WOWI - What a Time We Had! (Part one)
The mic goes on:
"You know a few days ago I was working at a station in Peoria, Illinois, with more listeners than you could shake a program director at. And now, look at me. A few minutes ago when I turned this station on, the door fell off of the transmitter." (It really did.)
"I'm sitting in a block building in the middle of a grassy field, looking at a VU meter with a stub for a needle. But the great thing about being here is that we can do anything we want and we're going to have a big old tub of fun doing it. First of all, is there anyone listening? If you are, give me a call." (Gave number and played spot.)
First call (you could only hear my side of the conversation):
"Hi, what's your name? Well, Fred, why are you listening to this? You don't know. Well I don't know why I'm here so we have a lot in common. Would you like to hear a record, Fred? OK, how about 'Nanny and the Knee Knockers'? You don't like them? What do you like? OK I've got that, but if I play this for you I want you to call a friend and tell them that we have a radio station up here. I know it's 6 AM. Where's your spirit of adventure?" (Played spot.)
"Come on, Fred, we've got to get this thing started. I'll give you a buck. You want two bucks, OK – make the call." (Played record.)
"Hello WOWI. Are you our other listener or do I owe you money? Good. Who are you? Bill. OK Bill, what would you like to hear? Oh, Fred said that I'd give you two bucks if you called. Well, Bill, I'm afraid the WOWI promotional budget is shot for the week, but if you'll hold on somebody will take your name and address and we'll send you two tickets to next Monday's show. Hey, Fordyce!"
(Great big news voice says, WHAT!)
"Bill's on the phone for you."
(WHO?) (Played a record and some spots.)
Fordyce was a newsman who had worked on the Indiana side of the river for years. He was a swell guy with a voice that made him sound haunted and a laugh that you could measure on the Richter scale. He hated Rock and Roll with a passion. When I first met him I told him to forget about the music, that we were going to have more fun than a barrel of gumbys.
When we got to the bottom of the hour I gave the time check, "It's Canada Dry Six Thirsty time. Here's Mr. Fordyce and the news." I played the sounder (in the background I played a sound effect of Mel Blanc doing his impression of a motorboat. When the sounder faded out, the motorboat was still going.) After the Information Report (that's what we called the news),
"Thank you Mr. Fordyce. You know when you try to keep from laughing like that you turn all pink."
This kind of Adamfoolery continued all morning. Gene Snyder came in at 10:00 and said it was the funniest thing he ever heard on the radio.
"What about Woody?" I asked. I was kind of hard on the station image. He was the GM.
"Oh don't worry about him, Mize, you just keep having fun."
Gene had worked out a mixture of cash and trade-out for me that added up to more than I had been making at WIRL. Part of the trade-out was a hotel room and one meal a day at the New Albany Inn. It was a great place to live and to this day I have fond memories of the year I spent there. In fact, working at WOWI was my first chance to stretch out in what seemed to be years. I had the most fun I ever had in radio at that little 1000 watt daytimer. Go figure!
The only thing WOWI had going for it was its call letters. There were ten stations in the Louisville metro area, not counting a free-standing FM owned by a radio school. When I got there WOWI had no measurable audience. When Snyder showed me the book on my arrival I hit him. When he said the station didn't have any listeners, I hadn't taken him literally. But what we lacked in popularity, we made up for in crummy equipment. One morning shortly after I got there, I was taking the transmitter readings and I noticed that when Mr. Fordyce was using his electric razor the power tubes got dim. So I got him a jar of Nair and a pair of tweezers.
Russ Wittberger owned WOWI. Why he bought the station I don't know. He was a good guy who had played college basketball and was an amateur magician. The first time I met him I asked him if he could pull some sponsors out of his hat. He worked fulltime at a station in Milwaukee, and he came down to visit us every few weeks. He was a salesman (but I liked him anyway.) Russ understood how hard it was to get listeners when you only had one KW with a sliding sign-on and you were in the glove compartment (1570.)
We had put together a pretty fair staff. I worked until 10 AM, Joe Fletcher middays, Snyder afternoons, and Terry Armstrong, when the days got longer, until sign-off. Russ seemed to really like all the fun we were having. One night we were walking out of the station and I noticed that the red light on the top of the tower wasn't blinking. There were a few beer cans full of water around the base of the tower that we used in this situation. Snyder said, "Hey Russ, grab one of those cans and hit the tower near the top." (It was only 100 feet high.) He misses with the first one but hits it the second time and the light starts to blink. He shook his head and mumbled, "I don't think that's legal." I said, "Who cares – you're the owner!"
Back row: Gerry Fordyce, Adam Jones, Terry Armstrong
Front row: Gene Snyder, Joe Fletcher, Russ Wittberger
The New Albany Inn
WOWI Survey September 1964
Mr. and Mrs. Fordyce
Adam with cigarette on Honda 50
(Shortly after this picture, quit smoking forever)