Sunday, February 14, 2010

Twin City Postcards: Radio Station WMAM

Dear George,

TV didn’t arrive in Menominee until my freshman year in high school, and my family didn’t get it till several years later, so radio was a focal point of my childhood.  WMAM (570 am), located along the banks of the Menominee River in downtown Marinette, was our primary broadcaster.  We could also sometimes  get Sturgeon Bay and a Green Bay station during the day, but they were pretty staticky.  At nighttime broadcasters stepped up their power, and we received Chicago stations and even WLW in Cincinnati.  For kids growing up in a relatively isolated small town in the north country, the radio was our portal to a larger, more exciting world out there.  By our junior high years my peers and I had become pop music buffs, and we tuned into WMAM to hear “Your Hit Parade” emceed by Doris Day and Frank Sinatra.  Pattie Page, Bing Crosby, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Jo Stafford, and the Mills Brothers were among our favorites.  It was also the golden age for radio comedies and dramas.  The kids in our family would gather on the window seat in river house on Sunday evenings and listen to Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Duffy’s Tavern, and Phil Harris and Alice Faye.  We were also big fans of Milton Berle, Eddie Cantor, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee and Molly, Henry Aldrich, The Shadow, The Lone Ranger, and countless other programs of the day.  Frank St. Peter and I used to listen, at our respective houses, to Friday night boxing matches, though now it’s a bit hard to imagine boxing’s appeal in the absence of any visual image.  

The Dick Rodgers Orchestra, located in Pulaski, WI, down toward Green Bay, broadcast live from WMAM during my high school years.  Rodgers led one of Wisconsin’s best-known polka bands and recorded with Decca, Jay-Jay, and Polkaland Records among others.  There was a big Polish population in our region, and some of my high school pals crashed rural wedding receptions in Menominee County every weekend to drink beer, polka dance, and flirt with the country girls. 


As teenagers we used to stop by WMAM while driving around town at night and talk to the DJs, expressing our opinions about what they should be playing more of and playing less of.  In my senior year I got a phone call from the manager at WMAM, and he said that the station was trying to increase teen interest by recruiting a local high school student to be a DJ on a daily music program.  He said I’d been recommended by a teacher at Menominee High.  The whole idea scared me, and I said that I already was committed to my clerk job at our family drugstore.  My mother thought that was feeble, and now I’d have to agree.  One of my high school acquaintances, Gerry R, took the DJ job, and I got jealous every time I listened to his show.  But that’s how it goes.



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