September 8, 2011
Don't touch that dial: Radio symposium will tune in nostalgic days of radio live music
For the sixth consecutive year, communication experts from Kansas State University are out to show the world that radio history took place not only in states that share a border with the ocean, but in the Midwest as well.
This year's Great Plains Radio History Symposium is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, in the Big 12 Room of the K-State Student Union. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. The annual event is co-sponsored by K-State's A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media.
The symposium underscores that game-changing moments in broadcast history happened in the backyard of many Kansans, said Steve Smethers, associate professor of journalism and mass communications at K-State and symposium organizer.
"If you open a textbook, you might get the impression that radio started on the East and West coasts, then slowly made its way to the Midwest," Smethers said. "However, broadcasters here also understood that radio was a tool that could be used to mold society."
For example, the Top 40 radio music format got its start from Omaha native Todd Storz. "He saved radio; he revolutionized it," Smethers said. "We still operate on a limited playlist concept today."
Storz was one of many influential broadcasters who helped propel the broadcast industry into a new era. However, the earlier days of live radio music are legendary, and this nostalgic and captivating shift in radio history is the focus of this year's symposium.
"This year we wanted to celebrate live music," Smethers said. "The purpose is to tell today's generation what music on the radio meant at one time in history."
Before World War II, radio stations played only live music in between news broadcasts or informational programs. Phonographic equipment of the time produced low-quality sound, but the most substantial reason for radio's original distance from recorded music was federal regulations. In 1922, it was ordered that radio stations were to provide content that was not available from nonbroadcast sources, Smethers said. The newly created Federal Communications Commission later echoed this policy.
"Radio was supposed to provide culture, news and information, not recorded music," he said.
One story that will be highlighted at the symposium is that of Topeka radio station WIBW, which employed nearly 40 musicians who would play when the network was not broadcasting news.
Three panelists will assist in the live music discussion during the symposium's morning session, including Herb Hoeflicker, a former radio live music entertainer and Kansas broadcaster who owned and operated KNDY-AM/FM in Marysville from 1969-1988. He also starred weekly on a radio show as Little Herb at age 14.
Marvin Bredemier, another panelist, was a fiddler and vocalist for the "Cowtown Jubilee" and other programs on Kansas City stations. The final panelist will be Don Willis, a longtime musician, announcer and engineer who helped commemorate the live music era by performing on the air on specialty programs at various stations. In 2009, Willis was inducted into the Kansas County Music Hall of Fame.
A live performance by the former radio performers will take place as part of the day's celebration.
"The people we're bringing in were teenagers when on-air live performances began to phase out after World War II and radio began switching toward the Top 40 format," Smethers said. "We wanted to do this while there were still people living with a knowledge of it."
The symposium is also a way for those interested in radio to present and continue their research. Dave MacFarland, K-State associate professor emeritus of journalism and mass communications who helps organize the event, said other sessions will include papers and presentations from academic scholars and broadcast professionals.
"So far, we have had wonderful luck in having both a variety of topics and a fine mix of radio professionals, historians and academics," MacFarland said. "We have a slowly growing archive of papers, DVDs and audio CDs from previous years available in Hale Library's special collections."
The cost to attend the symposium is $10; it's free for students. The Richard Ward Fatherley luncheon will feature an update on "Radio's Top 40 Revolution," a comprehensive history of the Storz Company's radio innovations. Fatherley, who helped kick-start the symposium, has started writing the history at the time of his death. The $15 luncheon is optional.
MacFarland, who is now helping to finish Fatherley's book, said he and his wife open their home to symposium attendees on the evening following the day's presentation for a more in-depth discussion about radio history.
"Once, radio reflected a nation back to itself; it told stories," MacFarland said. "Now most days feel like a carbon copy of yesterday. Radio today is a utility, like cooking gas for your range -- you turn it on briefly when you need it. So, the symposium folks gather to talk about the fun and the lasting impacts that were made in American society by this medium."
Preregistration is available at http://www.jmc.ksu.edu/events/GPRHS. Preregistration is required for the luncheon, but registration for the day's sessions will be possible from 8-9 a.m. the day of the symposium.