WJOB in Hammond ready to celebrate 90 years of region radio fame

2012-09-16T00:00:00Z WJOB in Hammond ready to celebrate 90 years of region radio fameBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Jim Dedelow, owner of WJOB-1230 AM in Hammond, describes the regional radio station as "living history built on listeners."

And he says "the numbers speak for themselves."

• The station, located at 6405 Olcott Avenue across from what was the Woodmar Shopping Mall, is also just around the corner from celebrating a 90th anniversary in 2013.

• With 1,000 watts transmitted from the 400-foot tower behind the studios, Dedelow said the station reaches 2.5 million listeners in the Illinois market and 500,000 in Northwest Indiana.

• And with a newly introduced smartphone app, along with the station's website at heyregion.com, Dedelow said listeners now tune in and listen "from thousands of miles away" around the country and even as far as Greece.

"Best of all, we've kept the focus on listeners the same as when the station began," said Dedelow, who uses "JED" as his on-air personality tag for his daily morning show 5:30 to 9 a.m. weekdays.

"We're not only on the air talking, we're also hearing what our listeners tell us. Our audience feel very close to this station, treating it as their station, and that's what we want."

He said they are particularly proud of launching the smart phone app last year, which he says ranks them as "the first radio outlet in our Northwest Indiana area to introduce this advantage."

Dedelow started at the station in the mid-1980s as an on-air personality before leaving to work in Chicago.

After the station was sold following bankruptcy, Dedelow purchased it in 2004 and returned to the airwaves, bringing with him Debbie Wargo as the station's director and Michael "Stew" Stewart as production manager and on-air personality.

All three agree the station's strength remains honoring tradition and format, while folding in change "only as needed" for technology to reach new audiences.

"The first license issued to a radio station in the Calumet area was in 1923 and it was to Hammond-Calumet Broadcasting Corporation with Dr. George F. Courier and Lawrence J. Crowley as the licensees," Dedelow said.

"And even during the rough patch of bankruptcy that the previous owners had, the FCC always kept the license active."

As for the station studio, it was originally in downtown Hammond at 402 Fayette Street at Hohman Avenue, before moving to 449 State St., and finally, to its present location when the new studio was built in 1956.

"When you visit, everything looks like stepping back in time, which is what has helped preserve our history and tradition on the airwaves," Dedelow said.

A long wooden bench awaits visitors in the entry lobby and the station's logo call letters are still clearly visible formed in the concrete of the main interior hallway.

Dedelow has even insisted the same studio sound board remain, and used for broadcast in the main studio, despite more recent and modern counterparts available and used in the smaller production studios.

"The first thing I said when I became owner, was the original studio board was staying, because that's the same board I used in the 1980s when I was here," he said.

"It's become very hard to get parts for repair, but we do it. And we are also always looking for old WJOB broadcasts that anyone in the Region might have and would be willing to share with us."

Dedelow and his staff also love to include vinyl music play during shifts, all pulled from the station's vast library collection of records and albums, including many personally autographed by noted names like Doris Day and Mitch Miller.

The past year has been particularly challenging for WJOB, while saying "goodbye" to some of the most familiar names in the station's stable of on-air personalities.

Thurm Ferree, of Highland, who also served as a Times columnist in addition to his duties as an elected official and broadcaster at WJOB, died in June at age 80. And in February, Steve "The Preacher" Glover, of Hammond, the popular afternoon air shift anchor, died suddenly at age 54.

"Everyone knew 'The Preacher,' and had their own opinion," said Wargo, who helped hire him when she became the station's director.

"Listeners either loved him or hated him. But they tuned it."

With their current broadcast day, it features 12 hours of live programming. Following Dedelow's morning show, it's Gene "Geno" Sferruzza's show from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and then Mike Huckabee's syndicated program until 2 p.m. before "Region Flashback" and "Afternoon Drive" leads into the night programming.

Dedelow said the radio's roll call of famed on-air personalities are the most treasured part of local airwave history.

From East Chicago native and newsman Frank Reynolds, who went on to host the "ABC Nightly News" to Chicago voices of today, like Felicia Middlebrook of WBBM, Dedelow said the names and voices are still heard in the halls at WJOB.

And of course, Hammond's biggest name in the broadcasting game — Jean Shepherd, who also wrote "A Christmas Story."

"We have some great images of Jean with the WJOB microphone broadcasting a Hammond game," Dedelow said.

"He brought what he knew and learned from the Region with him to New York. We are keeping our region's same traditions and voices alive and heard for new generations."

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