A Tribute To A Midwest Broadcast Legend


IN THE BEGINNING... Nearly 80 years ago, when radio was new, Woodmen of the World Sovereign Commander W.A. Fraser sensed the potential of the fledgling industry and how it could benefit businesses in the form of advertising and ultimately, the Woodmen of the World Society. While the officers and directors of the Society approved a national advertising campaign directed at print and were fielding proposals from a national weekly publication, they stopped to investigate this suspected "passing fancy" called radio. It was their opinion this was no fad and a full investigation was called for.

At the time, there were only a few stations in the country actually on the air. Orson Stiles, head of the organization department of the Society and Colonel T.E. Patterson held lengthy discussions and finally called in the "experts".

The "experts" advised them that it would be difficult to control any power beyond ten watts. Further investigation revealed Western Electric was capable of building the Society a 500 watt transmitter. Unaccustomed to doing anything halfway, the society decided to sponsor a BIG station. The transmitter was purchased at a considerable cost and the legacy began.

In this period there were no radio laws, regulations or programming formulas. "One just turned on the juice and started talking into the microphone" said Mr. Stiles.

A license for radio station WOW was applied for with the US Department of commerce and ultimately issued on November 27, 1922 to the Society for station WOAW, as the WOW letters were already in use by the steamship Henry J. Bibble.

Broadcasting equipment and a studio were installed in the Woodmen of the World Building, located at 14th & Farnum. The total cost of the equipment and studio was approximately $18,000.

During testing periods, WOAW was one of four stations used by Explorer Donald McMillian during his expedition to the North Pole. Letters came in that voices on WOAW were heard on ships in both mid-Pacific and mid-Atlantic waters.

On April 2, 1923, WOAW’s first broadcast took place. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the first sound broadcast from the 19th floor studio, followed appropriate words from Sovereign Commander Fraser and speeches by Nebraska state and Omaha local officials and prominent Omahans. Also featured were an orchestra and a 75-member chorus.

In these early days, Fraser himself was the station announcer and active manager. Stiles, Col. T.E. Patterson and General Attorney De E. Bradshaw were his willing and enthusiastic assistants. The rest of the staff included one day and one night hostess, both of whom doubled as pianists and singers, as well as one night announcer, plus two engineers.

Earl May, a seed and nursery man from Shenandoah, Iowa, was able to foresee the great opportunity of talking to thousands of people by this new means of communication called radio. He traveled to Omaha to broadcast his program on WOAW. After two years, he built his own station in Shenandoah, the historic KMA.

The original operating power was a maximum of 500 watts, with an increase to 1,000 watts in 1927. Later, on October 1st, WOW became affiliated with the Red network of the National Broadcasting Company. In 1926, with the retirement from service by the SS Bibble, the letters WOW were awareded to the Society.

In 1928, WOW was forced to share the 590 frequency with Nebraska Weslayan College station WCAJ. WOW was permitted to use the frequency six-sevenths of the time, with the college using the remaining seventh. In 1930, WOW applied for full time use of the frequency, finally winning its battle in 1933.

On December 8, 1935, the Society moved into the Insurance Building at 17th & Farnum, and opened a new studio. After the move, the radio station was permitted to operate at 5,000 watts of power, making it, at the time, one of the most powerful broadcasting facilities in the Midwest.

Lyle DeMoss with Father Flanagan at Boys Town, late 30's.

WOW's physical property included a modern transmitter facility located at 56th Street and Kansas Avenue, then on the outskirts of Omaha, in a 16 acre tract, referred to as "The WOW Farm". The transmitter was housed in a brick building, which included living quarters for it's staff of engineers. The single transmitting antenna stood 454 feet, weighed 29 tons and reputedly could be seen for 50 miles.

WOW could boast of a nine-man news department at the time. In 1937, the station received the coveted Variety Showmanship Award, as the outstanding showmanship radio station in the U.S.

November 1939 saw the Federal Radio Commission grant WOW a full 5,000 watts operating power during the night time hours, giving the station a solid 300 mile radius coverage area.

In 1940, the staff increased to 65, plus a host of others who did specialized programs.

The Sophisticated Rangers - 1939

The WOW Orchestra, circa 1941

Perpetual showman, GM Johnnie Gillin with his "Prestige Plate".

The summer of 1945 marked the end of a legal battle over the sale of the radio station. After 20 years of success, the station was offered for sale because it was feared the Society's tax-exempt status may be threatened. When a purchaser could not be found, the station was leased in 1943 to Radio Station WOW, Inc., for 15 years and the broadcasting license was transferred to the new operators. However, the lease was challenged in court when the amount of the lease did not compensate the Society for the value of the facility. After months of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the lease void and returned the property to the Society, but left the license to operate the station in the hands of the lessee.

The Society soon negotiated a 25-year lease with the same company - Radio Station WOW, Inc.--and the deal was closed.

In October 1958, the stock of Radio Station WOW, Inc., was purchased by the Meredith Corporation, which subsequently purchased the property for $1.2 million. Meredith paid a rental fee of $140,000 per year until 1976 as deferred payment of the purchase price.

During the Meredith years, WOW changed with the times, adopting a Top 40 format about 1970. WOW attracted popular Disc Jockeys well known in the Omaha area and offered the areas youthful listeners a new alternative. Competing head to head with the Top 40 giant KOIL, WOW proved a worthy challenger, but after only a few years chose to rather "switch than fight". Country and Western music, along with farm news, became the niche WOW targeted and succeeded at for the next quarter century.

In 1983, Mike Lynch and Mike Oatman, as "Great Empire" acquired WOW-AM and KYNN-FM. The FM call letters were changed to create the WOW- AM/FM combination. Ken Fearnow was named vice president and general manager of the two stations.

WOW, along with 12 other Great Empire stations, was sold to Milwaukee-based Journal Broadcast Group on June 14, 1999.

In a surprise move, the historic call letters of WOW-AM were then surrendered and the station became KOMJ "Magic 590" on November 22, 1999, with the format switching from Country to Adult Standards. WOW-FM became KYSS-FM. KOMJ has since moved to 1490 and has been replaced with KXSP, all sports.

If you have stories, photographs, tapes or memories of WOW Radio, please consider sharing them with us.

This WOW Radio Tribute is not affiliated with Journal Broadcasting, KOMJ "Magic 1490" Radio or any WOW past employees.
E-Mail our tribute site at:nebradio1@yahoo.com

WOW Jingles & Promos from 1975-80!
WOW Composite, February 1979 featuring Dave Wingert, Steve Lundy, Roger Davis, Rod Meyer, Jeff Spencer and David H. Morgan!

Here are but a few of the Professional Broadcasters who have worked at WOW:

Jim Abens Duane Allen '79-82 Ed Anderson 30's-40's Gaylord Avery 30's-40's Russ Baker 30's-40's Russ Baldwin '57-77 Tom Barsanti mid 70's Brook Benschoter '76 Terry Benton Marth Bohlsen 30's-40's Ed Brady 92-96 Mike Bradley Jay Breen 30's-40's DeAnn Bright 91-98 Ken Brooks '90-98 Mark Brown '84 Rev R. R. Brown 30's-40's Harry Burke 30's-40's Denny Burnside Eddie Butler 30's - 40's Mike Byrne late 60's Johnny Carson Greg Cergol early 80's John K. Chapel 30's-40's Barry Chase 77-80 (Terry Dean Todd) Thomas Barnum Chase 30's-40's Ray Clark 30's-40's Rusty Clark 30's-40's Coffman '82-84 Billy Cole early 80's Rod Colvin 79-89 Doug Cooper JC Corcoran Skip Coy Kamilah Cunningham John P. Dahl 30's-40's Tom Dailey 30's-40's Joe Dawson 78-79 Roger Davis 77-79 Scott Daze Aunt" Sally Dee 30's-40's Lyle DeMoss 30's-50's John David Dixon (Forrest Rindels) '84~88 Shari Dreessen Kevin Dugan '87-89 Uncle" Billy Dunbar '83-90 Larry Dunbar late 60's John Edwards *Ken Fearnow 80's Cathy Fife 80's Howard Fisher 30's-40's Glenn Flynn 30's-40's *Frank Fogarty 60's Harvey Foster 30's-40's Carol Fowler 70's Erik Foxx mid 70's Shel Fredericks 80's Joe Gangwish mid 90's Russ Gast late 60's *John Gillin, Jr 30's-50's Roy Glanton 30's-40's Don Glaze 90-94 Bob Grayson '83 Harold Griffin 30's-40's Dutch Haling '85 Horace Hamacher 30's-40's Melvin Hansen '46-49 David Hellington mid 70's Joe Herold 30's-40's Joni Hoffman Mike Hogan Martha Irene Hood Jettabee Ann Hopkins "Adopted Daughter Jennie" 30's-'41 Eddie Hudson mid 70's Dick Hughes Vic Humason Everett Irwin 30's-40's Gregg Jackson Sandy Jackson Karla James late 90's Morris James Bill Jensen Catfish Jones Mike Jones Pat Kelly John King mid 60's Bill Kotera 30's-40's Kim Dlouhy Lang '87-96 Al Larson 30's-40's Dave Laursen Herb Lee 30's-40's Helen Lewis 30's-40's Steve Lundy Randy Mac 90's Randy "Scott" Malick Gary Marks 60's Terry Mason '73-76 Trish Matthews Foster Whitlock May '35-40's Paul McDonald 30's-40's James McGaffin 60's Mark McGowan 30's-40's Jeff McKee Jim McKernan Curt McLey Ray Metoyer Rod Meyer Larry Moffit David H. Morgan Roger W. Morgan Soren Munkhof 40's Mike Nelson Tim Oakes Ray Olson 30's-late 60's Jimmy O'Neil mid 70's Sandy Palmer Scott Parker Jack Payne '51-63 Susan Payne '81-83 (Stella Shaffer) Howard O. Peterson 30's-40's Warren Piper 30's-40's Old Prospector (Ed Alexander) 90's Bobby Quinn John Randall (Randy Phillips) '90 Bill Rinehart Mike Rivers mid 70's Heinz Rodhe 60's Phil Rooney '98-99 Mary Roth Gene Rouse 30's-40's Frederick Rudd 30's-40's William Ruess 30's-40's Jack Sandler 30's-40's Tom Scott Steve Lundy Mike Shane '82 Stella Shaffer '81-83 Ted Sherdeman 30's-40's Peter Shinn Johnston Snipes 30's-40's Jeff Spencer (Curt McLey) '78-80 Spoonman Howard L Stahlnecker late 60's Tom Stanton Craig Stevens Jay Stevens Shari Stone '94-98 Ray Suber 30's-40's Brandy Summer Chris Taylor mid 80's Kent Thompson 1996-00 Rob Tiedgen 86-95 Chuck Urban Rick Vincent Ralph Wagner 30's-40's Brian Walther Paul Watkins '96-99 Rainey T. Wells 30's-40's Darrell Wendt 83-88 (Jeff Connors) Colleen Williams 1977 David Robert Wingert Bill Wiseman 40'-60's Jim Wishner 80's Joe Wolf '94- Merrill Workhoven George Woods Gary Wulf Ginny Zender late 70's Dick Zion

Where are they now?
AM Stations
FM Stations