1490AM, Danville, IL
The Early Days of WDAN Radio
On October 28, 2008, WDAN hosted a special broadcast that took place from its original home, the Wolford Hotel, which is now housing seniors. Neuhoff Broadcastings Mike Hulvey along with former WDAN/WDNL staff members gathered to reminisce about their time with WDAN and/or WDNL.
Those former employees included Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, John Kesler now with Emmis Broadcasting in Indianapolis(WIBC-FM), Ted Baer, and WDAN/WDNL former general manager Doug Quick. Others there included a woman, who is the grandmother of a current employee who performed at WDAN as a young girl in the 1940s, State Representative Bill Black, Fowler Connell, and others.
The 70th Anniversary Broadcast originated in the street-level lounge of the housing complex, but the real treasure was just a few feet below where we were, in the original studio of WDAN from 1938 to 1948. It was during a break in this broadcast when we were able to tour a good portion of the original floor plan of the studio which was left to us, some 70 years later to examine as if it was a broadcast time capsule! Below are pictures that I took at the event of the actual original WDAN studios used between 1938 and 1948. The former studios are currently being used as storage, but the artifacts of a broadcast studio are still visible.
The master control studio which faces a window that looked into Studio A at the south was connected by an airlock passageway that ran along the west wall of the master control into studio A. That same airlock also opened up to Studio B which was located just to the north of the master control room. Yet another window was on the north side of Studio B which looked into the general manager's office. The airlock hallway also had a window on its west wall which looked into the lobby of the station.
There were other rooms in the original floor plan, but the walls were eliminated to open the space to a large storage area used by the maintenance staff of the complex.
Also, there were wires hanging from over the studio doors which formerly were connected to “On Air” lights. These lights were more than likely transferred to the WDAN studios on Washington Street. There are pictures taken in 1938 on display at the current studios of WDAN, showing Studio A which included a distinctive large wall clock that is still in use today at the current studios! With the transfer of that clock being evidence of a probable transfer of other radio station appliances, it's reasonable to assume the “on-air” lights probably went to the 1948 location as well.
The perforated wall panels for sound absorption were removed during the remodeling of the building for senior apartments. It was probably done as part of the removal of asbestos, as these wall panels hid bags of asbestos which was used as sound absorption material. Even though the panels and the sound absorption material were removed the walls were still solid with a concrete or plaster surface. Most of the glass between the studios was removed sometime in the last 60 years, but there were a couple that remained. Each glass window contained two panels of glass, one panel vertically mounted, then another which was at a slight angle to deflect sound away from the opening, making it more soundproof. In the one or two remaining openings which still had glass, the angled glass was removed from each.
The master control floor was raised about 8 inches or so to allow wiring to run in troughs to both studios while being connected to a control board that would have been in master control. The floor was of course concrete, but still had the intricate tiles which would have given the lobby area a terrific elegant look. The floor tiles elsewhere were either 9 or 12-inch squares and were peeling up from their former resting place in the studios.
In the late 1940s, the studios were moved to the current location, a newly designed studio (see History of WICD-TV Part 1). Many of the same features and design elements were carried over to the new facility which was built around the original transmitter building. Sometime around 1960, WDAN was moved downtown to the Commercial-News building. Although it's not known exactly why it could have been either a cost-cutting move or to allow for the total lease of the building to Plains Television which purchased WDAN-TV and leased the studios through 1967. See History of WICD-Part 1 for details.
WDAN continued to operate from the Commercial-News building through the very early 1970s, when the radio station was sold to a number of employees, operating as First Danville Radio. Former WDAN traffic director and personality Jeanne Eisenhauer talked about the day of the Kennedy assassination and broadcasted the news from CBS from the Commercial-News/WDAN studios located at the lower level. More on the First Danville Radio ownership is below.
Later in the early 1970s when the Commercial-News ownership, Gannett Publishing sold the station to First Danville radio the studio at the transmitter site was revitalized and continues to be used by the current owners of the radio stations.
The Golden Anniversary Showcase for WDAN
In 1988, as general manager of WDAN/WDNL, I felt compelled to salute the 50th year of WDAN. We had at the station a number of audio tapes of a number of old CBS radio programs from the 1940s and 1950s....so what better way to celebrate 50 years than do a reflection of the early days of WDAN and air those programs again. I scheduled them on Sunday, October 23, 1988, and produced and engineered the shows with commercials and special sponsors. We also aired a number of reunion interviews conducted by Jeanne Eisenhauer with former WDAN employees as well. Above is a special Golden Anniversary Showcase listener guide as to what was being aired, along with WDAN history.
A 1938-1948 Time Capsule-The Original WDAN Studios
Click on the center picture for more information
(left): A sample of a daily detailed description of what was to be featured on WDAN radio, published each day in the Danville Commercial News, the owner of WDAN radio. (above): Local sports have always been the backbone of local news-sports coverage on WDAN. This is an advertisement for a basketball game between Effingham, Illinois' St. Anthony's High School playing the Danville Catholic High School, Schlarman High School. It's assumed the picture is that of Max Shaffer.
(left): This is newsreel footage of the 1954 IHSA boys basketball tournament at Huff Gym at the University of Illinois. It shows the prominently placed banner of WDAN Radio doing the broadcast. Max Shaffer would have done the play-by-play broadcast.
(YouTube and IHSA)
In the early 1970s, when Northwest Publishing sold the radio properties of WDAN/WDAN-FM it was purchased by a group consisting in part of Max Shafer (in the picture at right-far left) and John Eckert (pictured far right). Max Shafer would continue as general manager and sports director, while John Eckert would continue as sales manager. Bob Burow (center) was the station manager from 1953 through the early 1960s. The other major owner of First Danville Radio was chief engineer Bill Shoup. Ownership also included a number of other investors both employees and no employees of the station.
Upon the purchase of WDAN/WDAN-FM, the call letters of WDAN-FM were changed to WMBJ, with each letter representing a major owner of the stations. "M" for Max Shaffer, "B" for Bill Shop and "J" for John Eckert. When First Danville Radio assumed ownership of the AM/FM combo, the facility would move back into the studios at 1500 N. Washington. The building was totally vacated by Plains Television when WICD, Channel 24 was developed into WICD, Channel 15 in 1967. The transmitter-tower-antenna location would be deserted for its present location in the Homer-Fithian area.
WDAN would broadcast a MOR music format with CBS news programs and features along with an extensive number of local sports programs, Cardinal Baseball, and local high school sports.
Not much effort went into programming the original FM station WDAN-FM. WDAN-FM began as a 100-percent simulcast of WDAN(AM). Later after WDAN-FM was changed to WMBJ(FM) programming was segregated from WDAN(AM) and was run by a very simple Gates SP8-10 automation system with a “55” stack cart machine, 2 Scully reel-to-reel playback decks, and a couple of cart machines. The station still would simulcast the mornings from 6 am-9 am.
WMBJ would become simply a nighttime extension of sister station WDAN(1490-AM) with an "automated jukebox" format of MOR music. The station was used primarily as a vehicle to broadcast play-by-play sports to area communities unreachable with WDAN’s then 250-watt nighttime signal. Most of the play-by-play games broadcast on WDAN-FM and later by WMBJ were from western Indiana schools. Danville High School sports were broadcast by WDAN(AM).
By 1976 a move was made to give WMBJ a more contemporary format, but with very little sales and promotional effort, and very little attention to programming other than running the music, the station had little impact on the community.
John Eckert was a part of WDAN AM/FM/TV from 1948. His long career with the stations would last into the early 1980s with his retirement. Above is a proclamation made by then Danville Mayor David S. Palmer giving the date of December 23, 1978, as "John Eckert Day." He had an incredible commitment to WDAN radio and his sales staff over the years and for many years. John would always be associated with WDAN. He continues his commitment to being a contributor to this website and the site of WDAN-TV (now WICD)....and I thank him for his valuable memories of this great broadcast facility.
(courtesy John Eckert)
Here is a picture of young John Kesler who was a high school board operator at the time. See a picture of an older John Kelser below at the 70th anniversary of WDAN above. This is a great studio picture showing the old transcription tables converted to turntables. They appear to be Collins models, but I'm uncertain. There is a Gates mixing board. It's uncertain how many cart machines are pictured here. The Sentry alert system (a weather warning system that generated a series of on-air beeps whenever severe weather was present) box is the white console mounted on the wall to the left of the calendar (July 1976). Beyond the window, you'll see the FM transmitter and backup AM 250-watt RCA transmitter.
(picture courtesy John Kelser)
Sangamon Broadcasting Purchases First Danville Radio
In the Summer of 1977, Sangamon Broadcasting of Springfield, Illinois (Sangamon Broadcasting can trace its roots to "Sangamon Vally Broadcasting" see History of WICS-efforts to obtain channel 2 in Springfield) would purchase First Danville Radio. The goal was to re-create the success of WTAX/WDBR(FM) in Springfield to WDAN/WMBJ(FM) in Danville. One of the first upgrades made by Sangamon to the Danville stations was the development of an FM station to duplicate the format, operation, and sound of WDBR(FM). The call letters were changed from WMBJ to WDNL. A rather problematic choice of call letters being so close to that of WDAN. The stations were operated as two entirely separate entities within one building. This arrangement would create much angst among some staffers, especially those with roots in the original First Danville Radio staff.
The original Sangamon Broadcasting-Danville would be led by Joe Jackson as general manager and WDAN program director (former WDBR station manager and engineer at WTAX/WDBR); with John Eckert as WDAN/WDNL general sales manager, and Don Russell as chief engineer. WDNL staff consisted of Rich Moore as sales manager, Marc "Phillips" Gonzer as program/music director and evening/night time announcer, Doug Quick as production director and morning announcer, Reed Pence as a morning news anchor, Mike James as an account executive and mid-day/afternoon announcer, Barbara "Kent" Starkey, traffic director. The use of automation allowed for the multiple job description of everyone on staff (see below).
The original WDAN staff in 1977-78 would include John Eckert as general sales manager; Brent Marlin, afternoon announcer, and account executive; Vickie Longer, mid-day announcer and account executive; Bob Appuhn, sports director and account executive; Bruce Yentes, farm and sports reporter, morning announcer and account executive; Bill Pickett, news director; Jeanne Eisenhauer, WDAN traffic and announcer; Bill LaCombe, announcer; John Kesler, announcer; Opal Blacketor and Doyne Dwiggins, in administration.
In 1982 the studios of WDAN were featured in WCIA's "PM Magazine" hosted by Mike Traynor and Suzanne Kay. The co-hosts are pictured here in front of the WDAN automation system. The Harris SP 8-10 included 2 random select carousels (from the WBNQ original automation system), 2 ITC reel-to-reel decks (purchased new), 2 Skully decks (from the original WMBJ automation), and a 55-cart machine player (also from the WMBJ automation). The main controller used parts from the WBNQ system combined with elements from the original WMBJ system along with sister station WDBR-Springfield.
The third picture in the series featured Greg Scott on-air (simulating a live broadcast when actually it was talk tracked) and the final picture with Bob Iverson who was the WDAN/WDNL news director at the time.
(pictures from the Doug Quick Collection-off air pictures taken from WCIA broadcast)
WDAN continued to be the radio voice for the older generation of Danville area listeners. Local sports, particularly Danville High School, and St. Louis Cardinal Baseball were an important part of the revenue generation of the stations, but programming also included that of the CBS Radio Network. Music was usually a middle-of-the-road easy listening, but there was evidence of some block programming with a younger slant, but never a true top 40. When Sangamon Broadcasting took ownership of WDAN the station would move to a more efficient automated format by 1978. Since that time the music format of WDAN included an adult contemporary(Drake-Chenault Contempo 300) which was voice tracked on a Gates SP 8-10 system That Gates automation system was a crazy quilt made of up older elements from automation used by sister station WDBR and elements purchased from WBNQ in Bloomington (see Area CHR History). Later in the early '80s, the station went country to compete with local FM'er WIAI. By the late 1980s, it returned to a middle-of-the-road adult contemporary and eventually to ultra-conservative talk.
Of course, there were many staff changes over the years, as many would be added and subtracted. WDAN/WDNL would continue with Sangamon ownership through 1987....when a devastating ownership change would take place.
The 70th Anniversary Broadcast of WDAN
Pictured here is Mike Hulvey, Scott Eisenhauer, John Kesler and Doug Quick at the WDAN 70th Anniversary Broadcast
WDAN 70th Anniversary Broadcast with Mike Hulvey, John Kesler, Scott Eisenhauer, Bill Black and Sue Richter from the Vermilion County Museum.
A lighter moment, and there were plenty from the WDAN 70th. Pictured here are Bill Black, Sue Richter, Ted Baer, and Mike Hulvey.