by Tom Morrow
Recalling radio days of yesteryear
The older we get, nostalgia often takes center stage — whether or not there were any real “good ol’ days,” our earlier years hold memories that never fade.
For me, many of my nostalgic moments involve listening to the radio.
The radio had a tremendous impact on my young life. For the first 14 years, radio dominated my world of entertainment. Going to a movie was a luxury reserved for Friday and Sunday nights. During the week, it was the radio that entertained the entire family, from early morning to well into the evening.
Before I got my own radio, my sister and I were pretty much restricted to what Mom had tuned in, which was normally WHO (AM 1030), the big station in Des Moines, the Iowa capital city. It was an NBC affilitate that boomed across the plains states. Station announcers would declare on the half-hour that WHO was “the 50,000 watt clear channel voice of the Middle West.”
In those days, WHO radio, like dozens of other stations throughout America, was home to a number of local star performers. During the 1930s, a young sportscaster, Ronald “Dutch” Reagan, was one of the station’s earliest luminaries. He delivered Chicago Cubs baseball games by reading telegraphed reports in the Des Moines studio, recreating the atmosphere of the game as if the “Great Communicator” was in Chicago watching the game in person.
At that time, my mother was waitress at a breakfast cafe down the street from the station. She sang in a trio at WHO, and juggled beautician college when she wasn’t working.
According to Mom, she served breakfast to the future president nearly every morning. Of course, when I first heard these stories, Reagan was a B-movie actor, and, while I poo-pooed such tales, years later, in 1974, I was able to ask Governor Reagan about those early WHO days. To my surprise, he confirmed that he, indeed, remembered my mother, and that he was preparing to go back to Des Moines for the station’s 50th anniversary celebration.
WHO had a stable of great entertainers performing daily on the air. Cliff and Helen Carl had a daily comedy-music morning show that featured Cecil Hunsinger and his Buckaroos, which included singer-fiddler Slim Hayes, banjo player Red Scobey, and guitarist Jack Lester —- all first-class musicians.
WHO featured its stars every Saturday night on “The Iowa Barn Dance Frolic,” a big two-hour variety show spotlighting talent from all across the state. One character I vividly recall was station poet Gene Goht, who billed himself as “the homely philosopher.” His was a writing talent who never should be forgotten.
I’m sure every state or large city during radio’s heyday had similar types of live radio entertainment, but this look back at WHO might stir some fond memories among my fellow Hawkeyes.
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