Select Area Radio Stations
The radio stations that had a strong significance to me.
Here is a group of stations which got my attention back from the early '70s through the mid-late '70s. I have worked with a few of these, such as my longtime association with WDNL, WTIM-FM(later WEEE, now WQLZ), WDZ and WDBR. These are the things I remember about the formats and the stations along with some noted contributions. Just when I thought I had completed all that could be done....along comes more information about some of these stations. Updates continue as more history is collected.....check back often. So, enjoy in alphabetical order....
KGRS (FM) 107.3 Burlington, Iowa
I discovered KGRS when I was at Western Illinois University during 1976-77. It was airing Drake-Chenault's XT-40 format pretty much the way Drake would have set it up. The station was formerly KBUR-FM and programmed a beautiful music format when it was changed to KGRS and the Drake-Chenault XT-40 format on December 31st, 1975. Not much local input other than commercials and the usual weather breaks, local PSA's and the back timed instrumental cuts leading into ABC network news at :15. I visited the station in early '77 and saw the station was running a Harris 9000 system using Revox reel to reel recorders/players as playback only decks(Why they were using the more pricey record/playback decks as playback decks is a mystery to me). They were following the Drake-Chenault formula to the letter. I found it interesting the FM automation was located what seemed to be miles away from the KBUR(AM) studios within the sprawling facility on Roosevelt Road on Burlington's west side. The antenna array was somewhat strange as well, as it had separate antennas for horizontal and vertical polarization.
(top photo): courtesy of Tim Brown
(bottom photo): Doug Quick Collection
This aircheck is from 11:06 pm to 11:45 pm, April 15, 1976. A good example of following the Drake-Chenault format. Nothing fancy here. Listen for dead air. Obviously, a reel had run out, and wasn't changed.
WBNQ (FM) 101.5 Bloomington, Illinois
WBNQ is the FM side of Bloomington heritage station WJBC. My earliest recollection of WBNQ goes back to 1971 or so when the station was broadcasting an automated oldies format from Draper-Blore “Olde Golde,” the same format that WDZ(1050AM-Decatur) was airing. Denny Adkins, the WBNQ PD at the time, said the station dropped the format because of problems with quality and updates and replaced it with Drake-Chenault's “Solid Gold” format. WBNQ was doing a great job in localizing the station and going far beyond the basic design of the Drake format. The station had what was the best broadcast facility in central Illinois during the ’70s. The original FM automation, another Gates product, overlooked the main office and lobby from its loft. The studios are still at that location on the southwest side of Bloomington, on the old belt line, US 66 now known as Veteran's Parkway.
(left): WBNQ Gates automation taken sometime in early 1977. It shows, from left to right, the Gates 55, 4 Ampex reel to reels, the random select carousel controller and carousels, the main control unit with cart decks. Interesting to note, much of the automation shown here ended up at WDAN(AM) in Danville back in the late '70s.
(top photo: courtesy of Jeff Norton
(all others: Doug Quick Collection
This ad from the Bloomington Pantagraph is for WBNQ on September 13, 1980. This was after the Drake-Chenault era.
I include this ad from the Pantagraph because of the picture of Denny Adkins who is a contributor to this site. He later would work for Drake-Chenault the programming provider during much of the 1970s for WBNQ. It is from 1972. His voice is included in the air check below from July of 1974.
This aircheck was recorded during a thunderstorm during a hot 1974's summer's overnight. No commercials, just music and lots of oldies blended with a few currents. This is an aircheck of around 45 minutes of air time with the Drake-Chenault "Solid Gold" format.
This aircheck was recorded during the 8 am hour on August 16th, 1976. The station was using the Drake-Chenault XT-40 format.
This aircheck was taken on Easter Sunday, 1977. This is a half hour scoped down once again using the Drake-Chenault XT-40 format.
page background picture: WBNQ Automation 1979 is courtesy Jeff Norton
All airchecks were recorded by Doug Quick
Newspaper items from the Bloomington Pantagraph
The announcement of the winner of the WBNQ contest here is from 1983. From the Bloomington Pantagraph
WCVS 1450AM Springfield, Illinois
The WCVS playlist and the WCVS entryway pictures are courtesy of Randy Miller
The WCVS broadcast tower picture is from the Doug Quick Collection
WCVS(formerly WCBS) was the first top 40 rocker in Springfield. Some of the jocks of the early to late ’60s included “Skinny Jim” Palmer, Jim Wingo, Doug Segal, Steve West, Greg Thomas, and others. The station was very active with teens in the area and maintained it’s popularity until FM rocker WDBR came about in the early ’70s. The station is now WFMB-AM and programs satellite sports with some local talk. The calls for classic rocker WCVS are being used by former Virden station WRVI(FM) and was co-owned by Neuhoff Broadcasting's Country WFMB-FM and sports/talk WFMB-AM. In 2006 WFMB AM/FM, as well as WCVS(FM) ownership, returned to the Neuhoff family having been a property of Clear Channel for several years.
This is a priceless aircheck with longtime WDBR jock, Steve West. Here is a radio segment from his early days at Springfield's AM Rocker and Top 40 station WCVS.
Thanks to Rich Styles for this contribution
WDZ 1050AM Decatur, Illinois
WDZ is well known as Illinois' first commercial radio station having its early days of broadcasting from Tuscola, Illinois as station 9JR. It's also regarded as the third oldest in the nation. The date was March 17, 1921, when WDZ began to broadcast grain market reports for the agricultural community twice an hour between long stretches of dead air. It was reported that there were a total of two receivers in the area to actually hear the original broadcast. It was originally licensed to operate at 350 watts of power at 833kc. The station changed frequency to 1080 kc as power output was reduced to 10-watts in 1923. The original station broadcast from an antenna that was a simple wire strung between a couple of buildings in Tuscola. To that date, it appeared that there were only three radio stations on the air at the time. They were KDKA in Pittsburgh and WGY in Schenectady, New Jersey. By 1927 the station was given a full-time license to broadcast at 100-watts as it broadcast with the slogan, "The Buckle of the Corn Belt." That arrangement didn't last long as the Radio Act of 1927 once again changed to the license of WDZ to broadcast only during the daytime at 1070 kc. Again in 1936, the power changed to 250-watts, but so did the frequency now at 1020am.
Broadcasts continued to come more regularly over the years and by 1941, WDZ had a new home with a 250-foot tower broadcasting mostly agricultural information to its audience from its frequency at 1020 kc and at 1,000 watts. Entertainment did come to play though, with the broadcast of live entertainment, mostly "hillbilly" music and humor. The station drew performers from Kentucky, Tennessee and other hotbeds of "hillbilly" music and talent. One of the "stars" of the station who went on to a national career in show business was Smiley Burnette who later teamed with Gene Autry on network radio and in the moves and TV.
The station had a short wave remote broadcast facility by 1938 in a panel van which traveled the area to broadcast from the various towns in its coverage area. In 1941 the frequency was changed to 1050 kc, where it remains today. During that time the station broadcast a variety of entertainment programs such as children's programming, local big band music shows, contests, religious programming and it's mainstay "hillbilly" music and comedy. Also in the late 1930s, WDZ added four broadcasting studios in other Illinois communities. Studios were opened in Danville, Mattoon, Effingham, and Paris. Each location had its own "studio band" for while which would host programming from these remote locations, broadcast on short wave back to the master control in Tuscola to be broadcast to the Midwestern audience.
By 1949, the owners of WDZ found that a move to Decatur would benefit the station in bringing more profitability and more programming options. At that point, the history of the station blurs. There seems to be more written about the station's early days than it's time from 1950 to the present. With the other local AM station WSOY which was a CBS affiliate from it's time, it could have meant that WDZ would have been an NBC or Mutual affiliate, but being confined to broadcast only during the daytime, this would have not been an ideal situation for a broadcast network at the time. It seems apparent that the station continued it's heavy farm/agriculture programming along with recorded "hillbilly" and western music perhaps with some other block programming from the 1950s through the early 1960s. In Decatur, the transmitter was on Decatur's southwest side, across the Wabash(Norfolk and Southern) tracks just off Illinois Route 48. The short single tower broadcasts a 1000 watt signal during the daytime on 1050 kc, a clear channel frequency.
Sometime during the early 1970s, the station went through a big change formatically. The automated format "Olde Golde" from Draper-Blore(see Automated Radio Formats) was utilized and promoted which changed the station's variety format to that of Oldies. Later though, around 1972, the station went to its own automated format which split the broadcasting day between two of its announcers, separated by a local call-in talk show. The station's chief engineer, Fred More, did the morning show with live elements and recorded talk tracks, followed by Lois Howlett who hosted a midday hour-long talk show. The afternoon to sign-off show was recorded on track by Larry Limbach who was also a sales representative of the station (Listen to the 1975 WDZ aircheck above). WDZ at that time was owned by Steve Bellinger as Prairieland Broadcasting who was also part owner of the Mumbles Corporation with WWDZ(FM) which went on the air in the mid-1970s as a country station. Both stations by that time had second-floor studios just off of Central Park on Park Street in Downtown Decatur. The author of this website was employed by WDZ/WDZQ during the Summer of 1979 as a salesperson and as a jock with WDZ(AM)(listen to the 1979 WDZ aircheck above).
Sometime in the 1990s, the station transferred ownership to NextMedia and to Tom Joyner Broadcasting. During 2008, the format of WDZ changed from Urban to Sports Talk. In December of 2008, it was announced that ownership would change to Neuhoff Broadcasting, which owns a group of stations in Springfield(WFMB AM/FM, WCVS(FM)) and in Danville(WDAN(AM), WDNL(FM), WRHK(FM)).
WDZ Musicline ad from the Decatur Herald/Review placed in 1969.
This was recorded in either late August or early September of 1975 and features Larry Limbach doing the jock work. It sounds live, but in effect was an early example of pretty good voice tracking for the 1970s....or anytime. The DJ would record his talk track with a list of songs which would play in a distinct order. He/she would record talk positions which would talk up each song in the same order. When you would want the song to begin under you, you would push the secondary tone which would start the next song in order.
If you knew the song intro time, you could talk up the first second of vocal every time. Unfortunately, with this system you never heard the actual song intro, so delivering your vocal in pace with the music would be difficult. Larry did a superb job of working each song. It was obvious to me that he knew the songs very well. See the analysis of the format at left. You will notice one exception to the format. It seems that the novelty song of "Mr. Jaws" was dropped in manually to the format as it didn't fall into the regular pattern of being preceded by a voice track and was followed by the weathercast. It was probably inserted in the commercial carousel manuallyFred Moore was the Chief Engineer and morning DJ, Larry Limbach was the afternoon jock, Sonny Carter did evenings(during the summer) and weekend jock shifts and later did a regular weekday shift. Jeff Balding was the News Director.
On May 19, 2018, I was having a book signing event at the Neuhoff Media-Decatur studios of WSOY, WDZ, WDZQ, Hot 105.5. It was there I was greeted by Larry Limbach one of my radio mentors and former workmate at WDZ.
The 1975 WDZ Automation system using the IGM System
Source 1: Time Announce machine(actually two cart machines which would normally hold both even and odd time announcements. In this case, it held one TA cart, and one jingle which would lead to the spot sets. This would be set at :00, :10, :20, :30, :40 and :50.
Source 2: The 1st random select carousel which would air the random select commercials at :00, :10, :20, :30, :40 and :50. This would hold the ABC News at 00.
Source 3: A 2nd random select carousel which would air the ABC newscast at :00, then random select commercials at :10, :20, :30, :40 and :50 This would allow commercials to be programmed back to back in spot clusters. This would hold the Local Newscast at :00.
Source 4: A single play cart machine which would hold the local weathercast done by the DJ. It would end with a sounder which would mix into the talk track.
Source 5: Set at "all" it would always be ready to air to match the setting of music(the next source) also set at "all." Talk track, either a cart or reel to reel deck which the jock would record his voice talking over a timed segment which would match the song intro. It would overlap the next source which would be music.
Source 6 and 7: Both set at "all" but designed to alternate use by alternating random select. Probably carted music from carousels which would support the music order by alternating the use of them to allow for music to air nearly back to back, just separated by the voice track.
Here is about a 30-minute aircheck from July of 1979
while I was at WDZ. Along with being an AE, I was
also the mid-day-afternoon jock, via talk track.
It was one of the strangest formats I'd ever worked with. Basically, each voice/track was recorded without me knowing what came before or after the talk track aired. No song intros, outros, no knowledge about where it was running within each hour. The voice track was recorded on reel to reel, while the music was on carts on a simple IGM system. You could "dial in" your talk track to air at timed intervals of 5, 7.5 or 10 minutes(see WTIM automation for the full explanation). I believe I set mine for every 5 minutes, but based on other events within the hour you couldn't count on all 12 to run each hour. Instead, it usually ended up being 9-10 times an hour.
From September of 1990, a new host for "The WDZ Breakfast Club." From the Decatur Herald/Review
WDBR (FM) 103.7 Springfield, Illinois
WDBR's Gates SP8-10(above) including the main control unit, 4 single play carts, 2 large cart-decks for time announcements, random select carousel control unit and twin carousels, 4 Ampex reel to reel playbacks. The Magnicord record/playback deck above the cart machines was used for the recording of reels and for an emergency playback when one of the Ampex machines failed(which was more often that one would think). Note also the large carts on the automation system. Those were time announcements and talk track carts for the various jocks.
Frank Darnielle Jr. was one of the union operators of WTAX/WDBR. This is a demonstration of what I called the "Frankie Darnielle stretch" which could be necessary whenever the automation would go astray from the format. The operator would have to correct the automation by going into "manual" mode and start the various format elements to get it back "on track."
(pictures from the Doug Quick Collection)
(above): Rich Styles in the WDBR studio during a late Sunday night edition of "The Gold Mine." This weekend program would include oldies from the 50s and 60s along with audience participation games and contests. Rich took over the show after Bob Taylor left in 1975.
(above): Rich Styles at the door of the small WDBR air/production studio.
(pictures from the Doug Quick Collection)
(right): Station Manager Joe Jackson, during the pre-WDBR days at the WTAX/WDBR studios located on Dirkson Parkway at the base of the existing WTAX tower near the corner of East Cook and Dirkson Parkway in Springfield. At the top left, Joe is pictured in the WTAX master control area. Note the open Mel-O-Creme donut box on the turntable (Great lunch Joe!).
(center right): Joe is at the WTAX master control center. It wasn't a pretty studio, but well equipped to operate both WTAX and
what was then WTAX-FM in the very early 1970s.
(bottom right): Joe is in front of the WTAX Collins AM 1,000 watt transmitter.
Joe is my nomination for the Broadcaster Hall of Fame for his part in the development of the first automated radio voice track system, in which
the jock could hear the intro of the song he/she was "talking up." It is the basis for all voice tracking today. Keep in mind it was his theory that jocks could double as account executives, program directors and any other position within the radio station that enabled the jock to increase his income and opportunities
without being strapped to a live control board.
(pictures courtesy of Joe Jackson and his daughter Jill Bulgin)
The first FM station in town was WCVS-FM at 102.9. The FM license of WCVS-FM was surrendered in 1953, and the allocation for 102.9 was moved to Decatur which became WSOY-FM. When WCVS-FM went off the air, the top mast to the WCVS-AM tower on south 4th St. in Southern View/Springfield was used for the transmitter antenna to WICS-TV when it went on the air in 1953. WTAX-FM was Springfield's second FM station. Oliver J. Keller purchased WTAX in 1946 when it was located on the Reisch Building on the west side of the Springfield Square, around the County Building, which is now the Old State Capitol Mall. It was a 100-watt facility and broadcast from a long wire antenna strung between two towers on the roof. In the late 40's, WTAX moved to its location on Bypass 66 between Illinois Route 29 and U.S. 36(later 712 South 31st Street, Dirkson Parkway) where it broadcast from a four-legged self-supporting tower and went to 1000 watts daytime/250 watts nighttime. Keller died in 1967. Around that time Sangamon Broadcasting consisting of among others, Shelby Harbison purchased the stations. Harbison continued as GM during the Sangamon Broadcasting years and for some time after before retiring. Sangamon Broadcasting was also owner of WDAN/WDNL in Danville, Illinois from 1977 to 1987.
WTAX-FM either simulcast or featured an easy listening format using a "homemade" automation system developed by the IBEW Local 1292 engineers on staff. During the late 1960's and into the very early 1970's, here was the programming schedule of WTAX-FM: WTAX-FM would simulcast WTAX-AM from 5 am to 8 am. During the day, from 9 am to 10 pm, the station would feature the beautiful music format. At 10:10 pm to 11 pm, it was "Night Line" a local talk show, followed by a record show with Coley Cowan. WTAX-AM then would simulcast WTAX-FM's beautiful music format until sign-off at 1 am.
At Noon on January 14, 1972, the station began it's Top 40 history with a broadcast of Drake-Chenault's 48-hour radio special "The History of Rock and Roll" which was followed by Drake-Chenault “Solid Gold” format. Station manager Joe Jackson, who was promoted from engineering, developed the station and led it's building through 1977 when he was transferred to be GM at WDAN/WDNL. Even though the "Solid Gold" format ran from sign-on at 5:30 am to 7 pm, the station began experimenting with a “like live” format during their Nighttime daypart with local AE, Rich Styles doing the jocking via “talk track.”
This was from December 1972. This is the earliest aircheck I recorded. WDBR was just about one year into the Drake-Chenault Solid Gold format. It was just a couple of months later that WDBR dropped Solid Gold and went with their own automated format. A couple of the future jocks were heard here(also account reps) Bob Taylor and Rich Styles. Longtime newsmen at WTAX Dave Anderson and Coley Cowen are also heard.
This short aircheck is from WDBR(FM) in Springfield, Illinois during its days of programming the Drake-Chenault Solid Gold during the day and doing a "live" sounding talk track(voice track) during the evening with Rich Styles as the DJ. Notice the use of the "Solid Gold" jingle and the automated time announcement. Rich was one of the best-known jocks in the area at the time and also was one of the most successful account executives of the market. This aircheck is from the Rich Styles Collection.
Bob Taylor's Gold Mine ran beginning sometime in 1972 while the station was doing the Drake-Chenault format "Sold Gold." It aired every Sunday night from 8 to Midnight through around 1975 when Rich Styles took it over. Bob's interaction with the audience made him a natural when the format was dropped in favor of the self-produced automated format. Bob continued as morning jock and in his role of an account executive. You'll also notice him mentioning a fan, who was to work with Bob several years later! Despite what the slate is showing on the video, this one is from New Year's Eve, December 31, 1972.
This is from December of 1973. The jock is the late Steve West. So incredibly smooth....he's was known to slide into the studio just seconds before he was to go on the air. From there he would voice track the rest of his show and be finished in no time. Here is a great aircheck from right before Christmas.
Thanks to new contributor Mark Nielsen a former central Illinois resident and fan of WDBR we have been able to unearth a radio "time capsule" from 45 years ago! Mark as a young boy recorded the entire "Recycled 1973" year-end review show which was hosted by Rich Styles. Unfortunately, there are no commercials as he edited them out at the time, not expecting this recording to ever be heard by the public. The recording, however, is terrific and you'll hear the incredible talent of Rich come through along with some pretty great music (edited, sorry--YouTube frowns on copyrighted music being included). I thank Mark for sharing his incredible recordings! I'll also tell you there are more coming, as time permits me to digitize and edit, render and upload to YouTube. Meanwhile, enjoy this blast from the past from "Stereo Rock, WDBR!"
This aircheck is from New Years Day 1974. The DJ was Rich Styles, one of the most popular DJ's in the market at that time. Along with being a jock at WDBR he was also a very successful account executive and hosted a cable TV dance program for a while.
I bring you an air check from WDBR, June 13, 1976. The jock is Skip Joeckel, on talk track through the Gates SP8-10. The segment is from about Midnight to 12:30 am. It contains an 8-minute newscast, as WDBR had a heavy news commitment at the time which ran at about 12:23 am. I was a very young newscaster. WDBR was known as "Music 104" with TM-Century Jingles.
I was a young 22 year old, only two years into my broadcast career and was on the air at "my ultimate" radio station! This was my chance of a lifetime and no one appreciated it as much as I did. Hell, I would have done this for nothing...maybe even paying for the opportunity! With that in mind was I nervous? You bet, and it shows. It's one of those occasions that I wish I knew then what I know now. At the risk of me embarrassing my self, I present me from October 3, 1976 at the great WDBR! Voices include Rich Styles, Skip Joeckel and Steve West.
Thanks to new contributor Mark Nielsen a former central Illinois resident and fan of WDBR we have been able to unearth another radio "time capsule" from over 42 years ago! Mark as a young boy recorded the entire "Recycled 1976" year-end review show which was hosted by Rich Styles, just like the 1973 version above. Unfortunately, there are no commercials as he edited them out at the time, not expecting this recording to ever be heard by the public. The recording, however, is terrific and you'll hear the incredible talent of Rich come through along with the hits of the bicentennial year, the year I worked at WDBR (edited, sorry--YouTube frowns on copyrighted music being included). I thank Mark for sharing his incredible recordings!
One of several great lineups at WDBR pictured from the late 1970s. This one during a lineup of one of the Illinois State Fair Parades. From left to right: Steve West(10am-3pm), Rich Styles(3pm-7pm), Diane Martini(12Mid-6am), Bob Logan(7pm-12mid) and Skip Joeckel(6am-10am).
It was so successful and Styles gained so much popularity in the market, he eventually hosted a local cable TV dance program. Bob Taylor, who joined the WTAX staff in September of 1971, joined WDBR as host of "The Gold Mine", the station's Sunday Night audience participation oldie show. Bob brought personality to the "Gold Mine" with various features like "Cheap Thrills Trivia", "Dedications on the Huggy Bear Kissy Face" segment and introduced listeners to "the sexy voice secretary." Other station promotions during that time included "The Buck a Throw Picture Show" which took place at Midnight on Friday nights at the Esquire Theater(near McArthur and So. Grand), a concert appearance of the "Raspberries" at the Holiday Inn-East(across from the Capitol Cities Shopping Center) and parking lot sock-hops at a Pizza Hut restaurant(near Chatham Road and Lawrence Street). Rich Styles later hosted the "Gold Mine" in the mid to late '70s. Even though the station was airing a Top 40 format through the '70s, the station still maintained a very heavy news commitment. Newscasters included Coley Cowen, Marge Kimacki, Jo Warfield, Rick Derrick, Tim Schweitzer, and the late Patrick Gordon.
Later the next year, Joe Jackson took the station to an all automated “like live” format, becoming “WDBR, 103.7FM, Stereo Rock.” The original jocks were Bob Taylor, Rich Styles and ex-WCVS(AM1450) jock Steve West. Other jocks over those years included Skip Joeckel, Rick Ramsey, Dan Scott, Greg Lawley, Bob Logan, Diane Martini, Sam Kaiser and others, including this web site host Doug Quick. Read more about the talk track system, and how it worked, at the History of WDNL page on this web site. The station continued using a newer version of the old Gates SP8-10 with the “like live” format under the logo “Music 104” until the early ’90s when ownership under Sentry Insurance took the station live. Added competition in the market caused the station to falter during the mid to late ’80s, and they felt the need to go live would bolster their position in the market. WDBR is now owned by SAGA who operates a very successful CHR station and is once again back on top in the Springfield market. The original studio at 712 Dirkson Parkway(originally bypass 66, South 31st Street) near Cook Street was torn down sometime in the early 1990s, although the original 1949 tower and transmitter building remained to broadcast the signals of WTAX and WDBR until a tornado destroyed it on March 11, 2006. The tower was later replaced where it broadcasts from today. WDBR today...
thanks to Al Germond for his contribution to the history of WTAX/WDBR.
Personal Note: Maybe that's where I learned to appreciate those artists as well. I'm so glad he didn't have to conform to some "cookie cutter" playlist determined by some corporate schmuck in a high rise office, taking payola. Steve, along with Rich Styles were the two people who talked Joe Jackson into allowing me to do a weekend talk track when my time at WTAX was through, as summer help. So while I was a student at Western Illinois University, I did a Sunday afternoon track, along with occasional overnight tracks during the week. It was a terrific experience at a truly outstanding facility and group of people!
Steve West is no longer with us having passed away in the early 1990's. Not only was Steve a great programmer and one of the best broadcast voices in the industry, he was also an outstanding TV repairman. I learned a lot from him about recording, choosing, editing and "sweetening" music for automated formats. The last time I visited Steve he was doing afternoons on sister station WTAX. I couldn't believe he wasn't on WDBR! His talents and abilities were wasted and ignored by the management at the time. With his passing, the Springfield market lost a real pro. The WDBR history segment is my tribute to him. We also note the passing of the former WDBR News Director Pat Gordon in the late 1990's. At the time of his passing he was the morning co-anchor on WICS-TV.
WLRW (FM) 94.5 Champaign, Illinois
(top-above): WLRW's studios, presumably from the early 1970s
(bottom left): Chuck Kelly inserting a cart into one of the IGM carousels in the WLRW IGM automation system. The cart would contain an endless tape loop of a recorded commercial. At the end of the commercial, a "step tone" (as it was called by IGM) or OM (end of message) secondary tone was recorded with the commercial on the third audio track would indicate to the system that it should go to the next event. The reel to reels
shown were Revox decks used to broadcast the "Drake-Chenault" Solid Gold format mix of oldies and contemporary top 40 songs. See automation formats for more on the Drake-Chenault automation formats.
(top-center): The WLRW studios in the early 1970s showing the showcase window and the IGM automation on the other side of the window.
(top-right): a side view of the IGM automation unit also showing the large Skully reel to reels (14" reels) which contained the background music service which was transmitted "multiplexed" with the main L and R channels of the signal. You needed a special receiver to listen to the "multiplexed" signal that was used to provide music for retail stores and offices by subscription. (MUZAK type of system)
It was not part of the main IGM automation system but operated on a separate controller.
(pictures courtesy of Mark Spalding and Chuck Kelly)
WLRW was the first stereo FM station in Champaign and was contracted to supply a beautiful music in-store background service and commercials for the Eisner grocery stores in town. WDWS-FM was already "store-casting" to the IGA stores. Frank Stewart, owned Putt-Putt Golf and built WLRW and pretty much paid his operating expenses with the Eisner contract. Sometime in the late '60s, Stewart purchased WKID(1580AM). It’s interesting to note that the Champaign News-Gazette did not include the program listings of WKID along with the other radio listings of the day. Keep in mind that the News-Gazette owned competitor WDWS which was listed. The newspaper competitor the Champaign-Urbana Courier included the listings and advertising of WKID, choosing to omit WDWS. So much for objective journalism of the C-U newspapers! Before 1960, WKID was the original license holder for 103.9FM. Around 1960, 103.9FM went dark and that allocation was later assigned to WTWC which later became WKIO(FM) or K-104.
WLRW became an extension of top 40 WCCR(1580AM) sometime in the late '60s or early '70s and featured a country format under new owners (unknown). In fact, it was said call letters WLRW, stood for "We’re the Little Red Wagon." Actually “The Little Red Wagon” was used in advertising for the station when it ran the country format, but the call letters actually originated by being the first stereo station in Champaign-Urbana. The call letters L stood for Left, R stood for Right surrounded by W’s....WLeftRightW.....get it? The station later in the early 70’s used the Drake Chenault “Hit Parade” format and later the “Solid Gold” Drake-Chenault formats on an IGM automation system. Using an IGM automation system had to be a bit of a challenge for the engineers at the station since IGM designed their systems to use 22.5 kc tones on the music reels they would syndicate to those stations using their systems. Drake -Chenault and other syndicators used 25 kc tones. Eventually, sometime during the late ’70s, the station was taken live, where it's one of the market's leaders today. It’s now owned by Saga Communications with Country sister station WIXY(100.3FM)and Oldies station WKIO(92.5FM). WLRW now.
Thanks to Fred Seibold, former Station Manager of WCZQ(105.5FM) Monticello for his contribution
This could be the earliest recording of WLRW taken from October 17, 1974. It was recorded in Hoopeston, IL by Scott Baer who contributed it to this site. It features the Drake-Chenault format "Solid Gold" with the typical ID's and generic logo jingles with custom time announcements. The station did program a local morning show with promos featuring "Jody Lovitt." There are no local commercials included, just a couple of promos for Illini sports coverage on sister station WCCR, 1580-AM, Urbana, IL.
Here is an aircheck of WLRW(FM) from June 19th, 1976 which featured the station running the Drake-Chenault "Solid Gold" format. The station did some local programming with the morning show that ran from 7 to 10 am with Jody Anderson, and "Sunday Solid Soul" which ran on Sunday evenings. This aircheck includes a Dr. Pepper commercial with Danville native, the late Bobby Short.
WMBD-FM 93.3 Peoria, Illinois
This is actually a two picture image of the WMBD-FM automation. The reel to reel decks were AMPEX decks(notice they were only using two out of the 4 available). The automation system was a GATES SP-8-10 which included the "dial a format" system of placing pulses on a cart. The two oval-shaped screens were actually time clocks which worked like an old-fashioned digital alarm clock and projected the times by a series of backlit numbers on the plastic screen. It appears that there was reel to reel decks for time announcements as well as station ID's which were provided by TM Productions. The carousels consisted of two sets of random select decks which were controlled by the placement of the slider diode pins on the control panels above. There is also an FM receiver which monitored the station.
(pictures from the Doug Quick Collection)
From Southwest Jefferson Street in Downtown Peoria, the old Majestic Theater was the home for WMBD Radio (AM/FM) and WMBD-TV.
(photo from the 20th Anniversary of WMBD Radio in 1957, right before Channel 31 went on the air. This was contributed by the Ron Moses Collection)
It was sometime in 1976 I visited the studios of WMBD located in the heart of downtown Peoria on Southwest Jefferson. It was located in what appeared to be a former theaterl. The studios at the time were probably the worst I'd ever seen to that point. Along with desks located in the hallways and the setting appears to be quite worn out and no longer suited for its broadcast occupant, the place was incredibly filthy.
Now, I always felt that a broadcast station was simply a "warehouse" while it's on-air product was it's "showroom" but this place would've made a warehouse seem quite comfortable.
The WMBD(AM) studio was located behind a glass window which overlooked a very large former theater area which still had a circular layered floor which was higher at the rear of the room and lowers toward the window and studio which contained the operation of the AM station. It was obvious that it once held theater seats which overlooked the main performance studio of the radio station, but the seats were now gone. In that room, there were concrete blocks which were used to level a couple of sheets of plywood which supported the automation system pictured to the right.
The tile floor of the former radio audience theater was considerably worn with broken tiles, areas of bare floors and broadcast equipment debris scattered around the room. The WMBD(AM) studio floor couldn't have been any dirtier if it had been located in a barn. The only reason that any tile floor was visible, was that the dirt had been worn away by foot traffic. Dirt was literally creeping up the walls, the ancient equipment racks, and console in the studio. At the time, the station was programming TM "Stereo Rock" but wasn't doing a very good job of it. Having the use of just two reel to reel decks and not the minimum of three, the station was prone to many periods of dead air, extreme repetition and other format errors. The control and operation of the station depended on the attention of the operator or announcer which was on the air with the live operation of WMBD....in a room which was even though in line of sight, required a long walk to fix any problems....or even change a reel of tape. I wasn't able to locate an aircheck of the troubled and neglected Adult CHR station of the mid-'70s.
There was no doubt that the station had to relocate, if for no other reason than the health department. A few years later, it would relocate to 3131 North University in Peoria.
WNNS (FM) 98.7 Springfield, Illinois
This station went on the air sometime during the late 70’s using an automated urban format run on a Harris System 9000. The studios were located on West Jefferson Street in Springfield in an office complex near Walnut Street. The station was minority owned during that time. Later it went to an automated AC format, and was later purchased by WMAY(AM970). Sometime during the 80’s, it took a live format where it continues to be a successful AC station in the Springfield market, now co-owned with WMAY and WQLZ(92.7FM).
Here is an aircheck of WNNS from February 22, 1981, right after it's a switch from the Urban format to a light AC. I'm not sure of the syndicator. I believe it was running a Harris System 90 from an office/studio which was located in a complex just east of Walnut on Jefferson in Springfield.
WSOY-FM 102.9 Decatur, Illinois
WSOY-FM along with being one of the first FM’s in Central Illinois, it’s grandfathered in at 54,000-watts and originally was an extension of its sister station WSOY(1360AM). As far back as the late 60’s and early 70’s, it was automated country, then during the early 70’s changed to the Peter’s Production’s automated beautiful music format, “Music Just for the Two of Us.”
During the early 80’s it switched to the Peter’s “Love Rock” automated format using the logo “Y-103.” The format wasn't that far away from the Drake-Chenault “XT-40” format in sound, but it wasn't administered very well. When it first went on the air, it was common to hear one song, followed by one commercial, then another song, another commercial, etc., with no re-entry jingles after the spots. The “Love Rock” was dropped some years later for a satellite rock formats. Y-103 continued to hold the market until WEJT went on the air to bring some competition to the market in the early 90’s.
Y-103 went "live" during early 2000 and continues with a CHR format. In December of 2008, it was announced that ownership would shift to Neuhoff Broadcasting which owned groups of stations in the central Illinois markets of Danville and Springfield.
This aircheck was recorded the first evening of the format change. I guess it's not fair to judge a station from its first day on the air, but this should never have been allowed to hit the air without at least a couple of days to work out the bugs. I don't remember the exact date, as I didn't label it, but I believe it was in 1980.
Personal note: The air-check above for WSOY-FM is one of the most hideous air checks ever. The station has just signed on with the automated format "The Love Rock" from Peters Productions. I can't imagine how Peters would feel about this mangling of their format by WSOY. The lesson is never put a format on the air, automated or otherwise, before you've got the bugs worked out. Most of the automated formats at the time operated with a mandatory dead roll on all carted material. Obviously, WSOY didn't do that in some situations.
Also, the station breaks every formatic rule possible. From a marketing, standpoint count the number of slogans used. Not just one, which would obviously be "The Love Rock" they use "Non stop stereo rock", "You are the reason we do what we do...(TM jingle package for Adult top 40 full service stations)", "for all the rock you need", "central Illinois' best rock", "you can always depend on us" etc.. Also, they have the most complex promotion with bumper stickers I've ever heard. The promo alone was longer than this aircheck. They couldn't have gotten any kind of response from this. This was sorta like a Top 40 station programmed by your great-grandfather.
WWTO (FM) 105.7 Peoria, Illinois
The WWTO studios, by then the WWCT studios in an upper office just to the west of WMBD along South-West Jefferson in downtown Peoria.
(picture from the Doug Quick Collection)
For most of the last 15 years or so it's been WWCT, Rock 106. In the early 70’s it was WWTO and was another of the Drake-Chenault “Solid Gold” formatted stations, using a Schafer automation system. WWTO also aired the syndicated “Bill Balance” show as drop-ins during the mornings. The syndicated Bill Balance Show was a groundbreaking show dealing with adult topics, relationships, and some rather frank language for the day. Later the station used a syndicated “like live” format, using tracks from former WLS jock, Kris Eric Stevens, among others. By October of 1973, the station went to, what sounded like a self-produced AC format called “Gentle on Your Mind.” During early 1977, the station was still operating through its automation, while construction was being done to take the station live. During that time it operated “out of phase,” which was surely quite curious for mono radio listeners.
The station later changed calls to WWCT and went AOR during the late ’70s. The studios during that time were located just a few storefronts down from WMBD, in a second story walk up on S.W. Jefferson. In a more recent move, the frequency went through a call letter and format change on September 20th, 2003 and is now WXMP(Mix 105.7), while the call letters went with another lower frequency rimshot station at 96.5.
This is a short example of WWTO from August 3, 1973, running the Drake-Chenault "Solid Gold" format. Commercials include one for "Playback" a regional chain of stereo stores which disappeared in the early 1980s.
Here's an example of WWTO from 1974. The station dropped Drake-Chenault for its own home-made format called "Gentle on Your Mind." They actually did a pretty good job of formatics, good image pieces, tight format, but the music mix consisted of a lot of "stiffs." On the check, there's also a reference to Bill Balance, a syndicated adult talk/music show of the day. See more about Bill Balance below.
Willis "Bill" Balance was from Peoria, Illinois. Born in 1918, he ended up at the University of Illinois before becoming a Marine. He later went into broadcasting and worked at Top 40 stations in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, and San Diego.
By the early 1970s, he was an early version of a "shock jock." From the early to late 1970s he was on KGBS-Radio in Los Angeles. By 1978 he ended up in San Diego at KFMB-AM (owned by WCIA Champaign ownership Midwest Television that also owned KFMB AM/FM/TV). His shows targeted a mostly female audience.
In 1975, he was syndicating program segments from his KGBS(1020-AM) "Feminine Forum" radio show to WWTO(FM) 105.7 FM in Peoria. He also made appearances in sponsored remote broadcasts in Peoria as advertised on WWTO.
He was also allegedly involved in a situation in the late 1990s involving nude pictures of a current well known female radio personality allegedly taken when he was dating her in the 1970s. She sued him later for selling the pictures to a company that published the pictures on a website, as well as the website company. A judge ruled in favor of him and the internet company website who said the pictures could stay.
Mr. Balance also made some guest appearances on network TV in 1973 in "A Touch of Grace" a short-lived sitcom in which he played himself. He also played a radio talk show personality in an episode of "Barnaby Jones."
He suffered a stroke in 2002 and died two years later on September 23, 2004. His funeral service was held in Peoria. He was survived by two sons and two grandchildren.
Here is a collection of segments he did at KFMB from sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Read more from the LA Times here.
WHBF-FM 98.9 Rock Island, Illinois
WHBF-FM went on the air as an FM partner to it's AM sister station WHBF-AM in 1947. In its early days, it was a simulcast partner at least part of the day to it's AM sister. It was also the first FM station in the market to broadcast in stereo in 1958. Its beautiful music format was later automated.
The station was also co-owned and located with WHBF-TV, Channel 4(CBS) in the Telco Building in downtown Rock Island. All three of the stations were owned by the Potter Family, which also was in the publishing business.
In 1974, the AM station went to a country format, while the FM was programmed with what was called a MOR format. This MOR format was "Rock 99-" programmed through the automation system as TM's Stereo Rock.
By 1987 the station went through a call letter change and became WPXR, "Power 98.9" a CHR station. During the early 1990s, the format would swing to a different direction to an alternative-classic rock format, but would change back to CHR when it became "All Hit 98.9, WHTS." During the mid-1990s, ownership changed again to Mercury Broadcasting where it was controlled by Clear Channel Communications until being pulled from its control by FCC ownership regulations.
The Frequency was owned by Education Media Foundation and operated as a non-profit religious station WLKU and "K-Love." What a terrible waste and ending to such a historic radio station! Somewhere toward the end of the station's life, the call letters of the AM station were changed to WKBF and it appears to have gone to a Latino format, simulcast on both AM and an FM translator at 105.7FM.
According to Jay Pearce of WVIK (the local public radio station), the station went dark in October of 2018, as the former owner walked away from the facility allegedly owning many including the power company, the owners of the land for the transmitter site and the rent on a translator that rebroadcast the signal of the AM. The owner of the land filed a lien and took possession of the building and equipment, including the towers which were destroyed for scrap in the winter of 2020. It's speculated that the previous owners never returned the license to the FCC and that the Commission probably doesn't have an official notice that the station is no longer in operation.
thanks to Scott Davis, a TM Stereo Rock expert for his contribution
thanks to Jay Pearce, of WVIK in the Quad Cities for the updated info on the stations
WHBF-FM, Rock Island, Illinois. This was recorded on November 11, 1975, at Macomb, Illinois. It's a great example of "TM Stereo Rock." According to Scott Davis, the jingle series was from the TM SR-1. "All I Have To Do is Dream" from the Everly Brothers was the only song from the '50s included in the Stereo Rock package. The oldie "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry was from oldie tape number 203(out of 200-222), cut #12. TM revised these oldie tapes every couple of years. Cuts #15, Everly Brothers and cut #16 "Popcorn" were replaced the next year by "The Joker"-Steve Miller Band and "Everlasting Love"-Carl Carlton.
Here are pictures taken by Jay Pearce of WVIK Radio (the Quad Cities public radio station) of the original WHBF radio transmitter building as it was left when the station was deserted by the owner in 2016.
It shows the exterior of the transmitter building, a remote back up studio, what appears to be the original AM transmitter and it's former AM and FM transmitter. It also gives an indication of the Latino format of the AM station and a translator station.
(pictures submitted by Jay Pearce, of WVIK)
From January 2020, the former WHBF transmitter/antenna tower would come down in a planned tower removal. See the information above as to the sketchy ending to the stations.
Thanks to Jeff Konrad for the video of the East Tower of WKBF-AM (the former WHBF-AM/FM) coming down.