought of the task of producing commercials, promos, and other pre-recorded elements not as a chore, but an adventure. From wrapping tape recorder capstans with Scotch tape to create ‘Munchkin-like’ voices, to placing microphones at the bottom of large metal trash cans to create an ‘echo chamber’, Russ taught me that if a sound could be imagined, it could be created!
I have been accused of being a perfectionist in my work. If it’s true, then in large measure I must thank/blame Russ Pomeroy. He and I were the ‘ears’ of WIFM…tweaking, modifying, and fixing anything we thought prevented the station from sounding it's best. From twice weekly wrapping Scotch Tape around the motor shaft of the aging turntables to bring them back up to speed, to tweaking the audio processor for the best possible sound, (‘It Keeps You Runnin’ by the Doobie Brothers was our standard test track. It’s difficult for even today’s fm stations to reproduce correctly) there were always things that could be done to make WIFM sound better. And we tried ‘em all!
The last time I saw Russ was in 1981. I was the nighttime personality at
WNNC (am) in
About three years later, Russ called me at home one night. By this time
he was at WGBR in
*In chronicling WIFM’s history in these columns for our 50th anniversary, I’m afraid that some important stories will be missed. If you worked at WIFM in the past and haven’t been contacted by me yet, or have amusing or interesting stories relating to the station and those who worked here, please e-mail me at Mike@theproductionroom.net , or RadioGiant@aol.com . I look forward to reading of your experiences, and sharing them in ‘Radio Daze’.
By Mike Walker
Welcome to summer!
Memorial Day and Labor day traditionally mark the beginning and end of summer…kind of like "bookends", with all the cookouts, ballgames, trips to the beach, work in the yard and garden, long walks, and fun that can be squeezed into the season sandwiched in between.
The arrival of summer has me thinking about all the summers’ past at
WIFM. All the Fourth of July celebrations we’ve
sponsored through the years at various locations…Ridgeview
Crossing Shopping Center, Elkmont Shopping Center, Elkin
Village Shopping Center, Memorial Park in Elkin, and WAY back when I was a
young ‘un…at Lila Swaim
Park in Jonesville. We’ve also regularly visited the
BIG Independence Day events at
Then there are all the remote broadcasts. Through the years WIFM has done tons of those. And in the pre-cd/pre-computer days when most radio listening was still done on the am band, we had a different approach to remotes. Sure we could have sent the announcer out with just a microphone and remote transmitter, relying on the "board-operator" back at the station to play all the music, commercials, and news. That’s the way almost every radio station does it today. But 25 years ago we believed that people coming to a remote broadcast deserved to really see a radio show being done. So we did as much as possible on location. In the back of the station van we had a large, heavy wooden desk with a small mixer, and ONE turntable built into it. When we did a remote broadcast, the announcer on duty brought HUNDREDS of 45rpm records along, and played them at the site, while a big horn speaker on top blasted the sound for hundreds of yards. It was FUN. Girls in halter-tops and cut-offs wanted to flirt (hey, I was single then!), children begged for free records, friends stood by and grinned, and everyone wanted to say "Hello". As anyone who’s been in radio awhile will tell you, in the days before we were bombarded with so much media (cable, satellite, video, etc.), a remote broadcast by the local station was an event.
I fondly remember Saturdays in the 70s when I broadcast from
One Friday night in 1976 Karen Kelly and I were broadcasting from in
front of the Reeves Theatre in Downtown Elkin for the premiere of
"Rocky". Of course the streets were filled with cruisers. At Karen’s suggestion I asked, "will
everyone listening to WIFM please honk your horn?" The ensuing blast was
DEAFENING. Merchants and customers alike left businesses up and down
*After my last column, in which I invited those connected with WIFM’s history to contact me so they could share their experiences, I received an e-mail letter from B.D. Reece. He and Tiffany are doing well, and expecting another "bundle of joy". B.D. has a unique perspective on WIFM, having begun broadcasting here as a small child. I look forward to interviewing him in a future column. To share your experiences or comments, write to me at Mike@theproductionroom.net , or RadioGiant@aol.com
By Mike Walker
Here’s What’s His Name!
When Gilvin Couch did nights at WIFM back in the 70s he used to have a jingle that said "Here’s What’s His Name"…after which he’d usually say something like "What the heck is a Gilvin anyway?"
Nobody I’ve known has enjoyed radio more than Gil. "I look back at the 70s and there was such a mystique about radio. It was really cool. It was about the neatest thing in my life. Radio was maybe even more powerful then than now. Mike, you and I have been in this long enough to remember when radio was KING! It was more than entertaining. The kids didn’t have MTV or HBO, no video games, no Internet, just RADIO. At night kids would be home studying, and just listening to the radio. When people recognized me it was like "OH MAN, are you really on the radio?"
How did you get started, Gil? I know you beat me on the air by a few months. But you’re a few months older too, even though we were in the same grade at East Wilkes. "Yeah…I was born in January". And I was born in September. I started in August of ’74. When did you start? "In January. I was still a sophomore. I started part-time, working weekends. My first regular shift was Sunday mornings doing sign-on. I also filled in for Tim Parsons on Saturday nights. Then I got my lucky break. Ralph Shaw was "promoted" from doing nights to the News Director’s job. And Leon (Reece) let me have the position, fulltime. It was more than just full-time. I worked ALL THE TIME, 7 days a week. You remember what that was like Mike. You did it too". Oh yes. In fact I volunteered to work for you rather than going to the prom when I was a Junior, so you and Diane could go. Remember? "We would have rather been on the radio".
"I remember about March or April I had worked 40 straight days without a break. When I finally got a night off, it was to go on my first date with Diane, who was to become my wife. We’ve been married 25 years, and have 3 wonderful children."
These days Gil is Chief Engineer at WXLV, "ABC 45" in
"As much as I enjoyed being on the radio, I knew I wanted to be a television engineer. Dick (Paulsen, WIFM’s longtime Chief Engineer) took me under his wing. I learned solid state in school, but Dick taught me tubes. I have a tube from WIFM’s transmitter mounted in my office, to remind me where I came from".
What’s your funniest WIFM story? "One night
there was a terrible storm. I opened the front door and a black snake
that was trying to escape the rain came between my legs into the building, and
went under a sofa. I finally got up the courage to move the sofa. He wasn’t there! I opened the closet. NO SNAKE! My brother in
law came to the station with a hoe. We couldn’t find
him. So I left
Any closing thoughts, Gil? "I
just want to thank
By Mike Walker
Small market news done BIG!
During his nearly 3 decades in broadcasting, Ralph Shaw has won more than 20 major awards…including "Reporter of the Year" from the North Carolina Radio-Television News Director’s Association, and the first two "Roy Hardy" awards for "Reporter of the Year" from the Associated Press.
"Someone once said to me "Before you started doing news at WIFM, nothing ever happened here". That wasn’t true, of course. But I considered it such a great compliment because people weren’t hearing about all the things that happened before me".
How did you get started, Ralph? "I grew up listening to WLS and
WCFL (two clear channel am top 40 stations in
Ralph got the license, and Leon kept his word. "The first Sunday after I got my license, I ran a race. Alan Combs showed me how. After just a couple of screw-ups, I got it right. Then I was assigned Sundays…working from 7am till 9:30pm. I ran both am and fm…at the same time. You remember that, Mike…throw the switch to the left and it’s fm, to the right and it’s am. I did nights for a while, and then was promoted to News Director."
What are some of the most memorable news stories you covered on WIFM? "In
early Feb of 75, there was the
"The first story I ever cried over was in the late 70s, when 5 kids drowned after falling through a frozen pond on C.C. Camp Road (in Elkin)" "Then there was the visit of President Ford to Wilkes County, which you wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Mike. I had a 500-foot mic cable. Sheriff Bill Anderson took my hand, and pulled me up to the president so I could talk to him."
"I’m very proud of a broadcast you were
involved in, Mike…the presidential election of ’76. I
anchored, you ran the board and tied everything together, we
had reporters in all the counties, plus state reports from
"Probably the thing that hurt me the worst was when Mike Ford (also a former WIFM News Director) died in a car crash. I returned from the scene of the accident about 3 minutes before my newscast, and had to report that he was dead. I had nothing written…it was all ad-libbed, and I nearly lost it."
"One day I had a story I thought Paul Harvey could use. I called, expecting to talk to one of his assistants. I was surprised when Paul answered the phone. He was so nice…and sounded exactly the way he does on the air. We talked for about 15 minutes, and I’ll always cherish that."
Since leaving WIFM, Ralph has worked at radio and TV stations ranging from small markets, to network owned major leaguers. But for many, he will always be the one who put WIFM’s news department on the map. The national map.
By Mike Walker
Where’d he go?
This week’s column was to have been an interview with former WIFM personality, sales person, and AM Station Manager Dusty Ball. But a combination of scheduling conflicts and deadlines prevented it. Hopefully Dusty will appear in next week’s column.
Just hearing Dusty’s name makes me smile. Dusty
and I are longtime friends, and were classmates in the
During the school year of 1976-77, Dusty became a part-time employee at WIFM. I was by this time a "full-timer", doing the night shift. Joey Sprinkle, another member of our class, also started about this time, but soon found a real job (one outside of radio) more to his liking!
In his youth, Dusty lived for mischief. Being around him was never dull! He was certifiably INSANE! Of his many pranks in the 70s, two stand out.
Dusty used to sneak into the building at night when I thought I
was alone, and do some very unusual things. For instance, he used to
perch entirely in the uppermost section of a doorway, with no part of his body touching
the floor, and stay that way until I stumbled upon him…usually
scaring me half out of my wits! And he was capable of doing more EXTREME
physical comedy, with no worries of injury. Once just as the 10pm ABC News came
on, I looked through the window of the main control room into the adjacent
studio. On top of a podium used during live broadcasts, Dusty was standing on
tiptoe, as if preparing to dismount a diving board. Just when he knew he
had my attention, he dove to the floor. I couldn’t
believe it! Naturally he was completely unhurt! Even in his prime
After graduating from the program at WCC, Dusty and I added sales to our
list of responsibilities, hoping to earn enough money to escape our parents’
scorn. Our goal was expansion into Yadkinville, which had it’s own radio station (WYDK, later WDIX, which went
"dark" in the early 90s). Being the new guys in town, we started by
traveling together…introducing ourselves to potential
clients. Each day we made our way to Yadkinville, where we shook hands, had
lunch, and occasionally found an excuse to wander into
By Mike Walker
"One night when Gilvin Couch was on the air, I snuck into the building. When I got back to the control room, he still hadn't seen me. So I quietly took the fire extinguisher from the wall…and BLASTED HIM." The words of Dusty Ball, a WIFM employee for 9 years, who was also manager of the am station, WJOS.
Last week I told you some of the antics of this very silly man. But there were some I wasn't even aware of. Now the truth is revealed, as WIFM's most notorious prankster CONFESSES!
"I used to put fake announcements in the community events folder. I
Didn't you also put fake items in the "Trading Post" folder? "Uh…yeah. I remember once I put an item in there that someone had a brown, short legged pickup for sale."
And then there were the fake commercials…"I once put a cart (tape cartridge)
in the control room with nothing but a chimpanzee sound on it. Not just a
chimpanzee, a very wicked sounding one. I put the name of a fictitious business
on it, and then wrote commercials for this business on the program log to make
sure it got played.
Any more confessions, Dusty? "Hmmm. I used to catch mice, and put them in a toolbox
in the control room. When anybody opened the toolbox, a mouse would come
running out. I don't know how many times I did that. I never told anyone about
that." (Laughing) How on Earth did you catch mice? "Uh…I put bread into a garbage can and caught 'em before they could escape." My suspicion is
"Oh…I also put a rubber snake in a paper bag, and stuck it under the control board where Jimmy Hayes (host of a black-gospel show) would find it. Everyone in town must've heard him scream!"
"Thinking back, I may not have been cut out for an airshift. I used to think "it's a great day, I could be playing basketball".
But he played pranks instead! Dusty and his wife Debbie have two daughters…15 and 17. These days he works at Yadkin Telephone. If you work with him, consider yourself WARNED!
By Mike Walker
Odds 'n ends
In doing these columns celebrating WIFM's history, some things are by necessity left out. I've had to slice conversations that lasted from an hour and a half to two hours down to just a few good stories.
Obviously much hasn't "made the cut". Such as Dusty Ball's memories of HUNDREDS of ball games he covered. And Ralph Shaw's stories of life at other radio and tv stations…including some very large ones.
It's strange for me to realize that as WIFM turns 50, my involvement with the station spans half of its life. I was here as WIFM turned 25 in 1974. There were no big celebrations. I remember a discussion Ralph Shaw and I had in the parking lot one summer afternoon about how we should do something big. We didn't. The event came and went pretty much without notice by anyone who didn't work here.
The same was true of WIFM's 10th
anniversary in '59, it's 15th in '64, and it's 20th in
'69. However the 40th anniversary in '89 was marked by a big on-air
celebration. We even gave away a new car, in cooperation with
Did you miss one?
In case you missed a "Radio Daze" column, I've made them available online at my web site at www.theproductionroom.net. Click on the "Radio Daze" link near the top. Or you can access them directly at www.angelfire.com/nc/theproductionroom/radiodaze.html
What you won't find is columns before they're published. They'll always appear in "What's In It For Me" first. What you will find is ones you may have missed…spanning the past 4-6 weeks. I put them there simply as a convenience in case you've missed an issue, or lost one from weeks past and want to refer back.
Great summer toy/Y2K survival tool
I leave you this week with information about a great summer toy that you can justify to your spouse as a "Y2K survival tool". It's called the "Bay Gen Free Play", and if you've ever been frustrated at the cost of batteries to keep your portable radio going, read on. The "Free Play" doesn't need batteries. Ever! Outdoors in sunlight it plays on a built in solar cell. And when there's no sunlight available, just wind the clockspring generator. Turn the crank for roughly 15 seconds, and the radio will play for about an hour. Cool, huh? I LOVE mine. And not only does it work, it works well…with a surprisingly warm, full bodied "tone". It's not a "boom box" however, and won't play loud enough for parties. But the tuner, particularly the fm section, is very sensitive. And it NEVER needs batteries! Go ahead; tell your spouse "I think we really need this. After all the Y2K thing is coming. And you never know when a storm will knock out our power". Then enjoy it…in good weather and bad. This is a must for any gadget lover!
As I write this, it's the beginning of the July 4th weekend. More interviews will come soon, as we get past the vacation rush.
By Mike Walker
World's Least Radio Station
(and other "Combs Tales")
"My first radio job was at home. I built my own station as a project for the Science Fair. It was WLRS…World's Least Radio Station" remembered Alan Combs, whose broadcast career spans more than 35 years, many of them at WIFM.
Alan was a member of Surry Central's first graduating class, in 1962. As
a teen, local radio stations fascinated him. "I used to hang out with Ed McEntire at WSYD in
"Although I loved radio, I was convinced that I would become a
history teacher. A year at Appalachian
In 1963 Alan joined the Army "sort of to figure out what I wanted to
do. I was at a 50,000 watt station in
His last year in the army Alan was stationed in
"When I told him that I was on leave for a month, and did have my license he said "If you want to, come on over and work."
"About 25 days of my leave were spent at WIFM. Back in
Alan left WIFM a few times through the years. In the early 70s for about 6 months he was Jonesville's Town Manager. In 1976 he became General Manager and part owner of WHIP in Mooresville. From 1980-82 he held those same positions at Dobson's (then) new station, WYZD.
"I found my way back to WIFM in '83, and was with the station until '94."
Got any great WIF-UM stories? "Of course! During a broadcast from a car dealer I once asked a young lady if she'd come to buy a car, and immediately wished I hadn't! Her reply was "I just bought one, and it's a lemon!"
"What I really enjoyed at WIFM was the Trivia program, which I started in 83, and you continued. It was a way to incorporate my love of history with radio."
"I also remember the 40th anniversary in '89, when we
gave away a blue Mustang. The finalists had all been given keys, and the one
whose key started the car won. We gave it away during the July 4th
In 1994 Alan, John Wishon, and Ken Byrd left WIFM to bring a "dark" station (WWWC in Wilkesboro) back to life with a new gospel format. "We're now celebrating our 5th anniversary." Congratulations, guys! And thanks Alan for your kindness and generosity both early in my career, and in granting this interview.
By Mike Walker
Why are we here?
The Kennedy name is in the news again. Not for any legislation introduced to make life better for Americans. Not for any philanthropic acts, nor even for revelations about the personal excesses of family members. How unfortunate that the family name has once again been in the news because of the untimely death of one of it's young men.
I first heard of J.F.K.'s assassination while
riding with my mother, listening to the news on WIFM. Five years later, WIFM
also brought news of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther
King Jr. to my young ears. Although I was only 10 in '68, the sadness of these
events wasn't hard to grasp. Neither was the general feeling that the world was
spinning out of control, and we felt helpless. By this time the Vietnam war seemed unwinnable, and many
prominent Americans had begun to question the wisdom of our being there…including the "most trusted man in
To many it seemed as if God had turned his back on America…as if our "moment in the sun" had ended. Fortunately it hadn't. And neither had 1968. For after the riots, the debacle at the Democratic convention in Chicago, increasingly sad news from Southeast Asia, and the senseless slaughter of such promising young leaders, the best event not only of the year, but one of the greatest achievements ever was yet to take place.
For the first time in history, we left our troubled world behind…a quarter of a million miles behind. On Christmas
Eve 1968, as the crew of Apollo 8 orbited the moon, and read from the book of
Genesis, a world that seemed to be coming apart suddenly pulled together. Again
It doesn't mean that we won't stumble along the way, or suffer heartbreaking losses. But it seems that it does mean that we as a people have a mission…. to leave this world better than we found it. Say what you like about the Kennedy family and their individual weaknesses, for generations they have lived by a creed which seems to apply to our country "To those whom much is given, much is expected."
When the crew of Apollo 8 first emerged from the far side of the moon, they beheld a sight as historic as any ever seen: home from so very far away. Seeing the famous "Earth Rise" photo (immortalized on a stamp) still brings tears to my eyes, because it reminds me that we are capable of such good. If the death of J.F.K. Jr. has taught us anything, it should be that our time here is limited. Our job is to leave this world better than we found it. So little time, and so very much to do. We better get started!
By Mike Walker
Dr. Froglevel will see you now...
If not for radio, what would the Chuck Kenneys of the world do? On the air, Chuck was a natural. His "Hot Line" program in the early 70s generated hundreds of calls per night. "At 9 every night I had an album feature. While the album was on, kids called in for the "Hot Line"...which was tape recorded, and played back after the 10pm news. Although we were only able to put 40 to 60 kids on per night, hundreds tried to get through. And they all wanted to speak to Dr. Froglevel".
The Earth has turned many times since Dr. Froglevel's retirement. Tell our readers about "The Good Doctor".
"Well, I had been experimenting with a character voice, kind of an
old farmer, and one night Dr. Froglevel just sprang
to life. I've always thought the name "Froglevel"
(after the community in
" In those days, if you were on the
local radio station, you were a star. Everyone knew you! That's a feeling
that's tough to get in most jobs. You remember that, Mike. There was no MTV, no
Internet, and no computer games. No FM stations in
A 1966 graduate of
"When I went full-time, I sold (advertising) half the day, and
worked on the air the other half. Then in '68 I was drafted. I wanted to work
in Armed Forces Radio, but was too green. I had only two years' full-time
experience, so Uncle Sam had other plans. I was with the Combat Aviation Battalion,
based north of
"After I got out of the army, I returned to WIFM, and went back to work full-time doing nights. That's whey I really started to hit my stride (early 70s). It was such a family, remember Mike? We all got along; everyone helped each other out. We had limited facilities, but we all tried to make the best of what we had. We all loved going to work!"
How long were you at WIFM before you went back into the army? "I went back in '79. I was in the National Guard from '72 until '79. The army offered good money, and retirement benefits. So I went back to active duty from '79 until I retired in '95."
"I did two tours in
Any final thoughts, Chuck? "WIFM was special to me. Radio was special. I loved it and still miss it sometimes. Who knows? Maybe I'll do it again!"
*Archived Radio Daze columns are available online at <www.TheProductionRoom.net>, or access them directly at <www.TheProductionRoom.net/RadioDaze.htm> E-mail comments and suggestions to Mike@theproductionroom.net ,or RadioGiant@aol.com
By Mike Walker
A New Beginning
In January of 1995 the decades long ownership of
Just a few weeks after the transition, Jeff Smith (Chairman of F.S.A.
Broadcasting), Chris Newman (by then WIFM's new General
Manager) and I (Operations Manager/Program Director) toured a site we believed
would be our new home...an abandoned Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall off Elk
Spur Street. But zoning questions, and concerns by our would-be neighbors made
it prudent to continue the search. And another site was found...on
This building met all the requirements...plenty of space, high
visibility, and it had "line of sight" to both West End Elkin (where
the AM transmitter remained) and the FM transmitter site on
In July WIFM's offices made the move to the new
location, but studios remained on
Mr. Smith was impatient for every department to be in place
a.s.a.p. (Understandably...it was his money on the line), so studios
were moved in early August...weeks ahead of schedule. On Monday August
7th 1995, I sat behind the audio console, ready to broadcast from our new home
for the first time. As I opened the microphone and said "Good Morning
from our new state of the art studios on
*If you've missed an installment of Radio Daze, archived columns are available online at <www.TheProductionRoom.net> or you can access them directly at <www.TheProductionRoom.net/radiodaze.htm> Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. My e-mail addresses are Mike@theproductionroom.net , and RadioGiant@aol.com
By Mike Walker
World's Youngest Radio Personality?
In 1975 young Darrin Reece became perhaps the world's youngest radio personality. At age 5 "B.D." (Which stands for "Baby Darrin") and his brother Derek began hosting "The D.C. and B.D. Show", which aired each Saturday morning until the early 80s.
"We came to the station with Dad (Leon Reece, longtime General Manager and part owner) on Friday nights, and recorded the show. It was FUN. We played our favorite songs, and talked about community events, with LOTS of help from Dad. He ran all the equipment. Derek and I just talked."
Both Reece boys worked at WIFM through their teens. But as B.D. puts it "I think the radio bug bit me harder than Derek." Throughout high school B.D. did two weekend shifts. "I did a marathon on Saturdays...from noon till midnight. Then on Sundays I worked from 6pm till 11pm. It was tough. But it was fun!"
When did you graduate from the Radio-Television program at
By that time, I had been doing mornings from 8-12 for a while. Once you graduated, you went on the afternoon shift, didn't you? "Yes, I believe that's right. But as you recall, Dad switched us for a short time." I remember. I did noon-5pm. That didn't last long. "You're right. I spent most of the next few years doing afternoons."
But you did lots of other things behind the scenes, right? "Sure. I
did logs for both (fm and am) stations, did payroll, paid bills sometimes, did
some selling...especially servicing Dad's accounts when he was away. You may
not know this Mike, but for a long time I even cleaned the station." Oh
yes, I did know that. One of the perks of being the boss's
kid, huh? "Oh yeah...only the boss's kid gets to scrub toilets! But
it was another way to make money. I just did what needed doing. I remember one
night there was a bad storm, and power was off in
Got any great stories or confessions? "One Saturday night I went to work sick. We had a network oldies show on, and the segments were long, so I lay down on the sofa in the lobby to rest. The next thing I knew it was an hour and a half later, and Mom and Dad were banging on the front door. They weren't mad, just concerned. But the station had been dead for a LONG time!"
That's typical of B.D. Even his worst on-air blunder was a result of service above and beyond the call of duty. Rain or shine, weekends, holidays, it didn't matter. B.D. always did more than his share...cheerfully, and without complaint. Working with him was a great pleasure. Now B.D. is employed by Industrial Office Supply (Elkin), and the Elkin City Schools. He and his wife Tiffany have a son, Andrew, and are expecting another child in October. Many thanks to B.D. for his kindness and professionalism through the years, and his time in granting this interview.
^Archived Radio Daze columns are available online at <www.TheProductionRoom.net>, or can be accessed directly at <www.TheProductionRoom.net/radiodaze.htm> Comments and suggestions are welcome. Write to me at Mike@TheProductionRoom.net or RadioGiant@aol.com And if you have a WIFM story you'd like to share, I'd LOVE to hear from you!
By Mike Walker
Pigs 'n Cows 'n News Directors
"Mmmmmmmm". The standard response of Ray McCrary to my corny jokes, when he and I did the morning show at WIFM. "Mmmmmmmm". Geez, it sometimes sounded like we had a cow in the studio! But that sound became so much a part of the show that Ray recorded it for me to use after he left!
WIFM wasn't Ray's only broadcast experience...merely the most recent
chapter in a lifelong love affair with radio. "When I was 14 or 15 I
became a constant pest at WBUY in
When were you first on the air? "When I was a student at NC State I became a staff member at WKNC, the student operated radio station. It was a little carrier current AM that could just be heard within 150 feet of the dorms."
You also worked at some REAL radio stations in the
You were WIFM's News Director, co-host of the
morning show, but you also did more than that, huh? "You and I re-wired
things that didn't work at the new studios on
"I also enjoyed being the only person at the station during an ice storm...periodically sweeping ice from the satellite dishes. It was satisfying to know that I kept the station going."
How long were you News Director? "Until April of '96. Then IBM made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I returned when offered the position of AM Station Manager in January of 1997. However, by my first day the decision had been made to let the AM "go dark". I was told that my job would be as a salesperson. And I'm not aggressive enough for that. So in May of '97 I accepted ANOTHER offer from IBM, where I've worked ever since."
What's your favorite WIFM story? "It was right after I started. You were on the air, and I brought you an announcement that Tom Rumple had lost his potbellied pig. At first you didn't believe me, but I swore it was true. So you put it on the air. A couple of hours later we had FOUND THE PIG! That shows the immediacy of radio. It happens in real time, so people can help their neighbors! If it were a dog I would have forgotten it by now. But that was my first, and only pig reunion."
*Now the entire series of Radio Daze columns (including the original series from 1997-98) is available online at <www.theproductionroom.net> Your comments are welcome at Mike@TheProductionRoom.net, or RadioGiant@aol.com Radio Daze
By Mike Walker
"Southern Gospel's Best"
The title of this week's column was the slogan of our AM station, WJOS, which ran a Southern Gospel format from the late 80s until 1995. During much of that period, John Wishon was the Station Manger, and Morning Host.
"I got into radio in large part because of my love for Southern Gospel music. I believed that a Southern Gospel station could make it on advertising revenue alone...on the strength of the music and other programming, without the interruption of preaching and other spoken word programs. There are many stations that do that now, but at the time it was kind of a radical idea...one we've continued here at 3WC (John is now part owner, Program Director, and Morning Personality at WWWC in Wilkesboro.)
Weren't you involved in gospel music long before radio? "Oh yes! I've been singing with 'The Wishons' (a popular gospel group featuring John, his wife Jackie and his mother and father) for 15 years. And I just turned 30!"
How did you get started in radio? "About 1988 I ran into Chris
Newman at a gospel concert in
How long were you News Director? "Too long" (laughs). "I
left to go to WABZ in
What's your favorite WIFM/WJOS story, John? "Once when I was News Director, they came to me too early. I barely had enough material prepared for 5 minutes, and had no idea how to fill the extra time. I had played both of the sponsor's commercials, done a station id, and still had 15 seconds. So my brain went on autopilot, and I said something I couldn't believe: "Have you heard that Clemson will only be dressing 10 players at the game tomorrow? The rest will dress themselves." The station erupted in laughter, but Leon (Reece) was not amused! It was my last broadcast before going to WABZ. And it's probably a good thing. I think it would have been my last even if I hadn't found a new job!"
Still staying busy with the music? "I sure am. And I'm preaching now too...about 100 times a year. So I'm not home much!" Thanks, John. And best wishes in all your endeavors!
*Archived columns are available online at <www.theproductionroom.net>
By Mike Walker
Have our cake (and eat it, too!)
Happy Birthday to us! For months now in Radio Daze I've written about WIFM's history, to help commemorate our 50th anniversary. Now we're doing more. We're having a party! And you're invited!
We've had several "Open House" events since moving to our new location on North Bridge Street in Elkin in 1995...beginning with a Christmas party that year. Perhaps you've attended one or more of them. But WIFM has continued to grow. There are several new faces since our last Open House/Party. And this is our first party since the ownership and management change earlier this year. So regardless of whether you've been to one of our previous events, you'll want to attend this one...and help us celebrate a half-century of service!
We have many special events scheduled, leading up to our party. We'll fill the airwaves, and your speakers with memories! On Monday September 27th we'll feature music we played in the fifties and sixties. On Tuesday the 28th it's music from my mis-spent youth, as we feature songs from the seventies. On Wednesday it's back to the days of supply side economics, and groups with big hair as we bring you the music of the 80s. Thursday we spotlight the last decade of the millennium by bringing you 90s music. And Friday October 1st it's the big event...our 50th anniversary party! Consider this your personal invitation!
The party runs all day during business hours...9am-5pm. There will be free cake and punch! While you're at the party, put your name in the party hat. You could win a beautiful classic style radio (it looks like an heirloom, but plays like it's brand new..., which it is, of course) from "Classic Hits/Today's Hits...100.9, WIFM."
When you stop by, be sure to take some time and meet the people behind the scenes at WIFM, and "What's In It For Me". Once you see the faces, you'll know why we're NOT on TV! (KIDDING!)
Plus during the morning show on Friday October 1st Dustin will be interviewing some of the people from WIFM's past, the voices you've heard through the years...many of which you've read about here in Radio Daze!
So remember...the week of September 27 through October 1st is an exciting time, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary on and off the air. Elkin Mayor Tom Gwyn has even proclaimed October 1st at "WIFM Day"! Make a note on your calendar, and be sure that you listen for the special programming each day. Then listen for the interviews on Friday October 1st, and come to our party from 9am till 5pm. Enjoy some cake and punch, and meet everyone. Here's a hint, though...come as early as possible, because Dustin Atkinson is not to be trusted with cake!
*If you've missed any of our Radio Daze columns, the entire series is now available online at <www.theproductionroom.net> Or you can access them directly at <www.theproductionroom.net/radiodaze.htm> Your comments and suggestions for this column are always welcome. My e-mail addresses are <Mike@theproductionroom.net> and <RadioGiant@aol.com> I'd especially enjoy hearing from you if you have a favorite WIFM story or memory to share!
By Mike Walker
Cutting edge, 40s style!
When WIFM was born in 1949, broadcasting was in a period of transition. So was the country! World War II had ended, the Baby Boom had begun, and prosperity was at hand. But on a more somber note, the Cold War had begun, and the Russians had "The Bomb".
In 1949 Gunsmoke and Dragnet were among the nation's most popular RADIO programs. But the end of "Big Time Network Radio" was in sight. "Uncle Miltie" was already wearing dresses, and millions of American children knew it was "Howdy Doody Time".
My grandfather, Ralph E. Martin (longtime postmaster of Ronda) had purchased one of Ronda's first TVs. He bought it to watch the election returns in November of '48. Contrary to what you may have read, Dewey DID NOT beat Truman!
But in '49 the vast majority of American homes had no television. And families still gathered around the radio to hear Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and Amos 'n Andy.
Into this atmosphere WIFM was born. And it was a new kind of radio station.... FM ONLY (at least at first), and with a new kind of programming...mostly pre-recorded MUSIC. Quite a radical concept in '49, but one which would sweep nearly the entire industry by the late 50s, and remain the dominant form of radio programming to this day.
The WIFM of the late 40s/early 50s would have been immediately
recognizable to anyone who had visited before our move to
In the control room (in '49) were two 16-inch "transcription" turntables, designed for playing long form programs recorded at 78 rpm (or revolutions per minute). However, two new competing formats released in '48 (the 7 inch 45 rpm "single" from RCA, and the 12 inch 33 1/3 rpm long playing album, or "LP" from Columbia) would soon spell the end for the big 16 inchers! Although intended to be competitors, turntable manufacturers and the public soon adopted BOTH new formats. As for the larger hole RCA had made a part of the 45 rpm standard to force consumers to buy special turntables, a variety of adapters (from yellow plastic snap-ins that were placed inside the hole of each 45, to long cylinders that slid over the center spindle on record changers) were introduced, and used until the CD took over in the 80s. Since these things were so easily lost, broadcast equipment manufacturers began building non-removable 45 rpm adapters into turntables for radio. Knowing that an entire generation of young adults now among us has never played a phonograph record makes me feel old!
We are proud to have been one of the earliest stations to offer primarily music, rather than drama and comedy. Although in fairness the lack of a network affiliation had something to do with that!
*The entire series of Radio Daze columns is now available online at <www.theproductionroom.net> Your comments are always welcome at Mike@theproductionroom.net, or RadioGiant@aol.com
By Mike Walker
Radio's Digital Future
For the past several months in these Radio Daze columns, I've spoken of WIFM's first 50 years. And I'll continue to do so in the weeks to come. We've SO proud of our past. But as excited as I am by our half-century of service, I'm certain that the NEXT 50 years will be even better. New technology will TRANSFORM radio, and bring AMAZING new capabilities to our fingertips (and desktops)...as well as NOISE FREE, CD QUALITY SOUND for both FM and AM stations!
There are many names for it.... DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), DAR
(Digital Audio Radio), DARS (Digital Audio Radio Service), and several others.
Just as with computers, the names used to describe the new technology are a
veritable "alphabet soup". To the radio listener, what it all means
is that VASTLY enhanced service from
Imagine listening to radio in your car without hearing ANY interference...ever! Imagine sound from your local radio station that's INDISTINGUISHABLE from a CD...under ANY conditions! Imagine listening to an interview on the radio, and being able to read contact information for the person being interviewed on your radio's display panel! Imagine listening to the radio on a tuner card in your computer, and having hyperlinks to advertiser's web pages appear on-screen as their commercials play! Imagine NEVER wondering what song you're hearing, because the artist, title, and album info is on your radio's display panel, updated while each song is playing! (No longer will the announcer HAVE to talk in order to convey this information!) Imagine hearing traffic bulletins, which interrupt regular programming WHILE IN YOUR CAR, even though they won't bother people listening at home, or in the office! Imagine being able to hear a local newscast that has been downloaded to a memory chip in your radio ANY TIME YOU LIKE, even if the station which originated the newscast is broadcasting music, or a ballgame! Speaking of ballgames, imagine that on a particular Friday night TWO football teams in your community are involved in championship games, but there's only one station in town. No problem. The station will be able to broadcast BOTH games, SIMULTANEOUSLY (with perhaps even a third program for listeners not interested in sports!) Imagine reading personal observations from the morning host of your favorite station while a song, interview, or comedy piece is airing. Imagine NEVER having to wait for a talk show host to give a phone number, because it's INSTANTLY available from your radio's display! Imagine a radio that will automatically turn itself on and wake the family should a weather emergency occur overnight!
If you have pictured any of these things, then you've glimpsed into
radio's future. No, it isn't science fiction. All of these capabilities are on
the horizon...perhaps as soon as the summer of 2001, when
*The entire series of Radio Daze columns is archived on the web at <www.theproductionroom.net> Comments and suggestions are always welcome. My e-mail addresses are Mike@TheProductionRoom.net and RadioGiant@aol.com
By Mike Walker
Who says nice guys finish last?
"I never set out to have a radio career. It just sort of happened by accident" explains Chris Newman, former employee, and General Manager of WIFM. "After high school I went to ASU, and was planning on majoring in music."
How long were you at ASU Chris? "Two Years. But my part-time job at Belk turned to full-time when they offered me a chance to enter their management program. At Belk in Elkin Leon and I became friends, during his many remote broadcasts. When a sales position became open in 1986, he offered it to me."
What else did you do? "I started doing ballgames on Friday nights, then later became Sports Director. When Ralph Shaw left, I was offered the job of Station Manager of the AM station" (Then WJOS)
With your background, and WJOS' gospel format, wasn't it a natural fit?
"Yes. I was Minister of Music at
"In the summer of 1994 John, Alan (Combs), and Ken (Byrd) left to purchase WWWC in Wilkesboro. Alan had been in charge of sales, so Leon gave me the title of Sales Manager for the FM station. I held this title until the station changed hands in January of '95."
Chris, you and I both had meetings with Jeff Smith, who was to be the new
owner. When did he offer you the job of General
Manager? "On the first day after the transition.
He took me to lunch at John Boys, and offered it to me." That was an
exciting time, wasn't it? "Yes it was Mike. We all were thrilled. New
resources were available to us, which allowed the move to
When did you leave to go to the Red Cross? "In
Any favorite WIFM stories? "I was in my car listening to Paul Harvey. He was telling about a beautiful, well-endowed young bride in a low cut dress. At her ceremony, someone stepped on her train, and the...er...contents of her dress landed in the minister's Bible. The announcer on duty didn't realize his microphone was on. He was saying "Oh really? YEAH, YEAH...Oh, you KILL me Paul!" I was racing to get to the station to tell him that his microphone was on. When I got to the parking lot, I was laughing so hard I fell out of the car, and ripped the knee out of my pants."
Ah...the Good Ole' Days! Thanks Chris. We all miss you!
*If you've missed an installment, the entire series of Radio Daze columns from 1997 to the present is now available online at <www.TheProductionRoom.net> Your comments and suggestions are always welcome! My e-mail addresses are Mike@TheProductionRoom.net and RadioGiant@aol.com
By Mike Walker
Treasure or trash?
I've always been a "pack-rat". It's one of my many faults. I romanticize things, and have real trouble parting with them...even when they're obviously no longer needed. Usually it isn't the item itself that I value, but the memories that I associate with it.
I'm sure that my knack for associating memories with seemingly useless
things partially explains why I felt so comfortable in our old building on
The storage closet at the front of the old building contained program logs, with signatures of former WIFM personnel dating back to the 60s. On these logs were hand-written notes, scribbled in the margins by many names you're familiar with. Not long after I began my "second tour of duty" at "WIF-UM" in 1990, I rummaged through the old logs in search of my own history. And soon I found it! A log with my signature from August of 1974, the month my broadcast career began. Here the teenage boy that I once was had made note of the fact that a commercial for a car dealer had been misplaced. I wonder if it was ever found?
Sadly, when turning the pages of those old documents, I found the signatures of friends who have passed away. Dick Paulsen, Mike Ford, Russ Pomeroy, Danny Spencer...their names were all there. And now they're gone...taken to the landfill, and long since destroyed. But I can still see the faces and the signatures when I close my eyes.
Not everything was discarded, of course. Just as we all do when cleaning our closets at home, selected pieces of history were saved. Including an aging file folder with "dx letters" ("DX" simply stands for "distance". Listeners write from hundreds, or even thousands of miles away with information about broadcasts they have heard, seeking confirmation that they actually heard them) dating back to the 1950s. Many of these describe in great detail programs which were received. These descriptions are perhaps the only remaining documentation that these programs ever existed. During the pre-move cleanup in '95 Jeff Smith (then the new owner) handed the folder to me and said, "this probably shouldn't be thrown away. Keep it if you want to." I did!
Another treasure which was saved is an old red reel of tape, with perhaps WIFM's earliest jingle package. You heard many of the jingles from the "red reel" during our 50th anniversary celebration. One of the last things I did before leaving WIFM in February of 1998 was digitally restore the audio from the "red reel", lovingly tweaking it until it sounded brand new. At that time the original tape was extremely brittle from age. Today it may not be playable at all. Soon my re-mastered copy may be the only one. And should it be lost or damaged, another piece of WIFM's history will be gone.
In life it's important to remember that it's people, not things which truly matter. But the older I get, the greater my appreciations for the things that are our only remaining link to the past!
*Access to Radio Daze columns you may have missed is available online at <www.TheProductionRoom.net> Comments and suggestions are welcome at Mike@TheProductionRoom.net and RadioGiant@aol.com
By Mike Walker
"Good morning, you're on Open Mike"
In the title above are the first words Leon Reece said when Dustin Atkinson interviewed him during WIFM's 50th anniversary celebration in early October, and the first words thousands of people from this area heard each morning for many years.
Of "Open Mike",
"A lot of people in radio told me that 'you can't do talk on FM.' I really don't know what makes FM not talkable, but that's what they said." I've never thought that listeners made the distinction between FM and AM that we broadcasters do. It's the programs that they're after. "That's right, Mike. Of course we have to acknowledge that still talk radio is primarily AM." But even that is beginning to change. There are quite a few large FM talkers now. "True. (When I did "Open Mike") I was constantly keeping my eyes and ears open looking for material. Sometimes still when a provocative topic comes to my attention, I think that it would be a good "Open Mike" topic."
What are some of your most memorable moments on "Open Mike"?
"As you know, I'm a pilot. I did some flying for Joe Harris, who was the
head of Mutual Federal, Later BB&T. Joe owned an airplane, and I flew that
plane quite a bit for him. One of my assignments was to fly to
"I want to say one thing, Mike, and please make sure that it gets into print. I want to thank the many fine local merchants, who by their faithful support through the years, made it possible for me to practice a vocation I thoroughly enjoyed for over 40 years. I am more grateful than they will ever know, as I express my THANKS!"
By Mike Walker
More with Leon Reece
This week we continue our discussion with Leon Reece, WIFM's
longtime General Manager, Part-Owner, and Morning Host.
You started working at WIFM in high school didn't you
"A man who was instrumental in me being hired was Tom Caviness, who went by the name Tom Wilson. Tom played gospel piano. And he, my brother James who's no longer with us, Cecil Ireson, his brother J.B. whom we called "Fuzz", and I sang in a gospel quartet. We also did things like 'Cool Water' by Sons of the Pioneers. Tom was instrumental in getting me started. At the time I was recovering from a bus crash that rather severely injured me, and I was only able to use one hand."
The injury dashed your hopes of being a fighter pilot, didn't it? "That was my first love...flying. I had always been crazy about airplanes, and still am. (After the crash) I would not have been able to pass the physical. But I was able to get my pilot's license, and fly commercially some, which is very satisfying."
Did you go full-time at WIFM right out of high school? "No. I went
to school at
"After my second year at Emanuel I had decided that I would continue
in radio. So I came straight to a position at WHPE in
By Mike Walker
Leon Reece interview Part 3
"I have always been interested in airplanes, and still am. It was my first love", said Leon Reece when I interviewed him for this series of columns.
How old were you when you got your pilot's license? "I was 19. That
would have been about 1958 or '59". That was a pretty expensive
undertaking, wasn't it? "Not at that time. Barney Hall (an announcer at
WIFM in the 50s and 60s, now a longtime voice of NASCAR racing on MRN Radio)
and I had talked about buying an airplane. So we went 'halvers'
on one. We brought it out to the Swan Creek airport and housed it there. It was
quite a nice little machine. At that time I didn't know how to fly, although in
my young years I hung around airports, and flew any time I got an opportunity.
So I got instruction in that plane. In those days it wasn't nearly as expensive
as it is now. But when I got my further training, I had to do it at Smith-Reynolds
"I've enjoyed flying through the years, although I don't fly that
much any more because I have free flight privileges with Continental Airlines."
Really? "Yes...I went to work for them after I
left WIFM, and worked for them for a year. I would have most likely stayed with
them. But they decided to close their hub in
According to Jim Childress, there were some rocky financial times in the 50s when he owned WIFM. Was that period over when you took charge? "Well yes. That's why Jimmy sold it. But (when I managed it) the station was on a sound financial footing all the way through."
Leon spoke also of the challenges of remote broadcasts in the
pre-satellite, pre-digital era. "As you know, in the pre-digital days we
aired network programs by re-broadcasting the audio from other
stations...including the SCA (a secondary signal which an fm station can
transmit, with different audio from the main channel. SCA audio can't be heard
on consumer radios, only on special receivers). We had difficulty receiving
another stations signal inside the walls of WIFM. But in those days WIFM
broadcast the services from
Next week final thoughts from Leon Reece.
You may listen to my entire interview with
*The entire series of Radio Daze columns is archived online at <www.TheProductionRoom.net>
By Mike Walker
Concluding the Leon Reece interview
You've interviewed most candidates, and office holders from around here, haven't you? "Yes. I've always had an interest in government, and what makes it go."
Wasn't it 1974 when you ran for
What are some of WIFM's accomplishments, which you're most proud of? "It was a personal satisfaction to me when I split the stations (AM and FM). I'm sure that if I had handled that a little differently, and done an extreme amount of promotion for the AM it may have made a difference. But hindsight is always 20/20. At one time we moved the station to Jonesville..." That'w ehre the WJOS call letters came from "Exactly. And if I had had more time...I don't want to put it that way, but that's what it amounted to."
"I remember how excited we were when we went stereo. I couldn't wait
to get home and hear us in stereo. And then there was the move to the
mountain" (where WIFM's tower is now, which
tremendously increased coverage area). "I'm also proud of our July 4th
celebration, in conjunction with McDonalds and the
Both of your sons worked at WIFM at various times. Tell us about their involvement. "They started at about age 5 doing the DC and BD show" (which BD Reece talked about in my interview with him). "It's something I wanted to do for them, for their own personal development. I ran the equipment, and my sons did the show...which aired on Saturday mornings>"
"As it turned out Derek didn't have a real strong interest in radio and went on to other pursuits. He's now the Greens' Superintendent at High Meadows Country Club. Of course BD did like it, and he stayed with me until Jeff Smith bought the station."
BD and his wife Tiffany just had their second child "That's right...Rebecca Katherine. She's sweet. That's number five for us...five grandchildren, and I do enjoy them."
She is beautiful, too! Congratulations to the Reece family. And thanks so
The entire series of 'Radio Daze' columns, and audio of the Leon Reece interview are archeved at <www.TheProductionRoom.net> Access the columns directly at <www.TheProductionRoom.net/radiodaze.htm>, and the audio of the interview at <www.TheProductionRoom.net/leon.html>
*Archived Radio Daze columns are available online at <www.theproductionroom.net>
By Mike Walker
My Story (Part 1)
As several e-mail letters have pointed out, I haven't told my own story in these 50th anniversary columns. This week I'll begin.
Born at the tail end of the baby boom (in September of 1958), I've never known a time when there wasn't a television in my home. And yet it's always been radio which captured my imagination.
I grew up listening to WIFM personalities such as Leon Reece, Barney
Hall, Gary Dorenburg, Alan Combs, and later Chuck
Kenney. Plus during my youth the "golden age" of AM top 40 was in
full swing. So I also spent many evenings listening to John "Records"
Landecker on WLS in
When my friend Gil Couch began working at WIFM while we were both in high
school, I knew I'd waited long enough. So I asked Leon Reece for a job. It was
the spring of 1974, and I was all of 15.
After a few weeks I began filling in for full-time staff members who were
sick or on vacation...and was paid for these shifts. In spite of our agreement,
After graduation from East Wilkes in 1976, I entered the Radio/Television
Broadcasting program at
Upon graduation from WCC in 1977,
By Mike Walker
My story Part 2
In last week's column I talked about my first "tour of duty" at
WIFM. In December of '77 I began my second radio job, at WKBC AM/FM
In July of 1980 my wife Robin and I asked for a tour of WNNC in
Although I loved my time at WNNC, I had a burning desire to do a morning show. And in November of 1984 one was offered to me by Carmen James, a former classmate of mine in the Radio/Television Broadcasting program at WCC, who was then the Program Director at WWWC in Wilkesboro, NC Interestingly the Vice President and General Manager of the station was WIFM's current General Manager Omer Tomlinson.
I did the morning show at "3WC" until offered the same position
at WFMX in
At home I applied to every station close enough that my wife could take me to work. One of them was WIFM. In March Leon Reece called, offering me a job. Although there was really no opening, he created a position for me. Next time my memories of eight more years spent at WIFM.
By Mike Walker
My Story Pt 3
Upon my return to WIFM in March of 1990, I was assigned the afternoon shift, but was soon switched to mornings after "Open Mike".
Before long I was asked to do "Open Mike" while
In early 1991 I was promoted to the position of "Program
Director" for WIFM FM. I programmed the station until my departure in
1998, and was very pleased at the positive comments from listeners about the
station's sound...as I slowly moved it to a more mainstream adult-contemporary
format. The final switch in format (from all oldies) took place just before the
I began doing the entire morning shift (not just 8-12) before
Under the new regime I was again promoted...to Operations Manager for
both AM and FM stations. I'm proud of the technical accomplishments of moving
all facilities to
I'm also proud of the people I hired, or had a hand in hiring...including
Dustin Atkinson and Paula Rice. One of
In 1997 I began writing these columns, and have enjoyed the privilege.
The last "Mike Walker Morning Show" was Monday February 16th, 1998. I miss WIFM tremendously. But I left to pursue my radio/audio production and voice-over business (which I previously operated on the side) full-time. Work from "The Production Room" is now heard on numerous stations, including WXRC and WCCJ in Charlotte, WKSK in West Jefferson, WGDN AM/FM in Gladwin Michigan, WIRC in Hickory, WNNC in Newton, and of course WIFM. I am on "95-7, 'XRC-Charlotte's Best Rock" Sunday nights from 6-12...a show which I do from my studio. I also have produced audio for numerous web sites, including my own. At <www.TheProductionRoom.net> I operate an "Internet Radio Station", streaming programs to a worldwide audience in stereo in Real Audio G2 format, and in mono using a format which requires no special software.
Thanks for reading my columns; especially the ones this year chronicling WIFM's 50th anniversary. I will continue to write new columns for my web site, which will deal with a variety of media related topics, no doubt including more recollections of WIFM. And thanks so much to WIFM's listeners who invited me into their radios every morning through the years. If you're one of them, I am more grateful than words can express...for you allowed me to earn a living doing the work that I love. I sincerely believe that WIFM's best days are in the future, not the past!
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