The History of WOWO!
Based on Sam DeVincent’s Timeline of WOWO, with additional research by Randy Meyer
Excerpt from page one of the book "In the Public Interest: Oral Histories of Hoosier Broadcasters" by Linda Weintraut and Jane R. Nolan (1999)
"It was more of a lark for most of the bunch than anything else," wrote K.D. Ross of the broadcast in 1924 that inspired Fred Zieg to start WOWO. An opera singer from Bluffton, Indiana, the treasurer of Allen County who did "old time fiddling," and some other "prominent people who were musicians" put together a few songs for an experimental radio broadcast from the home of Harold Blosser on South Wayne Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The low-budget program transmitted on a five-watter had limited range, but it was a hit. According to Ross, Zeig received "hundreds" of calls. Zeig had been searching for a way to promote the sale of Dayfan radios, one of the product lines sold at his store, Main Auto Supply. When Ross convinced him that for a mere $150 he could build a radio station above his store, WOWO was born."
In the 1960s, K.D. Ross also wrote a booklet titled "Birth of a Station, WOWO" in which he recounts some of the behind-the-scenes stories of the early days of WOWO.
Chester Keen built the first transmitter in Fort Wayne. He and Lauer Auto initiated Fort Wayne's first radio station WCWK, later known as WGL.
Keen bought the Lauer interests.
WOWO established by the Main Auto Supply Co., with studios above Main Auto at 213 West Main St. Officers: President, Fred Zieg; Sales Manager, Clyde Durbin; Secretary-Treasurer, J.A. Becker.
WOWO first signs on the air on March 31, 1925 with 500 watts at 1320 kilocycles. The call letters were chosen arbitrarily. "W" for broadcast station east of the Mississippi and "O" for ease of pronunciation. A listener contest sometime prior to 1927 came up with the slogan : "Wayne Offers Wonderful Opportunities."
September 18, 1927: WOWO becomes a pioneer station of the CBS network. CBS made its first network broadcast at 3 PM EST, originating its programming from WOR, Newark. WOWO was among 16 stations on board for Opening Day.
In September of 1927, WOWO moves to 1310 kilocycles and increases power to 5,000 watts day, 2,500 watts night.
Chester Keen sells WCWK to Fred Zieg who operated WOWO. This station became WGL (What God Loves) and was operated out if the WOWO facilities. WGL remained with the Zieg interests until sold to Westinghouse in 1936; then Westinghouse sold to Farnsworth in 1945. It subsequently was purchased by Fort Wayne Newspapers. Balance of data here applies to WOWO only.
In order to reduce interference and generally add some order to the growing radio industry, the new Federal Radio Commission ordered most radio stations in the U.S. to change their broadcast frequencies at 2:00am CT on Nov. 11, 1928. WOWO moved to 1160 kilocycles.
In April of 1929, power was increased to 10,000 watts. WOWO shared 1160 with WWVA, Wheeling, WV (5,000 watts), in a shared time arrangement, where one station would use the frequency for a scheduled amount of time, then sign off, and the other station would begin their broadcast. WOWO transmitter was now located at the Junction 30-33.
Disastrous fire at studio site, July 4, 1929. WOWO resumed broadcasting the next day, as operations were moved across the street until damages could be repaired. Great pipe organ was not damaged. This organ was later sold to the Gospel Temple in Fort Wayne. In November 1929, the station held a grand opening of the rebuilt studios.See more information on the "WOWO In the News" page on the navigation menu.
Many firsts have been credited to the WOWO operation in this decade, including the first basketball games ever to be broadcast anywhere (listed in official radio chronology); first “Man on the street” program from the lobby of the Old Indiana Theater; first station to broadcast by remote the Indiana High School Athletic Association basketball tournament.
On Feb. 27, 1931, WOWO and WWVA were granted simultaneous day operation on 1160kc. The shared time arrangement continued during nighttime hours until 1943.
First regular newscaster hired - H.W. Flannery.
Sales department a separate corporation: WOWO-WGL Sales Service, Inc.
Reflecting the popularity of "hillbilly" music, "The Hoosier Hop" debuts on WOWO. The program would continue on and off for more than 15 years, eventually broadcast coast-to-coast on several different radio networks, including Mutual, NBC Blue and ABC.
On December 4, 1932, a South Side High School freshman named Bob Sievers signed on WOWO for the first time. Through all four years of high school, Bob would sign the station on the air each morning from the Gospel Temple, after his Journal Gazette paper route.
WOWO acquired by Westinghouse in August 1936. Although the company had founded and owned several other radio stations, WOWO was the first station purchased by Westinghouse Broadcasting, a wholly owned subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric Corporation. See more information on the "WOWO In the News" page on the navigation menu.
August 2, 1936: Bob Sievers becomes a full-time announcer on the WOWO staff. His five decades on the air would be interrupted only by military service during World War 2 and the Korean War. His starting salary was $5 per week.
New studios at 925 S. Harrison St. are completed on May 1, 1937. Over 10,000 listeners visited the studios in the two-day open house and congratulatory messages were received from around the world, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Joined NBC Blue Network May 1. This network later became ABC. WOWO also started it's "Modern Home Forum" program with host Jane Weston. See more information on the "WOWO In the News" page on the navigation menu.
Jay Gould joins the WOWO airstaff, first appearing as “The Old Songsmith.”
WOWO moves from 1160 kc to 1190 kc at 2am CT on March 29, 1941, thanks to a US treaty called the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement. It required that most existing AM stations change frequencies, resulting in a massive shuffling of radio station dial positions all across the country. See more information on the "WOWO In the News" page on the navigation menu. The shared time arrangement with WWVA had essentially been voided as WOWO moved to 1190 kc and WWVA went to 1160 kc.
On June 24, 1941, the FCC authorizes WOWO to operate full-time on 1190 kc with 10,000 watts.
In 1940, the FCC assigned FM radio to the 42 to 50 MHz band of the spectrum. In Fort Wayne, Westinghouse Broadcasting receives an experimental license for station W49FW. On October 12, 1942, the station begins broadcasting at 44.9 megacycles with 1,000 watts from 4:00 to 10:00pm, seven days a week. Rosemary Stanger is the entire staff of W49FW, where she handles the announcing, engineering, and managing (Movie-Radio Guide, March 1943, p. 45). Within a couple of years, the FCC moves the FM band to its present location. The station is renamed WOWO-FM and assigned to 96.1 megacycles with 16,500 watts. Westinghouse eventually decides FM broadcasting is unprofitable and has no future, so they signed off WOWO-FM off permanently in late 1953, shortly before WOWO moved to a new transmitter location. The FM transmitter was donated to Taylor University. See more information on the "WOWO In the News" page on the navigation menu.
Late in 1945, Bob Sievers and Jay Gould began incorporating farmyard sound effects into their daily program. This experimentation was the beginning of the world famous “Little Red Barn.”
Westinghouse sells WGL to Farnsworth Television and Radio Corp. for an undisclosed price.
Penny Pitch established by Jay Gould as annual on-air fund raising event to benefit needy WOWO-land
On April 30, 1952, WOWO Radio moves to new studios in the Gaskins Building at 128 W. Washington Blvd. in downtown Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne Komets Hockey broadcasts debut in October on WOWO.
Bob Chase begins as color/play by play announcer for Fort Wayne Komets. By December, 1953, Bob was the play-by-play announcer for Komet Hockey and Sports Director for WOWO.
WOWO's licensed power is increased to 50,000 watts (as powerful at any station in U.S.) on February 1, 1954. Transmitter site on U.S. 24 near Roanoke, Indiana with new Westinghouse HG50 transmitter. It beamed its signal north, south and east at night to avoid interfering with stations in the western United States . See more information on the "WOWO In the News" page on the navigation menu.
On July 30, 1956, WOWO dropped all network affiliations and began "independent" operation with local disc jockeys, including Bob Sievers, Cal Stewart and Bob Chase. This format change brought DJs into prominence; also such programs as Program PM, a two-hour nighttime feature; caused an increase in public service especially on the community needs level, and intensified news coverage with WBC Washington News Bureau, European and around the world news reporting by WBC correspondents, Associated Press, etc. A new “sound" gave radio and WOWO new depth and with car radios, the greatest mass audience of any medium. More and more sets are sold each year with transistors making radio as mobile as people themselves.
Roughly a month after going "independent," WOWO hires a young air personality named Jack Underwood to take over middays (from Cal Stewart, who was promoted to Program Manager). Jack would hold down middays at WOWO from Sept. 1956 to April 1984, with a two year hiatus in 1965-1967 when he served as WOWO Program Manager.
WOWO, on its 35th anniversary placed a time capsule in the ground at Swinney Park, and marked the spot with a commemorative plaque. The capsule was filled with mementos of life as it was that day and included predictions of what life might be like when the capsule was opened in 1994 - the 200th anniversary of Fort Wayne.
On May 20, 1963, Westinghouse adopts a new communicative name: "Group W." The new designation means that all advertising and promotion of WOWO will include the “Group W” tag. The legal name is unchanged as "Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, Inc."
Long-time WOWO Farm Director Jay Gould's book, "Hello World" is published. It is a selection of Gould's most-requested poems and speeches. About 23,000 copies are sold.
Two young broadcasters join the WOWO airstaff: Ron Gregory in early evenings (March, 1973) and Chris Roberts in afternoon drive (September, 1973). Each would become institutions in the market, spending more than twenty years at WOWO.
WOWO moves to new facilities at 203 West Wayne St. on the fourth floor of the Central Building, in the Winter of 1977. It was customized to accommodate the needs of WOWO. There was no elevator service in the building at the time of the move, and all equipment had to be hauled up four flights of stairs to the new studio facilities.
Addition at Roanoke transmitter site completed and new Harris MW50A transmitter put into service.
Bob Sievers is inducted into the Indiana Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Price Communications purchases WOWO from Group W for $6 million, ending a 46-year relationship between Fort Wayne and Westinghouse Broadcasting.
Jay Gould leaves WOWO in July, 1983 after 45 years.
Jay Gould passes away on Jan. 20, 1984.
Legendary WOWO morning announcer Bob Sievers retires after a half century serving WOWO and its listeners. Sievers’ association with the station began in 1932 when, as a high school student, he helped get the station on the air from the Gospel Temple. He was finally hired by WOWO in 1936 and with the exception of 6 years he spent in the Navy, taking care of WOWO’s listeners was Bob’s daily mission. Former WOWO Newsman and Farm Director Dugan Fry returns to WOWO to take over the morning show.
WOWO returns to FM radio. Their last FM station broadcast was in 1955, when they were one of the pioneers in FM while a member of Group W.
On November 4, 1985, WOWO Sports Talk returns to the air with Art Saltsberg and Dean Pantazi as a nightly show. Art had done a previous version of Sports Talk in 1977 and 1978 with Ron Gregory, two nights per week.
WOWO returns to the music of its heritage, and becomes Fort Wayne's "Original Oldies" station, playing the music that made it one of the top-rated radio stations in America in the 60's.
Although the Sunday morning edition of the program continues, the weekday morning "Little Red Barn" ends August 7, after nearly 50 years.
WOWO retains its full service heritage and drops oldies in favor of adult contemporary music format.
Inner City Broadcasting of New York purchases WOWO from Price Communications, seeking to greatly curtail WOWO's 50,000 watt nightime signal on 1190. Federated Media begins operating WOWO in agreement with Inner City. WOWO FM sold to third party. November 11, 1994.
WOWO studios move to new facilities at Federated Media’s Maples Road broadcast facilities on the southeast edge of Fort Wayne.
WOWO completes transition to News/Talk format with Talk programming around the clock.
On December 7, 1997, the final edition of the Little Red Barn airs as producer Flyin’ Brian Walsh pays tribute to Sam DeVincent. Sam passed away on November 29, 1997. He dedicated most of his life to preserving and sharing music. He produced and hosted the show for 28 years. Sam and his wife, Nancy Lee, joined the radio station as part of the Hoosier Hop in 1945 and never left.
WOWO remains at 50,000 watts daytime and power is lowered to licensed 9,800 watts at night.
WOWO Celebrates 75 years as the voice of a thousand Main Streets.
Thousands of listeners throughout WOWOland mourn, as Mr. WOWO, Bob Sievers passes away at the age of 90 on September 3, 2007.
Bob Chase announces his retirement as Sports Director of WOWO, effective June 5, 2009. The 83-year-old Chase remains as the voice of the Fort Wayne Komets heading into his 57th season.