WMTE AM 1340, Manistee, MI
This page is a tribute to the radio station WMTE, which served Manistee, Michigan from June 7, 1951 to September 30, 2010.
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Dave Czurak ("Dave Christian")
John W. Clement
Charles "Charlie" Hedstrom, Jr.
Juana Maria Moore ("Juana Maria")
Larry Nein ("Ted Wayne")
Edward H. "Eddie" Owens
Robert Pellow ("Bob James")
Edwin J. Powell ("Jack" Powell)
Norman Hulver Rockvan ("Norm Van")
Fred "Rick" Schelter
Cliff Selkoe ("Cliff Edwards")
Marty Spaulding ("Marty Madison")
Jim Sumbler, Jr.
Jim Sumbler, Sr.
Guy Titsworth ("Guy Wynn")
Manistee Radio Corporation was incorporated on October 7, 1946, although construction of the station did not begin immediately. In December 1950 Manistee Radio Corporation was granted modifications to its construction permit by the FCC that approved the antenna and transmitter location.
Construction of Radio Station WMTE finally began in January, 1951 at "Radio Hill" on the Southern city limits of Manistee, Michigan near the intersection of Tenth and Olga Streets.
In March 1951 Thomas A. Manwell, a local physician, acquired control of Manistee Radio Corporation by purchasing the interests of Darwin S. Evens, Mrs. Wealthy I. Evens, and Lloyd M. Evens for $5,000. Other owners of the station included local attorney John E. Campbell.
The WMTE tower was installed on Radio Hill in April, 1951. The Manistee News-Advocate reported, "The Manistee radio station moved another step closer to completion over the weekend when the 200 foot radio tower was erected at the WMTE site. Jack Powell, station manager, said today that with the assembling of the ten 20 foot sections of the tower, the station is approximately 80 percent completed."
WMTE officially went on the air on June 7, 1951, broadcasting with 250 watts on 1340 kilocycles. An article appearing in the local newspaper announced the station opening.
The original WMTE staff included Edwin J. "Jack" Powell (General Manager & Chief Engineer, Al LaGuire (Program Director), Eddie Owens (Commercial Department), John Sullivan (News Director), and John Porterfield (Announcer & Engineer).
The station was housed in a World War II surplus prefab building erected at the site. It was drafty and cold in the winter, hot in the summer. Access to Radio Hill was via a winding, dirt road just south of the city limits on Maple Street -- which would prove to be problematic during times of heavy winter snowfall! Later, highway US-31 was re-built to pass by the foot of Radio Hill and a steep driveway was added for access to the station. Even then, the staff would sometimes climb the hill on foot, clinging to a railing erected for that purpose.
A Gates BC-250GY transmitter provided the broadcast signal. It was coupled to the single quarter-wave tower via an above ground transmission line in a wooden trough extending from the station building to a doghouse at the base of the tower, which contained a Gates Model 44 antenna tuner and tower lighting chokes. Later in the '50s, a buried RG-17 coaxial transmission line replaced the original.
Most of the original 1950s studio and audio equipment was built by Gates Radio, including the control board and three 16-inch transcription turntables. Other control room equipment included a Gates MO-2639 Modulation Monitor, MO-2890 Frequency Monitor, SA-38 Audio Limiter, and audio input control panel. Two Magnecorder PT6 tape recorders were in the control room, with a third used for production and offsite recording. A record library was located adjacent to the control room, through which access to the rest of the building was provided.
An Associated Press (AP) newswire provided national, world, and state news that supplemented local newsgathering operations. (The teletype istelf was located in a soundproof closet adjacent to the office area in the Radio Hill facility.) For a while in the fifties, WMTE was an affiliate of the Mutual Broadcasting System.
WMTE celebrated its 5-year anniversary in 1956 with a reunion that included several original staff members. Also in '56, Manistee Radio Corporation was purchased by James R. Sumbler.
The station placed a great deal of emphasis on local news. Beginning in 1958, the WMTE mobile unit was frequently seen throughout Manistee county at public events. A modified General Electric Progress Line 2-Way Radio on a 26 Megacycle remote broadcast frequency was installed at the station and in the vehicle for live, remote broadcasts. Weather information was important to the local agricultural community and WMTE stepped up to the challenge, installing weather instruments on Radio Hill to supplement forecasts with timely local weather information.
About 1962 ownership of the station transferred to Ray Plank, owner of WKLA in Ludington. The WMTE studios moved downtown to the Hotel Chippewa at the intersection of Pine and Water Streets in downtown Manistee. The offices, two control rooms, newsroom, and a main studio occupied a suite in the Southeast corner of the third floor.
Studio equipment was, for the most part, brand new. Lee Shipman, chief engineer of WMTE and WKLA, designed and constructed new control boards for both stations. WMTE had two almost-identical control rooms, each capable of going on-air with the push of a button. The control consoles (view 1 and view 2) were beige in color and were designed for easy access to all controls, turntables, and tape decks. Later, cartridge tape decks were also added.
The main control room, adjacent to the newsroom, also contained the record library and a rack cabinet containing Gates audio processing and remote control equipment for the transmitter back on Radio Hill. A window in each control room provided a view into the main studio. The second control room was primarily used for production.
Rule changes by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1959 made it possible for most Class IV AM broadcast stations to increase their daytime power to 1000 watts. WMTE made the change in 1962, installing a Bauer Model 707 transmitter, built from a kit. WMTE would broadcast with 1000 watts daytime and 250 watts at night until further FCC rules also raised the nighttime power limit to 1000 watts.
About the same time, the antenna was converted to a folded unipole by the addition of three wires parallel to the tower legs and fed at the base. The tower itself was grounded. The folded unipole configuration continues to be used on AM to this day. The tower was also used for a local Marti remote-broadcast pickup antenna in addition to antenns for a link to its sister station WKLA in Ludington (which provided some additional programming and network feed).
In the sixties, the station became affiliated with the United Press International (UPI) wire service and also broadcast news from the ABC Information Network. Coverage of local news remained a feature of the station. In addition, remote broadcasts of events such as high school sports, parades, and civic observances were frequent.
In the later part of 1969, Ray Plank sold Manistee Radio Corporation and WMTE to Charles E. "Chuck" Hedstrom, who was to remain the station owner through 1986.
In 1970 WMTE once again moved, this time to new facilities on the third floor of the Savings Bank building in downtown Manistee. The station added FM facilities and WMTE-FM (later changing its callsign to WRRK) went on the air at 97.7 mHz from the transmitter facilities on Radio Hill. A Gates FM transmitter was installed and an FM antenna was mounted on the AM tower.
The new studios were more spacious and had three control rooms (two of them equipped with the consoles moved from the hotel, the third with a new Sparta console), a larger studio, news and staff room, as well as office space. The finishing touch was bright green and brown nylon carpeting -- after all, this was the seventies!
The move from the Hotel Chippewa was to be very fortunate for WMTE: not long after, the old landmark was destroyed by fire.
WMTE and WRRK studios would remain above the bank only until about 1977-78, when the stations relocated to the upper floor of the Ramsdell building at the corner of River and Maple Streets.
Manistee Broadcasting Company bought the stations from Chuck Hedstrom in November 1986. The principals of Manistee Broadcasting were Paul Bosschem, David Wild, John Feliczak, Jack Ball, and Ray Wittlief. Wittlief served as general manager for the next fourteen months, after which Robb Swanson became GM. Swanson was succeeded by Laurie Foster as General Manager and Robert Turick as Program Director.
After the purchase by Manistee Broadcasting, the new owners relocated the stations to the Arens Building at the corner of River and Greenbush Streets (previously the location of Saylor Drug Store and, earlier, Menery Drug Store).
Eight years later, in late 1994, the AM and FM signals were sold to separate owners: WMTE (AM) went to Chickering Associates (then owners of a group of stations that included former WMTE sister-station WKLA) and WMTE-FM 97.7 was sold to Xavier University (changing its call sign to WVXM).
Chickering Associates sold its group of stations (including WMTE 1340) to Lake Michigan Broadcasting, owned by Roger Baerwolf, in September 1996. WMTE remained in the Arens Building until February 1999, when the station relocated to 52 Greenbush Street, right behind the former location.
Lake Michigan Broadcasting added an FM sister staion to WMTE in April 2000 with the purchase of WXYQ (101.5) from Crystal Clear Communications. WXYQ moved into the Greenbush Street building from its former location at 32 Filer Street, across the street from the Manistee Post Office. WXYQ became WMTE-FM "Oldies 101.5" in September 2000.
As of May, 2004, WMTE 1340 was broadcasting a live, local morning show hosted by long time WMTE personality Bernie Schroeder. The remainder of the broadcast day consisted of a line-up of syndicated talk in a simulcast of sister station WKLA. WMTE-FM continued to play the oldies, with a morning team of Chet Baker and Chuck Randall. Rod Beckman, Chris Plummer, and John W. Clement filled out the on-air staff. Roger Baerwolf was owner/general manager of Lake Michigan Broadcasting, Mike Baerwolf was chief engineer of the station group, and Judy Ouvry served as Director of Manistee Operations. Roger Baerwolf passed away in December 2004 and was succeeded as general manager by his wife, Lynn Baerwolf.
At the beginning of 2007, Bernie Schroeder continued to host his long-running morning show on WMTE 1340, followed by syndicated talk programming. On WMTE-FM, Chet Baker and Chuck Randall hosted the morning show, followed by Rod Beckman and Chris Plummer. Lynn Baerwolf was President/CEO of Lake Michigan Broadcasting, Jason Wilder was Operations Manager, Richard Young was General Sales Manager, Ben Failor was Local Sales Manager of Manistee Operations, and Alan Neushwander was News Director. Mike Baerwolf started 2007 as chief engineer, leaving the station group later that year.
A format change came in August 2007, when WMTE-FM moved from "Good Times and Great Oldies - Oldies 101.5" to "Classic Hits, Cool-101." Chet Baker is the lone host of the Morning Show, Alan Neushwander anchors the morning newscasts, and Rod Beckman & Chris Plummer continue to round out the schedule.
WMTE 1340 continued through the decade broadcasting Bernie Schroeder's live morning show from the Manistee studios, followed by a syndicated talk simulcast of sister station WKLA.
Unfortunately, the days of small, local AM stations are numbered wherever you look -- and WMTE was no exception. With rising costs and declining advertising dollars from local merchants, it was only a matter of time before economics caught up with Manistee's legacy radio station.
On September 30, 2010, Bernie Schroeder broadcast his final WMTE 1340 morning show, wrapping up a noteworthy 51-year career in radio broadcasting. Following the morning show, WMTE (AM) re-joined its daily simulcast of sister station WKLA for its final broadcast day. Bernie's show was the last 'live' broadcast heard on WMTE 1340.
At 12:20am the following morning with no fanfare, WMTE (AM) 1340 quietly went silent. Thus, after almost sixty years, we bring to a close the story of radio broadcasting from "Radio Hill" in a little town on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan.
It was quite a ride.
The following day, October 2nd, the transmitters and other equipment on Radio Hill were removed and hauled away.
On Wednesday, October 6th, the tower was dropped and the transmitter building removed. An observer at the site noted, "When I arrived they were just about ready to drop (the tower). They cut the upper guys, it stood like that for a couple of minutes ... then the top half folded over, still connected to the lower half. The whole thing then toppled over toward the east. (The tower) must have been in better shape than it looked. (The) scrap man has it now."