WDLB: The early years
By Kris Leonhardt
The creation of a local radio station gave Marshfield residents a feeling of progress. In a time before the television was a staple in every household, radio was the primary source for real-time news and entertainment.
In Marshfield, WDLB soon became a medium for bonding the city together.
“It’s the glue,” said former News Director Thom Gerretsen. “When you listen to a newscast, you are in touch with what the city is doing, what the schools are doing. You’ll hear an occasional story about somebody’s life. … It’s history on the fly.”
In the mid-1950s, the station was sold to Hartley L. Samuels, an ABC executive out of New York, and Jack Thornton became station manager, replacing interim manager Bob Behling.
In the early days of WDLB broadcasting, recorded commercial audio was played using a “feed reel” mounted on a spindle. The end of the tape required the broadcaster to manually thread the end through the system into the “takeup” reel, which required skill and speed.
While WDLB was in its first decade of serving the Marshfield community, Nathan Goetz was helping his father, Chester, in a Monroe movie theater business.
As television made its way into American households, the Goetz family watched as the theater business began to falter, and Nathan decided to return to his first love: radio.
After building his own station in Maquoketa, Iowa, Nathan began to add other AM and FM stations, forming a small market group of news, farm, sports, and business networks, which later totaled 14 radio stations in seven different markets.
“I was savvy about the technical part of it. You know I knew about transmitters and audio and all of that kind of stuff. That didn’t bug me,” Nathan said in an interview with the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association. “I thought I could fake through the rest of the stuff. You just do it. That’s all.
“When we got started broadcasting, I had no idea that we were going to be a group of stations. I thought that maybe I would find one where I would live, and that would be a nice thing.”
In July 1965 Nathan purchased Marshfield’s WDLB AM station and added it to the Goetz Broadcasting Corporation. Seven months later, on Valentine’s Day 1966, he also began broadcasting an FM station out of the company’s location at 1710 N. Central Ave. The station was given the call letters WDLB FM and broadcast in stereo using a jukebox to automate the sounds found at 106.5 on the FM dial.
The WDLB FM station call letters were later changed to WLJY, and the station became known as Joy, broadcasting easy listening music.
As Nathan took over ownership, Jack Hackman was working his way up through the station. Starting in the control room as an engineer-producer, Hackman took on several other staff positions before being named station manager/general manager in 1970. He would continue in a managerial position as he helped usher WDLB and its sister stations through the next few decades of broadcasting.
Next week: The introduction of Title 9