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Nebraska Radio History Archive Presentation:

Hank Williams, Hall & Oates, and Helix


As the dust from the gravel road trails, a small building on Yankee Hill Road comes into view. On the South edge of Lincoln still stands a structure with 1530 in white numbers. On the roof, an old broken down rusty silhouette proclaiming "1530". Perhaps in an earlier day, it proudly lit the evening sky with "KECK 1530".
In the early days of AM stations would often broadcast from their transmitter sites. KECK wasn't the first to do so in Lincoln, but it would be the last. You can almost hear the sounds of people and the buzz of the transmitter. A quick look through the tattered white curtains shows nothing resembling a radio station.

Joe Moell recalls the early days of 1530...  

The big country names on record (no CDs then) labels were Buck Owens, Lynn Anderson, Glenn Campbell, and a rising young star named Dolly Parton.  GEM Stations of Minnesota put the KLOL on the air in 1965 using a Collins  21-E 5 KW transmitter.  It had mercury vapor rectifiers that tended to arc on cold mornings, so we left the transmitter filaments on all the time, even in winter when the station was off air more hours per day than it was on. 

As an Engineering student at UofN, I discovered that there weren't many  high-tech summer jobs available.  But AM stations with directional antennas  were required by FCC to have an "engineer" with a First Class FCC license on  site at all times when the station was on the air.  So I got a job at KLOL  babysitting the transmitter, taking FCC-required meter readings twice an  hour, trimming weeds from around the tower bases, and building Heathkit test  equipment for the station's bench.  (This was a second job, as I was already  engineering and announcing at classical KFMQ.)

KLOL's format would probably be best described as "60's KFAB wannabe."  It  played middle-of-the-road favorites and tried to appeal to "adults."  Billie  Oakley (a 60's version of Martha Stewart) had her "It's a Woman's World" show  every morning, followed by a "trading post."  As a special promotion, one  entire broadcast day was devoted to the Navy sailors of the USS Tortuga, with  special music, features, and phone interviews with their families.  The  entire day's aircheck tapes were then boxed up and sent to the ship.

When the Sunday morning DJ didn't show up one day, I ended up doing his air  shift.  That led to more and more air time for me.  The station liked it  because they didn't have to pay two people, engineer and DJ.  Management  began insisting that all air people get FCC "First Phones"  in order to keep  their jobs.  (There were crash courses for the test available in those days.)  After all jocks had their FCC operator licenses, they let their full-time  Chief Engineer go (he didn't do air work) and I got the CE job part-time.
GEM Stations sold KLOL to J-P Enterprises in February 1968 and it became  Proud Country KECK (pronounced "kick").  I became the air guy on weekend  afternoons (The Joe Mell Weekend Show) and also weekdays from 5 PM to signoff  in the summer months.  The country format did quite well with our powerhouse daytime signal that reached halfway to the Kansas/Oklahoma border.  Beatrice  finally had some serious AM competition and we were able to do live country band remotes from little towns well into Kansas.  But FCC required a major
antenna pattern null toward Omaha.  (This also caused reception problems as  Lincoln expanded eastward.)  And not being able to sign on until sunrise in  winter decimated the morning drive audience.  

In 1968, FCC began issuing "pre-sunrise authorizations" to let daytimers like KECK sign on in winter at reduced power before local sunrise.  I applied for one, and it finally was issued, authorizing only 70 watts!  High-level plate-modulated AM transmitters don't like to be operated at a tiny fraction of design power, so I installed a power-splitting network and dummy load in the tuner cabinet.  From 6 to sunrise, the transmitter ran at its low-power level (1 KW), with 930 watts of it going into the dummy load and the rest to the antennas. J-P Enterprises realized that they needed a way to play country music full-time, so they asked me to write the engineering part of an application to FCC for Lincoln's last open allotted FM channel (106.3 at 3 KW ERP  maximum).  
They said it had to be on the existing "Radio Ranch" property on  Yankee Hill Road.  So I dutifully did the app to put a 6-bay  dual-polarization FM antenna on tower #4 and a 1 KW transmitter in a new blockhouse at the tower base.  I left Nebraska before that application was approved, but I suspect that the anticipated cost of retuning and reproofing the AM array led to the change of KHAT-FM's eventual site [on the Terminal Building].
Larry Reed took over KECK (and KFMQ) engineering when I graduated and left for California in September 1969. 

Larry Reed has also contacted the Nebraska Radio page and picks up the story here where Joe Moell left off...

In the 1970's KECK was Lincoln's country radio station until an FM in Seward Nebraska, KZKX-96KX (formerly KSRD) moved their operations to Lincoln. (KECK did have an FM which for a time also programmed country music as 106.3 - KHAT). KECK listenership was declining due to the popularity of FM and KECK's "Daytime" licensing. 1520-AM belonged to KOMA in Oklahoma City, which was a "Clear Channel" frequency (part of the FCC's old Emergency Broadcast System). This meant any station on or adjacent to a "Clear Channel" had to sign off the air at sunset. Air personalities included Keith Cornelius, Billy Egr, Ray Kresha, Dave Kaye and Larry Reed (who sent us the photo below!).  Bruce Dillman was program director and Fred Scott was general manager.  Keck was known for their " PROUD COUNTRY FESTIVAL" which  featured popular acts like Ferlin Husky, Susan Raye, Nat Stuckey, Billy "Crash" Craddock and Tanya Tucker.  The festivals were held downtown.

KECK & KHAT were purchased by TM Communications of Dallas in 1986 under the management of Dan Charleston (who had been at KOIL since 1978).  The P.D. was Steve Elliott (KGOR) who also handled morning show duties.  "Coach" Klein was the mid-day personality and Keith Cornelius was heard in PM Drive (Now on KZKX).  Kay West covered the Evenings.  She co-hosted mornings for awhile but then left to start a family.  This is where we first hear the name E.J. Marshall.  He took over evenings and would remain with KHAT through the "Mix 106" days and now, The Blaze.  Soon after TM purchased KECK & KHAT, the Call Signs of KECK were dropped and 1530 began simulcasting KHAT-FM's Adult Contemporary Format.   Studio's were also moved from Old Cheney to the transmitter site on Yankee Hill Road.  TM President and CEO Patrick Shaughnessy left TM in 1987 and took KHAT with him under the name of Marathon Communications.   

In 1990, after reasonable success with an Adult Contemporary format KHAT  was sold and a brand new format was brought to Lincoln following a  weekend of Phil Collins.  MIX 106  had arrived (although KMXA  were the legal call letters, they identified themselves as " KMX " on the air) .  All MIX 106 DJ's took names which began with the letter "M". Mitch Madison, Mick Malibu (and perhaps Mary Magdeline on Sunday mornings?).  Shortly after the new formats debuted KHAT-AM ended it's simulcast with KMXA and began a nostaligic Satellite format.(still using the old KHAT call letters).  As "mix" stations have become successful, perhaps Mix 106 was before it's time. It lasted about a year.  The format wasn't a complete loss, however lack of promotion brought the format's early momentum to a halt.
One summer day something strange happened.  A new station hit the airwaves known as THE BLAZE.   It was originally a stunting format, used to alienate all of the listeners of mix 106 (not uncommon with a major radio format change) and begin a new with a format which was the opposite of The Blaze.   KMXA was now an elevator music station....Unsuccessfully.  The station manager's words "Do what you want for a day" may have been the best advice ever given at the station.  Between the buzz on the street about "The Blaze" and the faith of a couple of Mix 106 DJ's, the format became a reality on March 2nd, 1992, after the easy listening format failed. 

In what may be considered the two most interesting hours in Lincoln radio, "Wheel Of Formats" began.  Every 15 minutes or so, with the spin of a wheel, a new format would emerge.  Eventually the wheel "landed" on Rock.  The elevator music format and Mix 106 became KIBZ-106 3, THE BLAZE!.
Still a strong station with a very loyal following, KIBZ shows no sign of change.  In 2001 they shut off their 3,000 watt transmitter on the Terminal Building and fired up 100,000 watts of Pure Rock near 84th & Yankee Hill Road.  Two of the original KIBZ DJ's, Tim and E.J. are still blazing!  When Clear Channel aquired KIBZ along with other stations in Lincoln and Omaha, the Blaze morning show began simulcasting on 93.3 KQRC (93 K-Rock) in Omaha.  

Before the Blaze took off like wildfire, it's  "older sister" wasn't so lucky.
KHAT-AM continued it's
nostalgic music format. Many of Lincoln's veteran radio listeners enjoyed having a station that played their favorites, but another fate would determine KHAT's destiny. The final days of KHAT-AM began when the Lincoln Electric System chose a route down Yankee Hill Road on the north edge of the 1530 tower site for a new primary feeder line. The owner of the station at that time, Harvey Tate, worked a settlement with L.E.S. where Tate was paid quite a bit of money to cover potential costs to move or re-tune the directional pattern of 1530 (Because AM radio signals travel further, many stations operate as 'directional' to protect stations on the similar frequencies in other states.  This means special and sensitive tower and electrical configurations are used to allow specific coverage areas without interfering with other AM stations).
At nearly the same time, Harvey was interested in selling 106.3 and 1530. He entered into discussions with Doug Agnew (owner of KKNB 104.1) to sell 106.3. Doug didn't want the studios or land where Harvey's stations were located on Yankee Hill Road. Instead, he wanted to move 106.3 to the new studio location of KKNB at South 48th near Highway 2.  
As Doug Agnew and Harvey Tate were meeting to finalize the purchase of 106.3, Harvey off handily said to Doug "I'll throw in the license for 1530 for another $500.00". Doug said, "why not" and the 1530 license was also transferred to Agnew.  Harvey sold the land and the towers were removed by Tower Maintenance Company of Lincoln.
With local television media present, KHAT-AM was ceremoniously switched off the air forever on March 30, 1993 by personality Kathy Fife at high noon.
Agnew paid for a couple of engineering analyses and found very little possibility of making 1530 a night time station. He also filed for a move of 1530 to the new FCC expanded AM band, which was never approved.
In 1996 Doug Agnew sold 106.3 and the 1530 license to Triathlon Broadcasting. Shortly after the acquisition the FCC tightened up rules on dark stations. Triathlon lost the 1530 license when the FCC deadline on returning dark stations to the air expired and the station still did not have a transmitter site.
At this time the frequency is available for anyone to apply for (or other stations on or near 1530 to increase their facilities). Because of the frequencies 'daytime only' status, it's highly unlikely Lincoln will ever see another station on the air at 1530 AM. 

Amidst a barrage of format changes and rumors of other format changes in March of 2004, Clear Channel opted to move the successful "Blaze" format from 106.3 to 104.1.  On March 17th, at midnight, a simulcast began on both signals, with an invitation to "Move to 104.1".  At noon Friday, March 19th, The Blaze became 104 1 The Blaze, and 106.3 began stunting with "construction" noises and liners reminding listeners to move to 104 1 for the Blaze. 


AUDIO NOSTALGIA

(From Original Masters)

 

MIX 106 Basic Jingle   MIX 106 Morning Jingle  KMX Jingle

 MIX 106 Jingle  MIX 106 70's 80's 90's Best Mix Jingle

 


This site is part of the historical review of Nebraska Radio Stations at NebraskaRadio.com and is not operated by the radio companies that currently reside on the above frequencies. We cannot answer questions about the station, take requests. Please call their studio line offices for assistance. If you have historical information you would like included on this site, E-MAIL ME!

NOTE:  THIS MAIL DOES NOT GO TO THE RADIO STATION!!!



Thanks to Mike Elliott for technical information regarding KHAT-AM
Thanks to  EJ and Tim Sheridan for filling in the historical gaps!