Back in the good old days, when radio transmitters had power tubes that
generated lots of heat and kilowatts where allowed to fly from coast to coast, station
engineers would often refer to their signal strength as “really cooking!”
WQXO is heard at 1400 on the AM dial in Munising, Mich.
DX listeners all across the United States would twist their old radio
knobs ever so gently, and in between the squeaking and squawking, they were
sometimes able to tune in from New York to California.
As solid-state equipment began replacing the old heat generators, some
station managers began adding a new twist to that old cooking expression: “Our
ratings and advertising revenue is really cooking!” Soon thereafter, operating
officers of large corporations began to say, “Wow! Our network of remote control
stations and voice tracking is really cooking!”
But over in on tiny AM station in Munising, Mich.,
you can be sure that “really cooking” isn’t just a manner of speech. No – this station
has mastered the art of blending tasty entrées with tasty local content.
So where on God’s green earth is Munising, Mich.,
and what’s with this little radio station?
To begin, the population is about 2,900 citizens. It lies directly on
the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about three-fourths
of the way between Mackinaw City and Marquette. Outsiders could probably say
that it lies smack-dab in the middle of nowhere — yet it is one of Michigan’s
most colorful summer destinations for those seeking pure ambience.
you can order two eggs over easy, and make requests for ‘Jailhouse Rock.’
The average temperature only gets above 60 degrees from June to August. For
the other nine months of the year, it gets down-right cold. People who live through
this kind of Upper Peninsula cold are called “Yoopers,” by Michiganders living
south of the Mackinaw Bridge.
There are two highways running into this small community, with miles and
miles of vast wilderness in all directions. Only in the last year did cellphone
usage along these highways become operational — and service continues to be
quite spotty. There are also limited choices for radio reception as you
approach Munising. But then, about 20 miles outside town, a lonely AM signal
begins to fade in at 1400 kHz.
somewhat by accident that I happened to stop at the Navigator Restaurant, while
I was on my way to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I should have
noticed something unusual when I first looked at the outside of the restaurant,
but my stomach was more interested in getting something to fill it.
I was looking out over the marina from a large
picture window of the restaurant when the waitress arrived at my table. “May I
take your order?” she asked with a warm smile.
Dwelley, local radio personality, splits his time between deejaying and
“Yes you may,” I replied. “I’ll have two eggs over easy, sausage, hash browns
and whole wheat toast. By the way, I see that banner on the wall over there
with call letters ‘WQXO, AM 1400.’ Is that a remote location to promote your
“No,” she replied. “That’s Munising’s radio
“That’s a radio station studio?” I asked. “Here in the restaurant? You
mean this restaurant has its own radio station?”
“Yup”, she replied. “That’s it. It’s been here for
about a year and a half.”
importance of the Mustangs on that banner?” I asked.
“That’s our high school sports team. Sports are very
important to us,” she replied.
Now, I’ve been inside a lot of radio studios over
the years, but this is the first time I’ve ever encountered a radio station
that is part of a restaurant. Bacon and eggs and freshly baked cinnamon rolls feed
the locals while an open mic feeds into the station’s vintage soundboard.
quiet street scene outside the 1000-watt station.
Lonnie Shellnut and his wife are owners of the
Navigator Restaurant, and Lonnie also serves as the station manager. When
Lonnie’s not cooking up good tasting grubs, he spends some of his time in front
of the mic.
On the roof of his restaurant is a satellite dish that brings in oldies
content to the restaurant studio. Located in the corner of the studio is an
equipment rack, which includes a Clear Channel Satellite XDS Pro 4 receiver, a vintage
Marti STL-10 transmitter, voice processor, EAS unit with program interrupter and
a computer with EZ Automation and an EZ proprietary switch.
The Marti beams a signal from the restaurant roof to a transmitter site
located about a mile away. An older-model, six-channel Audioarts soundboard is
used to link everything together. It can definitely be said that this
restaurant brings an entirely different meaning to the word cooking ... as its cooking RF signals in
addition to tasty food.
station’s 1 kW transmitter is about a mile away, fed by Marti STL.
1 kW AM transmitter sits in an isolated field within the city limits. The
station is owned by Great Lakes Radio Inc. of Marquette, which operates five stations:
four FM and one AM, and together covers the entire Upper Peninsula from the Mackinaw
Bridge to Copper Harbor.
The five-station cluster has its main studio and
corporate headquarters in Marquette, another 35 miles west of Munising. This
studio provides voice tracking from the main studio to all five stations, and
provides traffic, news, sports and weather, local and state politics, etc.
Each of the five stations has its own program format based upon what
community surveys indicate listeners want to hear. At WQXO, oldies music and
local sports information (go Mustangs!) is preferred. The other four stations
carry country, classic rock, talk radio and adult contemporary.
Radio Inc. is a privately held corporation whose principal equity owner and station
licensee is Todd Noordyk. Todd Pasanen is the operations manager. He and his
engineers, program manager, news director and sales manager maximize uptime and
broadcast performance at all of the stations.
Noordyk’s management team believes they can deliver programming and
uncompromising community service to five communities by using a combination of part-time
local personalities, syndicated programming and voice tracking.
Every weekday morning from 7–10 a.m., local personality George Dwelley
starts the day off from inside the Navigator Restaurant studio. When not playing
classic oldies, George goes all out to promote local activities such as raising
funds for an autistic child in the community, or seeking awareness of another
local family’s child who suffers from Waardenburg Syndrome.
The station helped promote the American Cancer
Society’s Relay for Life and generated a huge number of participants and
donations. It sponsors community blood drives and local events, such as the
Flannel Jack Festival with its opening lumberjack breakfast and ending with a
For Munising High School sports fans, the station broadcasts 50 local
high school football and basketball games. And here’s an interesting tidbit: Alger
County Judge Charley Nebel provides the play-by-play, announcing for those
Mustang mascot games.
George likes working at WQXO. As he puts it, “With just my voice in
three hours each day, I am able to touch many people’s lives. It is an awesome
responsibility and very gratifying.”
He adds that he recently drummed up community
support for a young couple whose baby required a series of 10 surgeries.
When George signs off from the restaurant studio each day after his
show, he switches the audio board over to the station cluster’s voice tracking and
to the satellite Oldies Channel. The rest of his day, he serves as pastor of
the local Corner Stone Baptist Church.
Perhaps using the term “serves time” is appropriate, because the State
of Michigan Alger Correctional Facility is also in town. And it is from the
prison that George receives a flow of mail from inmates asking for particular
songs. It is not uncommon for George to end each day’s program with their most
popular request, “Jailhouse Rock.”
Out of the
As is the case
with many small community radio stations, advertising revenue at WQXO is
limited, and making a profit can be tough.
Munising’s recipe for successful radio is careful
staffing and control of operating expenses through sharing management resources
across five stations. That includes smart use of a central voice tracking
system, customization of programming of each community’s station to what
listeners want to hear, and creation and distribution of advertising to all
five stations from the central studio.
WQXO was acquired by Great Lakes Radio in 1999, and its program strategy
has been custom tweaked to meet community desire. WQXO may pump out only 1,000
watts, but to the people of Munising, it sounds like a million.
Robert Kegerreis is a frequent contributor to Radio World.