The Sangamon Broadcasting Era
Sangamon Broadcasting of Springfield, Illinois purchased WDAN and WMBJ in mid-1977. Sangamon Broadcasting owned and operated WTAX/WDBR there. I started my employment with the stations in September of 1977. By October 27, 1977, WMBJ, became WDNL(FM) operating a locally produced top 40 format, similar to WDBR in Springfield utilizing what was then a state of the art Harris System 90.
I was one of the original air personalities with my shift from5:30am to Noon, Mike James (Noon-6pm) and PD, Marc Phillips(6pm-1am), newsmen Reed Pence and Bill Pickett, Sales Manager Rich Moore(along with account executive Mike James) and General Manager Joe Jackson.
The early 1978 WDNL Staff. Front row: Marc Phillips (Gonzer), Dan Chenoweth, GM Joe Jackson, Ken Carson (Kalthoff). Back Row: Sales Manager Rich Moore, News Director Reed Pence, Doug Quick and Keith Mason(Brent Wookey).
Some of the other jocks over the Sangamon years(1977-1987) include Keith Mason, Bob Taylor (who did mornings from ‘79 to ‘87, and served as GM during the mid 80’s), Kerry West, Paul St. John, Ken Carson, John Kessler, Darrin Ellis, Mark Smutz, Scott Medlin, Jason Cain and Bill LaCombe among others. News people include Bob Iverson, Tina Bunnell, Carol Vorell, Pat Thompson, Bill Raack and Jim Knoblauch. The sales department included Rich Moore, Mike James, Dan Chenoweth, Jean Dalbey, Bill LaCombe, Susan Frick, Mark Erwin, Tim Buick and myself.
The station was programmed by a Harris System 90 state-of-the-art automation system. The original jingle package used in 1977 was the JAM “Positron” package modeled after WABC’s package and included the “Best Music, Best Station” positioning statement. Other JAM jingle packages followed until 1987.
After I left in mid-1979, Marc Phillips left, and ex-WDBR morning jock Bob Taylor took over the morning duties and Keith Mason was made PD. After a 3 month hiatus at WDZ/WDZQ in Decatur, I had offers to go back to WDBR in Springfield or go back to WDNL in Danville. I made the choice to return to Danville in late 1979 and continued with the station, doing afternoons through the 80's, and later mornings in the early 90’s, while serving as a station account executive, sales manager and eventually as station manager.
(above): The D-102 jocks of early 1979. Click on each picture edge to view. (right above): A sales piece with our first ratings results showing WDNL in column one compared to the other local stations.
Before it was WDNL it was WMBJ. This aircheck is from just a few days before the change to WDNL. Hear the voices of Doug Quick, John Kesler and Mike James.
This composite audio is a collection of segments taken from a single day of broadcasting and features the voices of the DJ's who were on the air that day. The exact day is unknown, but it was from early 1978.
(above): Doug Quick pictured at his desk in 1977. Among my duties as morning jock at D-102, including that of a commercial writer, sales assistant, and production of local commercials.
I left WDNL on June 16th, 1979....but it was a short leave as I would return just over 3 months later. Bob Taylor was hired to replace me in the mornings....and I would do afternoon drive and join the sales staff full time. This is a partial check of my last day, a Saturday morning.
(above): The WDNL, D-102 studio as it was in 1977-78. Essentially it was a "talk track" and music dubbing studio and was the home base of any live broadcasting which took place during the morning or at any other time of the day.
Turntables were not used for live broadcasting, but music for the automation was dubbed from them....they are concealed under the countertop in the foreground.
The Mr. Steak Backyard Barbecue Bash pre-event gathering of D-102 DJ's Bill LaCombe, a Chicago "Honey Bear" cheerleader, Doug Quick, and Keith Mason (Brent Wookey).
Doug Quick preparing for the recording of a talk track. It required writing down the mandatory music that was going to play for the shift.
Our fearless leader....Shelby Harbison, one of best bosses I've ever had. He was also owner of WTAX/WDBR during the era.
The Mr. Steak Backyard Barbecue Bash pre-event gathering of D-102 DJ's Bill LaCombe, a Chicago "Honey Bear" cheerleader, Doug Quick, and Keith Mason (Brent Wookey).
(above): WDNL participated in a Cake Decorating contest held at the
Village Mall in late 1977. Here Marc Phillips (Gonzer), Reed Pence and Doug Quick display the "D-102" cake....but we lost.....
"Hold On Marathon"
(top): Reed Pence, Marc Phillips(Gonzer), Doug Quick, back row l to r: Keith Mason(Brent Wookey), Dan Chenoweth and Rich Moore in front of the 1978 Plymouth Horizon which was awarded at our first big promotion "The Hold On Marathon" at the Village Mall.
(above): The winner of the "Hold on Marathon" and the car, along with the WDNL jocks in October of 1978 on the first anniversary of WDNL, D-102.
The Harris System 90 at D-102
WDAN/WDNL Engineer Don Russell with the Harris System 90. He's inserting a talk track cartridge into the "2" machine. The one next to it to the left was the newscast player, the ones across the bottom were the time announcement playback machines. The record/player machine behind Don was the network news recorder/player/eraser cart machine which recorded a new hourly newscast every hour, without hand erasing the cart. The single play deck below that was the only stereo cart deck for station jingles, re-entry after commercials. On a side note...the second reel to reel machine down from the top is in my possession.
The Harris System 90 was on the assembly line at Harris when I first saw it. I was at the Quincy plant with future PD Marc Phillips(Gonzer) for training on the system in September of 1977. The training system was one decked out with several different pieces of hardware we didn't get, and it was quite intimidating.
My only experience with automation was with an IGM(see WTIM-FM) and WDBR's Gates SP8-10. I could get both of those systems to fix coffee for me if I wanted them to, but the 90 was really quite incredible.
When the 90 finally made it to the studios at 1501 North Washington in Danville we had to make some building modifications to get it in the future master control room. Doors had to be expanded and the floor leveled. Ironically enough, the 90 fit the hole where the transmitter of WICD-TV, channel 24 was located from 1953-1968.
The "stock" System 90 had two carousels, 5 single play cart decks and 4 ITC reel to reel decks. Eventually, it was modified to contain 5 reel to reel decks. The portable keyboard was disconnected and reconnected every morning from the master control room to the "live assist" studio and back after morning drive. Since I did morning drive during that time, I was always lobbying for another keyboard fearing I would either drop it or it would quit working just by being moved around. Unfortunately, that was the only way to communicate with the brains of the system. Sometimes, when it would freeze up, a gentle rise from the table top and a short "drop" would bring it back to its senses.
There were 4 mono cart decks in the system. The "1" machine was for the news/weather, "2" was the talk track produced by the jocks and "3" and "4" were the time announcement decks. There was a single stereo cart deck for jingles and a recorder/player for the recording of network news "from the NBC/Source Network." The top reel to reel deck was the "6" which was used for current chart climbers/fallers, the "7" was the top 13-15 current selections, the "8"(which by the way I have in my garage) was for the top gold selections, the "9" was secondary gold and the "10" were album cuts or daytime extras. Each category was day parted and only the "7's" and the "8's" were talked over announced selections. The "10's" were back announced. Through a very ingenious system developed back at former sister station WDBR we talked up the songs and could hear the intros as we were doing it!! The over all sound of the station was very "ALIVE." We had consultants who could not tell the station was automated from their first impression.
Secrets of the Talk Track System
Now, the secret of the "talk track" system and the way we could hear the song intros for the first time anywhere!! I wish I could take credit for it, but I can't. It was developed by Joe Jackson and his crew back at WDBR in Springfield in the early 70's. Essentially, each reel to reel that was to be "talked up" would have a corresponding cart with the song intros recorded on it in the same order. There were two different categories of songs that were talked up (top currents and the super gold) so you would have two different "simulator" cart machines which the output would be mixed with the board output(and your mike) for your headphones. So as you laid down your track on your "talk track" cart, you would hit the start on the cart machine which contained your talk up song at the same time you "eom'ed" the talk track. Got it??
Your talk track contained each of your talk positions in order and would be called on as the format required. The major drawbacks.....if you forgot one or the cart wasn't in record, you could fall "out of sync" and be talking up the wrong song, or worse yet, talking up the commercial at the next spot set. Later when I was setting up the SMC system for WDNL, I used two talk track carts, one for talk ups and the other for the pre-spot breaks. That at least ended the problems of falling out of sync and talking up the spots. At least if it should fall out of sync, it wouldn't be quite as noticeable. The system forced you to plan your shows, an organizational plan in which I used up to my last day of radio, and recommend to all jocks, live or automated! The time announcements were inserted in the format, from the two time announce cart decks. Each jock would have a pair of carts, in which they would record each time announcement for every minute of their respective shifts. They would be changed when their talk tracks were changed. This way of telling the time sounded very "live" and would fall, usually during a "fill" sequence between two songs and ahead of a segue jingle. Something like "Good Morning, Doug Quick, and the Best Music at 9:34" followed by a jingle..."D-102."
Now, the answer to another question....why automate in this way??? It made sense! Being a small market, the idea of paying for major market talent was going to be impossible. We were competing with WLS, the number one station in our market at the time! The idea of paying some jock, to sit and play records, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes was ridiculous and just not possible. So to be able to bring in great talent, which we always had during the early days, we used the talk track system and gave them the chance of selling. Jocks would spend most of their day on the streets and spend an hour or so each day in the studio doing the talk track. Each jock received a "talent fee" plus commission. It was a great opportunity, and we did pretty well, compared to jocks in other medium and even larger markets.
The final staff of Sangamon Broadcasting at WDAN/WDNL...all good things are coming to an end.
Front row: Darrin Ellis and Mike Hulvey
Second row: Tim Buwick, Mary Vogel, Kerry West, Scotti Lee(Burns), Jill Jackson, Keith Mason(Brent Wookey)
Back row: Bill Raack, Mark Erwin, Doug Quick, Don Russell, Charlie Stewart, Bill LaCombe, Jim Knoblauch, Bob Appuhn, Jeff Slogger, Jeanne Eisenhauer, Susan Frick and Mark Soderberg(Greg Scott)
This photo was our goodbye to two fine radio stations.
This check is from August 31, 1981.
In September of 1983, General Motors was celebrating the 75th Anniversary. The Danville local GM dealers combined with the local GM Central Foundry to sponsor an "open house" at the foundry along with a huge new car show and sale from the grounds of the foundry in Tilton. WDNL was commissioned to do a live broadcast from the Foundry on September 21, 1983. Doug Quick was the announcer on WDNL. Here are excerpts from the broadcast.
From April 26, 1985, this air-check features Doug Quick and the iconic voices of the "Golden Years" of WDNL: Bob Taylor, Keith Mason, Bill "Boober" LaCombe and Kerry West. With this one, you get a great selection of some of the more AC 1980s hits. The Harris 90 automation was performing at its best...no this wasn't live....it was automated the way it should be!
With the impending sale of WDAN/WDNL, Bob Taylor as general manager saw that his days with the group of stations were numbered. He had taken a position with a group of stations in Wisconsin. He finished his morning show tenure with a shortened farewell show between 6 am and 8 am on a morning in February of 1987. Here is a recording of segments from that show. Also featured is Jim Knoblach, Tim Buwick, and others. For the sake of time, the music, news, and commercials were either omitted or edited. Also included was "Cheap Thrills and Big Deals Trivia" and his farewell speech to the nation.
This air check was from June 16, 1983
This check was from the morning of June 19, 1984, in which I filled in on a morning show for Bob Taylor. Nothing really special about this one, it was just a typical morning. Jim Knoblach is also included in this segment.
This segment includes a part of the Doug Quick shift and a part of the Bill LaCombe shift. Quick was the DJ from 3 to 7 pm, LaCombe did 7 to midnight. Here's what happened...."I (Quick) was recording my talk track when Bill came in the studio to prepare for his, which he would record when I finished. I was just a couple of talk-positions from the end of my show when I turned the mic on him to include his comments on my show. It made it sound more "live" and natural as if the shows were live. From there, it developed..... hear what happened when Bill found what he thought was a "dirty" book in the middle of the road and he had to tell the story."
This aircheck goes back to June of 1987, during the last couple of months of Sangamon Broadcasting. I was doing a Noon to 6 pm shift, which was unusual even at the time. Now keep in mind, this was a talk track(or voice track) and was pre-recorded. It was also during our "high personality" period. This allowed me to work as Sales Manager, Account Executive and still remain on the air.
I started out in morning drive and acted as a sales assistant and Production Director. The PD was the only person who didn't have anything to do with sales. The midday and afternoon jocks were both AE's. The only person on staff who wasn't on the air, besides traffic/accounting was the Sales Manager. Being on track also allowed jocks to be on the air 6 or 7 days a week, keeping the quality consistent from day to day. We would adjust the air shifts on weekends for variety. Later we did allow some of the weekend operators an opportunity to do a track, but only after some pretty extensive training and practice. It was always my idea that voice tracking in this manner makes a mediocre jock sound pretty good, and a good creative jock sound great! My years with Sangamon were the best radio years of my career. I only wish I could've known it at the time and tried harder to save it.
Jim Knoblauch and Susan Frick
Susan Frick and Don Russell
Jeannie Eisenhauer of WDAN
Jim Knoblauch and Susan Frick
the beginning of the end...
When Sangamon Broadcasting was forced to break up and dissolve due to the wishes of the majority of the remaining owners, Bob Taylor who was at that time the General Manager decided it was time to move on and pursue other interests. He took a job as a GM at a station group in Wisconsin well in advance of the proposed sale of WDAN/WDNL.
These pictures are from his going away party taken on January 16, 1987, by station friend, Roberta Mayer who donated her pictures to this site.
Pictured are many of the staff members who were instrumental in the success of WDNL, D-102 during the mid-1980s.
WDAN/WDNL sold the first time to a group from Indiana, but the sale fell through on the closing day. Another owner was found in MAJAC during the Summer of 1987 taking over the ownership on August 1st, 1987.
(right): Doug Quick as General Manager at WDAN-WDNL during the last years of the Majac ownership.
During the Majac ownership, WDNL became a 50-kw
FM powerhouse....hence the name "Power 102.1" Here
Chief Engineer Don Russell checks out the power supply for the new 50,000-watt transmitter pictured in the background.
(above): WDNL, "The Power Station" air staff: l to r: Doug Quick, Lane Delkar, Mike Rogers.
(left): This was the station vehicle under the Majac ownership. "The Power Wagon" was a modified monster truck with a powerful sound system, lighting and was equipped with a mast allowing for remote broadcasts from distant locations.
The Majac Years 1987-1991
On August 1, 1987, the station was purchased by Majac, Inc., owned by Jack and Marc Steenbarger (father-son). This was the beginning of the worst days of my radio career. The automation was eliminated in favor of live programming, and the air staff was cleared of all of the long time jocks, Bob Taylor(who left in February 1987), Keith Mason, Bill LaCombe, Kerry West and myself. Bill LaCombe and I remained in our sales jobs, as we were already successful account execs with the station. Majac eliminated the “Best Music, Best Station” logo and used “WDNL, the Power Station”, even though the station was still at 9K-horizontal(11K-vertical). They brought in a new air staff (sold to the existing staff as "major market talent") consisting of a morning jock Glen Hill, Lane Delkar, Kate Summer and Jeff Delfield. It didn't take the existing staff and the audience to discover that the on-air quality of the station dropped considerably. The "major market" staff brought in were really victims of the new owners as well). Within a very short period of time, the morning jock was fired and I temporarily took over the duties of morning drive while maintaining my sales position until the arrival of morning announcer Mike Rogers.
Under the Majac ownership, the once production studio was converted to a live studio with carted music and later included a compact disc player. When the studio was converted, ownership had been short sighted in not setting up a replacement studio for the production of commercials! Even after many times being warned of the problem by the old guard staffers (including myself), Majac dismissed the lack of a production studio as a non-issue. After it became obvious a replacement studio was going to be needed, a studio was constructed in what is now the newsroom of WDAN/WDNL.
For a time, the programming and music selection was disoriented. The new manager/owner had set up a system of music programming which rotated all of the top 40 hits equally and mixed with a random selection (based on the whims of the jock on duty) of "recent oldies." Some air shifts were covered by beginners who, probably shouldn't have been on the air.
It wasn't all bad under the Magac ownership. In 1988 the station finally went to 50,000 watts with the installation of a new transmitter and outboard power supply. It was unfortunate that under Sangamon Broadcasting the power potential of D-102 was never realized when the station was being operated in it's prime.
New audio processing equipment was installed with the power upgrade, although in my opinion never set up and operated correctly to maximize the audio potential the equipment could deliver. With the additional wattage, Majac tried unsuccessfully to market the station as a "rim-shot" Champaign-Urbana station. That effort failed.
Later, though, after Jack and Marc had left the operation to concentrate on another property in Flint, Michigan I tried to return 102.1 back to it's more structured format and return to D-102, now with 50,000 watts. I was made GM during that time and worked with an air staff which included Russ Miller and Kerry West(who returned at the time, and remains with the station) as "The Breakfast Flakes," Dave McCracken, "Tiny Tom" Christy (formerly of WAZY-Lafayette, Indiana), Scottie Lee (Burns), Greg Binshish, Greg Laird, Mike Knoblett, Dean Wendt (one of the founders of Disney Radio, and currently the voice of "Barney" the Dinosaur) and others.
At right is a collection of pictures taken during the Majac era 1987-1989.
(above): Doug Quick at the newly remodeled D-102 studio in 1989.
The "Breakfast Flakes" was the new morning crew in 1990. Russ Miller and Kerry West are pictured.
Oldsmobile Balloon Classic Coverage on WDAN/WDNL
(Left): The WDAN/WDNL staff and family at the Illinois Balloon Classic in June of 1991. Pictured front row: Mindi Quick, (unknown name-Dave McCracken's son), Miranda Quick, Tom Wagner, Mark Kirts, Jim Ducey. top row: Glen Natschke, Pat Swanson, Doug Quick, Jeanne Eisenhauer and Dave McCracken.
By 1988 WDAN/WDNL began broadcasting a schedule from the Oldsmobile Balloon Classic Illinois from the Vermilion County Airport. The coverage expanded during the early 1990s and included the work of the entire staff. Don't be mislead by my lone picture above. Our coverage was a team effort which brought all departments of the station together. It was quite a logistical feat to coordinate the two stations coverage with such diverse formats. The picture above shows the studio set up within a travel trailer. The set up included scanners which received the closed circuit signals from remote transmitters on the ground as well as the station's balloon chase vehicle. All commercials, all station operations were coordinated on site and sent back to the station by remote transmitter where it was broadcast live. Traffic reports were done from the airport control tower in which visitors were directed to the best areas to park, reporters gave background information on the balloons, pilots and support personnel. The station received superb support from the advertisers as all broadcasts were "sold out."
The Neuhoff Broadcasting Years
In 1991, Neuhoff Broadcasting of Springfield, Illinois purchased WDAN/WDNL. A management team was put in place with, at one time or another, Mike Hulvey, along with Lynn Halterman, Jeff Cosgrove and Doug Quick. During the early Neuhoff years, WDNL was re-automated using an SMC analog automation system with a locally produced Hot AC format and “like live” jocks once again. They included Quick, Jim Ducey, Jeff Delfield and Kerry West among others.
During the late 1980's the station began an association with the Oldsmobile Balloon Classic Illinois (see above) and that association continued into the early 1990's under the Neuhoff ownership It was in October of 1992 I was dismissed at WDAN/WDNL in favor of another sales manager.
In late 1994 Doug Quick was back at WDNL as afternoon drive DJ. Mike Hulvey took the office of GM after I left in '92. In the mid 90's, the morning jocks were PD Scott Eisenhauer (now Danville Mayor) and "Mother Benson's Boy" Bob "Benson" Harshbarger. In the late 90’s, the station installed a digital system and went to a soft AC format, dropping the “D-102” logo in favor of “102.1FM, WDNL, with "continuous music of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today.”
The station also added University of Illinois sports, broadcasting men's Football and Basketball games and the Saturday night syndicated oldie show was canceled. PD, and morning jock during the late 90’s and into the 2000s was Carol Wade. The other jocks were Doug Quick, West along with Chad Christopher and Tim Fisher.
I continued at D-102 in the midday slot and was host of the "Weekend at the 70's"show on Sunday afternoons through 2002. I left in October of 2002 when I went from the morning to the evening shift at WICD as weathercaster.
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Doug Quick and the D-102 Saturday mid-day show from January 1991. This was another example of the automated format using the SMC system shown above and voice tracked. Can you really tell it was automated?
This is an air-check with Doug Quick from November 2, 1994. This is an example of the SMC automation system using the talk track method
"The Breakfast Flakes" consisted of Kerry West and Russ Miller in the morning.
From November 5, 2000 Doug on "Sunday at the 70's." It was a regular Sunday afternoon feature with songs from the 70s.
This air check is another "Saturday at the 70s" sample from June 30, 2002.
Doug Quick and Mike Hulvey giving station tours to groups during a Chamber of Commerce event in 1991.
Members of the staff of WDAN/WDNL in 1991.
Jeff Delfield in 1991 during one of our traveling Pizza Party remote broadcasts on D-102.
(above): Doug in WDNL studio during one of the talk track sessions of "Sunday at the 70's."
Now for the first time since 2002, hear segments from Doug's Last Show on WDNL(D-102). Each part includes airchecks from as far back as 1977. Of course, not everyone associated with WDNL is included in these brief segments, that would be impossible. Each segment is 5-10 minutes in length. You'll get a taste of what was happening in Danville during those years, including old commercials, a remote from the GM Central Foundary during it's 75th Anniversary and more. Enjoy!
In the late 90's, Neuhoff purchased the former Rollings station WWDZ-94.9FM in Danville. Neuhoff then changed the call letters to WRHK(FM) and began using the K-Rock logo. Meanwhile, In late 1999, WDNL was once again was using the “D-102” logo, and beefing up the presence of the jock in the format and leaning more toward a Hot AC/Mix format. The station also aired a locally produced 70's show hosted by Doug Quick on Sunday afternoons.
"On October 18, 2002 I left D-102 right before the 25th Anniversary of the station. My final show included audio clips of the last 25 years and lastly signed off with a Proclamation for "Doug Quick Day" in Danville on that date presented by Danville Mayor Bob Jones. There was also an on-air phone call from Geoff Neuhoff, owner of the Danville radio stations, WDAN/WDNL/WRHK. Off air I also received calls from State Representative Bill Black as well as former long time morning DJ, Bob Taylor."
This is where my tracing of the History of D-102 ends. Since I'm no longer with the station, it will be nearly impossible for me to continue. I leave it for some other broadcast historian. Good luck.
To those I omitted, I'm sorry. In spite of you not being included here on this site, you're in my memories of a great time in my career!
(left): WDAN and WDNL staffers at the broadcast of my final day. These people were there over much of my 25+ years. From left to right: Mike Hulvey(station mgr), Pat Swanson, Scott Medlin, Gene Cosgrove, me, Don Russell, Tom Barnes, Danville Mayor Bob Jones and Bill Pickett
In Memory of....
In 2003 Bill "Boober" LaCombe passed away. Along with being one of Danville's most popular radio jocks over the years(WITY, WDAN, WDNL, WPFR-Terre Haute), he had several non-radio jobs such as host at O'Leary's Pub and as a travel consultant at Williams Travel. His many appearances with the "Prime Cuts Road Show" at events over the last 15 years made him one of the area's most popular disc jockeys. He was a real fun loving guy who is missed by all of his friends.
Mary was a member of the WDAN air staff and passed away at the end of July of 1987. She was a much-loved member of the staff and participated in many station promotional events during her time. Her work as an account executive made her a well-respected member of the Danville area business community. Mary had many friends throughout the community and will always be missed.
In October of 2005, former Account Executive Dan Chenoweth passed away in Oregon. Dan was a gentleman in every aspect of the word. A dedicated dad, and a friend. We lost contact after he left WDNL in the early '80s when he moved to the west coast, but he will always be remembered for being the great guy he was. (Dan is pictured above in the section "The Sangamon Years").
Bob took over the morning show on WDNL in June of 1979 where he continued through February of 1987. He also served as Sales Manager for a time along with General Manager through the last days of Sangamon Broadcasting in Danville. His many catch phrases("land of tall corn", "cheap thrills and big deals trivia" as well as his sign-off "...blue skies, green lights, two scoops of jomocha almond fudge and much love Sunshine."), his personal appearances as emcee at various functions and his hosting the "Prime Cuts Road Show" and his work with the Danville Chamber made him a valued and popular Danville personality.
"I first met Bob when he showed me the studios at WTAX/WDBR back in 1973 when he hosted "The Gold Mine" on WDBR and served as morning man with the FM Top 40 station. He introduced me to automated radio, and showed me the "gritty" side of the business. He and I worked together in the mid 70's with some voice over projects and I was so happy to be able to work with Bob when I returned to WDNL in September of 1979. ---Doug Quick
In late 1973 a nervous young Lincoln Land Community College student walked intently into the studios of WTAX/WDBR located on Dirkson Parkway on Springfield's east side. He asked the receptionist if he could talk to the station manager, whom he knew as Mr. Harbison. In just a few seconds he would meet with Shelby Harbison who would ultimately send that young student along a broadcast career path of at least 45 years. The studios were the home of the Sangamon Broadcasting Company, that owned WTAX/WDBR. Little did he know at the time he would research the history of that company that would be a part of a book the young student would write and have published 44 years later.
That LLCC student was me. At that hour-long meeting, we talked about radio, its past, and present and just how my interests in broadcasting could come into play in a job at the legendary stations. At the conclusion of the unscheduled meeting, he passed me off to WDBR personality Bob Taylor. That was the first meeting I had with someone who would be a huge part of my first 12 years in radio.
As it turned out, I didn't get a job at WTAX/WDBR...at least not at the time. I began my career in radio at Taylorville. I did, though, get a call from Bruce Bagg from WTAX in the Summer of 1975 to interview with the stations, but by then I had already decided to return to college. In early 1976, I was once again looking for Summer employment and went to WTAX/WDBR. As it turned out, I got the job as Summer fill-in at the stations. I had the privilege of working with the most talented people at a single facility I've ever worked. Shelby was the general manager and part owner who assembled this incredible group of people who would influence me in everything I did from that Summer of '76 forward.
I left WTAX/WDBR in the Fall of 1976 to concentrate on school work at Western Illinois University. When I finished at Western, I returned to Taylorville radio as there were no other opportunities elsewhere.
In early September of 1977, I traveled with a workmate in Taylorville who was interested in a job opportunity at the set of radio stations newly acquired by Sangamon Broadcasting in Danville, WDAN/WMBJ. There I met with Joe Jackson, former station manager at WDBR and Marc Gonzer, FM station program director who was a former staffer at Springfield's WFMB and WCVS. By the end of the visit, I was offered a job as morning dj, production director and as a sales assistant. Based on my experience with working for Shelby and Sangamon, I jumped at the chance to join the staff and help create a new radio station based on the model set forth by WDBR. That radio station would be WDNL or D-102.
I would be associated with the station as a dj and account executive during the Sangamon Broadcasting-Danville years from 1977 to 1987. For me, it's easy to say that those years at WDAN/WDNL were some of the best of my life. Once again, Shelby Harbison was at the helm of those tremendous radio stations.
It was a sad period when the sale of the WDAN/WDNL was announced. It was an even sadder day when the new owners took control and the staff was scattered. You can read about that period on the History of WDNL site on this website.
Years later a group of three former Sangamon Broadcasting-Danville employees would meet in Decatur for lunch about three to four times a year in the mid-2000s to just a few years ago. Mike Hulvey, now with Neuhoff Broadcasting, Shelby Harbison, Bob Taylor and I would enjoy catching up at the Decatur Bob Evans. Those meetings would end with the passing of Bob Taylor. The three remaining members of our group were not able to meet again as our schedules would not allow any additional meetings.
I regret now not being able to meet with Shelby during his final years to discuss those early days of Sangamon Valley Broadcasting during the early to mid-1950s, one of the most fascinating topics of my book. Even more so, I regret not personally meeting with one of the real legends of broadcast history one more time.
Here is a link to the University of Illinois-Springfield
oral history interview with Shelby conducted in 1973.