(Crystal A. Proxmire, 3/23/2011)
Since 1948 a giant tower was erected on a patch of what used to be Ferndale farmland, giving birth to a radio legacy that nearly any grown-up Metro Detroiter could sing you the name of.
104.3 WOMC was actually the second channel to broadcast from the station at 2201 Woodward Heights. It started out as WEXL AM before upgrading to FM in the 1950s. The call letters WOMC were chosen to represent Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties, keeping in mind that all radio stations East of the Mississippi must start with W, while those west must begin with K. (more info on how call letters work)
Until 1973 the station played easy listening music before switching to more upbeat contemporary songs, and finally to the oldies and greatest hits format that most of us grew up listening to. Two years ago WOMC’s sister station 99.5 WYCD joined them in the Ferndale location, and several online stations have also started up from there.
Program Director Tim Roberts manages all six entities: 99.5 WYCD, 99.5 HD2 the Wolf, 99.5 HDs iMuevete, 104.3 WOMC, 104.3 HD2 Oldies 104.3, and The Sky. In a maze of hallways and offices further divided by cubicles, there are multiple studios where the shows are produced. Each studio is thickly insulated to keep outside sounds out. And each has ‘On Air’ signs which light up when the station is live, warning people when to be quiet and not to barge in. Roberts also confirmed that “live” really has a 15 second delay, which is partially because of the technical aspects of broadcasting, and also to give them a chance to bleep out any language that would violate FCC regulations.
The “On Air Personalities” run the soundboards, play pre-programmed music, and take calls from listeners. Local celebrities like Dave Fuller, Jim Johnson, Mike Scott, Bobby Mitchell and more keep the Motor City entertained and informed between songs.
A single switchboard operator, Sharon Mason, handles calls for every station and the offices. For the past 18 years Mason has greeted contest winners and other callers, making her what Roberts calls the “friendliest person” he knows and the “most important in the building.”
Roberts is a veteran in the radio business. In 1978 he worked at WRIF, but in 1982 after graduating from CMU with a broadcast degree he couldn’t find full-time work in Michigan. He moved to Wausau, Wisconsin and then traveled across the country, to stations like KSAN in San Francisco, WKKT in Charlotte, North Carolina, and for a time he was working in Texas. In the mid-90s he returned to Michigan and was the Vice President of Cumulus Media in charge of 29 stations throughout Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
He says he loves being in radio because of the fun events that he gets to put on, and the personalities he gets to meet. And, of course, the music. Each year 104.3 plays a large part in the Woodward Dream Cruise. They sponsor the event and broadcast live from each of the cities along Woodward, as well as doing all kinds of contests and promotions. Roberts is also proud of the 99.5 WYCD Downtown Hoedown which attracts a million people to Detroit for a three day free concert with over 48 bands.
Apart from the signature events, radio life is full of fun and antics. “Once for WYCD we had this rather dangerous idea of putting Jason the 300-lb Cowboy in a diaper and sending him down the side of Mt. Brighton inside a giant bubble,” Roberts said. At WOMC they did a promotion where the staff dressed like Trekkies, and another that was Star Wars themed.
Though some of Roberts’ favorite promotions aren’t necessarily the silly ones. “We help out a lot of charities,” he said. “Whenever we go on the air and ask for help with a cause it is amazing the kind of response we get. Last year we were collecting donations for Christmas and a young couple came in with toys. The husband had been laid off and they were on the verge of loosing their home, but they wanted to come in and donate something anyway. They said they know there are people worse off than them and that’s why they wanted to give. I see that kind of generosity a lot doing radio, and its one of the things that makes this job worthwhile.”
But ultimately music is the reason for the stations, and the reason that Roberts went into radio in the first place. “Music has always been a passion of mine. I’ve gotten to see some of the greatest concerts of all time and I knew a lot of the artists when they were on the ground floor of their careers,” he said. “I remember meeting Taylor Swift when she was 15 and knowing what a great star she would be.” He said meeting Johnny Cash for the first time was “pretty cool for me,” and he is especially proud of the Michigan greats that he’s had a chance to meet over the years, including Aretha Franklin, Kid Rock, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Seger.
WOMC/WYCD recently won three Best in Category Awards from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, in the categories of Marketing, Special Show Broadcast and Serving the Community. For more information about WOMC visit http://womc.radio.com/. For information on WYCD go to http://wycd.radio.com/.
To find out more about the upcoming Dream Cruise, check out http://www.ferndaledreamcruise.com/.