Wednesday I made a quick run up to the Fox Valley to have lunch and spend some time with my mom. Having been a broadcaster for much of my professional life, once I get north of Waupun on HiWay 151 I start punching from one radio station to another, to see “what’s going on” up in the Valley.
Years ago I worked in the Valley, as a news stringer for WBAY-TV in Green Bay, augmenting my income while working my way up the food chain in radio. I tend to judge radio stations not by their music, since that franchise was lost to the mp3 player and iPod years ago, but by their local content.
I always have to check 1150 AM, the spot on the dial where WHBY-AM now lives. Growing up in Hortonville, WHBY-Appleton has always been my “home” station. The station has changed hands several times over the last half-century, and is now owned by the Woodward Group of stations headquartered in Iowa.
Back in January when I made a trek up to spend some time with mom, WHBY had a local talk show on, one of those “ask-your-neighbor” sort of shows where folks call in to help other people. The biggest item of discussion that morning was where you could find sidewalk salt. They’d had a big swing in temperatures, and one day’s thaw turned into the next day’s ice rink.
The callers were the real entertainment. They’d say stuff like “I just was over to the hardware store on Cecil Street in Neenah and they’re plumb out”. One guy said “yah, I talked to the fella at the True Value over on Richmond Street and they ain’t got nothin, but he said the store over on South Lawe was gonna get a shipment in today”. One lady wanted to know if table salt would work.
Even though the last thing I cared about was sidewalk salt, I was drawn into the topic by a skillful host and an excellent and entertaining example of the essence of community service. People really DID care about making their sidewalks safe for their friends and neighbors.
They broke for news at the top of the hour, and after a brief national report, the local newscaster gave an excellent five-minute summary of what was going on in and around the Fox Valley. WHBY still has a huge commitment to local news, a very rare thing in these days of the decline of radio. You don’t need me to tell you how much cutting has gone on in most radio, TV, and print newsrooms over the last year. My friend and former colleague Rick Schuh is now one of the stalwarts of WHBY’s excellent news operation.
This trip, though, my “take-away” moment from WHBY was the announcement I heard about their newest contest. Without mentioning his name at all, the ad said every time player number four for the Vikings throws an interception, we’ll kick a hundred bucks into the kitty. If he throws one against the Packers, we’ll double it and kick TWO hundred bucks into the kitty.
They do mention the player’s name on their website, where you have to go, to enter the contest. Whoever is closest in predicting the actual number of interceptions #4 throws in the regular season will split the pot with a charitable organization. Their “Pickoffs 4 Profit” promotion shows how seriously folks in the Valley take their Packers football.
The Packers are the only game in town in the Fox Valley when it comes to football, and WHBY is the only game in town when it comes to local radio news. Hats off to Woodward Communications for bucking the trend, and keeping things “live and local” on WHBY.