Thursday, April 5, 2012

WGIL in 1971

I'm getting lots of response to my postings about Galesburg so I guess before I go back to the teen years and the New Place teen nite club, I'd better tell the WGIL story.

WGIL's chief engineer Rick Heath is starting to write a history of Galesburg radio, and he wants to use some of the postings on this blog.  When I was at WGIL from 1971-76, Gerry Hinrichs, who was the head copy writer at the station, put together a book with photos and the history of WGIL.  Rick has begun to scan those photos as he begins his writing.  I'd love to see that book again, Rick!

When I arrived at WGIL in late March of 1971, the radio station was located at 60 S. Kellogg Street, across from the Orpheum Theater.  The Orpheum was showing movies at the time, and the FM studio was on the second floor looking out directly at the front of the Orpheum.  There was an array of automation machines in the FM studio that played the "beautiful music" on WGIL-FM.  I was hired to play country music on WGIL-FM from 3:00 p.m.-midnight.

Donna Howerton was the receptionist.  She typed the letter from Roger Coleman that I received asking me to come in for an interview.  Donna was married to Fred Howerton who ran the Standard gas station at Fremont and Seminary.  She was about our age (I was 22 when I started).  Donna was a real sweetheart, really cute with a great personality!

Duffy Jannsen was the second copy writer, and she worked closely with Gerry Hinrichs.  Duffy sang with the Sweet Adelines, and she was really nice too.

I should say more about Gerry because my last day on the air in June of 1976 she called me as I was playing my last record.  She was sobbing and told me that she was so sorry I was leaving.  I'll never forget Gerry.  She loved WGIL and was the heart and soul of the radio station.

Roseanne Weaver was the bookkeeper, and she worked at the station for years after I left--into the 2000's I think.  I saw Roseanne and her husband Bob at the WGIL 70th anniversary celebration in 2008.  There was no one nicer than Roseanne.

Bob Simmons headed the sales department.  He was a Galesburg boy who graduated from GHS in 1956.

Jimmie Carr and Wayne Webb sold the advertising.  I've already written about Jimmie in a prior posting.  Wayne was a good old boy from Arkansas.  He had driven a Coke truck before Roger Coleman hired him to sell.

And Roger Coleman was the general manager.  He had been manager since 1960.  I've written extensively about him in a prior posting.

That's the personnel on first floor of the station at 60 S. Kellogg.

Now to the upstairs where the studios were.

Bill Rogers (real name Bill Carmody) was the program director.  He also did the mid-day show.  I'm not sure where he was from.  He left WGIL before I did and went to work at WMBD in Peoria.

Eddie Gale was the morning man.  Eddie had worked at WGIL since the early 1950's.  He used to smoke cigarettes while on the air, and you could hear him opening up his Zippo lighter while a listener was asking him a question on his call-in show, "Problem and Solution."  One time one of the guys who worked there (not me!) disguised his voice, called in, and asked Eddie how to get nicotine stains out of his underwear.  Eddie just hung up on him.  There was no delay then, but later when we moved to 154 E. Simmons, management did install a 10 second delay.

I worked there three years before Eddie even called me by my name.  I assume that he had seen lots of other announcers pass through and so he waited until the announcer was there for a period of time before he actually learned the person's name.

Jim Thompson was the chief engineer.  I've mentioned him in prior postings, and I'll say it again, Jim was just a great guy.  He loved country music, especially Connie Smith, and his office and work room were right next to me in the FM studio.  He'd smoke a pipe while he worked and hum along with the music.  We used to talk for hours!

Jim's dad had been a hobo and was riding the rails in the early 1900's when he got real sick in a box car.  Luckily they found him when the train stopped in a town called Ray, Illinois, which is near Rushville.  Jim's dad stayed there and eventually came to Galesburg to work on the railroad.  Jim himself worked at the railroad before and after he worked at WGIL.  Jim was a GHS grad.  He died in the late 70's or early 80's.

Bill Pearson has also gotten some play in these postings, and he was doing sports and news when I got to WGIL.  Bill was a Galesburg boy too, and he left WGIL in the fall of 1971 and went to WHBF-TV in Rock Island to become a TV weatherman.  Later, he moved to Palatine, and I was walking down the hall at Fremd in 1984 when I passed him.  His daughter Beth was on Fremd's state ranked gymnastics team.  Bill was later in Texas, and I think he lives in Wisconsin now.  We had a great time reminiscing when I saw him at Fremd.

As I've said before, there was NO ONE better at play-by-play than Bill Pearson.  He was just amazing, and when Jimmie Carr joined him in the late 1960's their broadcasts were magical.

Lee Davis did the Top 40 rock 'n roll show in the evenings.  Lee was from Rockford, and he had worked at WLPO in LaSalle-Peru before coming to WGIL.  He was the typical 60's jock.  Lee idolized Chris Eric Stevens, the night time jock on WLS in Chicago, and Lee even called Stevens up and talked to him one time.  Lee was a pilot, and we used to rent a plane at the Galesburg Municipal Airport and fly up to the Quad Cities and have breakfast.  I think Lee is in Springfield, IL and is a TV weatherman.  He also runs his own production company.

Mike Conklin from Canton was the night newsman.  Now here was a classic!  Mike had this deep voice, but he liked his liquor just a little too much.  Coleman fired him not long after I started.  On Lee Davis's night off, Mike Conklin used to have a show called "Both Sides," where he would flip a 45 RPM record and play the B side. Mike was too lazy to pull another 45 out of the rack.   He did all this while talking on the air.  It was hilarious!  Lee Davis wouldn't listen because it pissed him off so much.

John Biermann, one of the WIU Mafia, also worked at the Kellogg St. studio.  "Bier-boy" was a year behind me at Western.  I could tell Bier-boy stories on this blog for a LONG time.  He was a maniac in those days.  He used to get off the air at midnight, head to Benny's Tap, and drink doubles one after another until the bar closed at 1:00 a.m.  I remember him dancing behind the bar with the bartender, Rosie, with a double tequila sunrise in his hand.  He was a hard worker though!  John dried out, found religion, and retired from Blackhawk College a few years ago.  He worked at Blackhawk in the public relations office.  John and I played golf last fall so I still talk to him.  What a crazy man he was in 1971!  I should talk!

Roger Coleman hired Bob Parker, a 16 year old GHS sophomore,  in May of 1971.  Bob and I have been close friends for 41 years.  Bob's first day on the job he ran the board and played commercials for the Indy 500.  Bob had called the Coleman house looking for Roger's son Jeff, and Roger's wife Marilyn answered the phone.  Marilyn told Roger that Bob had a "lovely voice," and Roger hired him on the spot.  Bob's mom Dottie Naum played in the women's baseball league that prospered during WW II and which inspired the film A League of Their Own.

Ron Roberg, another WIU Mafia member, took Bill Pearson's place when Bill went to Rock Island.  At WIU Ron had been THE play-by-play guy, but he and Roger never hit it off, and Roger canned him in 1972.  Ron went to work for the Disney Co., and I think he still works there.

And Bill Moehle is the final member of the WIU Mafia who worked at the Kellogg Street studios.  Bill graduated from Maine West High School where he had worked at the high school radio station WMTH (I think Roberg was a WMTH guy too).  Bill had been a guest teen DJ on the Art Roberts' Show on WLS in Chicago.  He served at the student station manager at WIUM when I was a senior.  Moehle was a great guy!  We were roommates while we lived in Galesburg.  Bill went on to an illustrious radio career in Los Angeles.  He's still going today at WCBS-TV in LA. Bill left WGIL in May of 1972.

Bill and Mike Briggs, who was going to Knox College in 1971, created WGIL's new and improved morning show in 1971.  The station sounded horrible when we arrived, and Swick and Roger Dean, the morning duo at WAIK, were kicking Eddie Gale's butt in the morning drive slot.  So Bill and Mike did a complete revision of the AM format, focusing on news and information.  The same format exists on WGIL today.

Briggs went on to be former Illinois Senator Carol Mosely Braun's press secretary, and now he is the press secretary for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. 

Jim Sackey was the all-night guy.  He did newscasts on the hour and played the Dolly Holiday Show, which was recorded music sponsored by the Galesburg Holiday Inn.  Sackey had a three-wheeled motorcycle with a side car.  He used to always take off in the fall when the time changed back to standard time; otherwise he would have to work an extra hour.  Last I heard he was out in Seattle giving tours of ships.  He joined the Navy after he left WGIL.

I may have missed some people, but these are the people I remember.

We moved to the brand new building at 154 E. Simmons in February of 1972.  Chief engineer Jim Thompson worked for hours and hours on the wiring and installation of all new equipment.  I'll write more about the new studios in a future posting.

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