WDLB: The changing times
By Kris Leonhardt
Heading into the 1980s, the WDLB-FM 106 station call letters were changed to WLJY. More affectionately called “Joy,” the station broadcast in an easy listening format to the greater Marshfield area.
WLJY’s format was later updated, and the station became Lite FM 106.5.
The Marshfield radio stations were supported by a large staff, which was reflected in the news department during the 1980s.
Former WDLB news director Thom Gerretsen was working at radio station WPDR in Portage when he was approached for a position with WDLB.
“Jack Hackman called me on a weekend and said, ‘Can you come up tomorrow?’” said Gerretsen. “Don Meyers was the news director then.”
In 1978 the news department at WPDR consisted of a single position, and Gerretsen operated as a one-man news show at the Portage station.
“That’s why I came up here. They had two full-timers and a part-timer back then,” added Gerretsen. “Don was the news director, and I was his full-time assistant. … Don was on vacation for a week, and I got thrown into a lot of things.”
WPDR broadcast from sunrise to sunset, whereas Marshfield’s WDLB was on the air 24 hours a day.
“When I got here, Marilyn Hardacre was elected that April of ‘78,” recalled Gerretsen. “I got to see her grow in the job. I got to see her just blossom. It was terrific to see.
“(In news media) you get access to every part of the community, and that’s wonderful. The bad thing is that you really can’t get too close to the people that you are covering because something’s going to happen to them, and when it does, you are not going to give their story justice.”
Gerretsen operated as the eyes and ears for Marshfield over the next two decades as he continued to watch both the community and the radio station change and prosper.
Changes included sound operation within the studio. Commercials had gone from live audio to being taped and played on carts: cartridges resembling an eight-track tape.
Music followed that process as carts were used to play songs so operators did not wear out the records.
“Back in the ‘80s we actually had computers, and I had heard of stations using them in their newsrooms,” said Gerretsen. “I had no idea how they worked, so they finally got us a computer, and they got us a system out of La Crosse called Wire Ready. You could put sound bites on there. The MP3s followed.”
The 1980s became an award-winning decade for Marshfield’s radio station, first receiving the Wisconsin’s Radio Station of the Year award from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in 1983 and then being honored as the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s Firm of the Year in 1987. To complete the decade, WDLB was one of 10 stations in the nation to receive the Crystal Award, which is given out by the National Association of Broadcasters to honor stations for community service.
The 1980s also saw the introduction of a new station manager as Bill Allen came on board in 1985. Hackman continued to operate as general manager until he assumed other responsibilities with Goetz Broadcasting Corporation.
Next week: Changing hands