WOW History

94.1 WOW..The end of an era. Right or wrong, sometimes a new company feels they need to completely shed the old company image to accomplish anything. So, when Great Empire sold WOW AM/FM to Journal, the hacking began. 590 went on to do great things as KOMJ, one of the highest rated Adult Standards stations in the country. 94.1 was dealt a different fate. "Those legendary 3 letter calls, beginning with W on the wrong side of the Mississippi". At 5pm Bill Jensen gave the final WOW hourly newscast and WOW became Kiss Country as KSS0.. WOW Repositions to Kiss ...But not for long. Clear Channel claimed ownership to the "KISS" trademark (and the competing country station in town) forcing another quick change by Journal. 94 1 Max Country would come out with their best book ever...the day after the format was discontinued on May 3rd of 2002. (See 97 7 info for the rest of the story) Listen to the lyrics of the song right before the sign off announcement by Tom Land. Coincidence? Scoped version of last 5 songs and farewell announcement (15 minutes of dead air followed "Happy Trails" before Channel 94 1 hit the air) KQCH (WOW-FM) KOAD was Omaha's pioneer FM, signed on by the Omaha World Herald on the 42 mHz band in 1941. There's some question as to where it landed on the new band, but it appears it went to 94.3, eventually moving to 94.1. The station was silenced (then known as KQAL) in 1949 when Todd Storz took over ownership, concentrating resources on the sister 500-watt daytimer KOWH, which went on to make history. 94.1 would resurface as KMEO "Good" Music. In 1968 the old KOWH calls were reinstated and an AOR format was launched. By 1971 they were known as "Radio Free Omaha". Enter "Great Empire Broadcasting" (purchasing 94.1 in 1979 from Bob Gibson) and a Soul/Urban format and a call letter change to KYNN-FM to match their sister at 1490 (purchased in 1977). This is when the KLNG calls were dropped. By August of 1981 KYNN AM/FM had the 2nd largest audience of adult listeners (25-54) in Omaha. Roy Coffman adds: I came to Omaha January 3, 1980 to become the afternoon drive announcer for Great Empire Broadcasting’s KYNN Radio and by 1982 was its program director and morning drive announcer. By the way we did push both WOW and a small try by a couple of others out of the way. By early 1984 Great Empire Broadcasting owned the WOW-AM frequency and KYNN was a part of history. The staff line-up in 1981 included GM Glen Valentine (from KTOK-Radio in Oklahoma City). The PD was Roy Coffman (from KEOR-AM in Atoka, Oklahoma), Chris Taylor was MD and Omaha native Walt Gibbs was News Director.. Ken Fearnow (Now at Waitt Radio) was the SM. KYNN was also Percy Zigler's work home as Chief Engineer. His resume included being Johnny Carson's engineer. Another radio legend, Lyle DeMoss was still in radio and working for 94.1 as well. Then in the early 80's the winds of change would alter the landscape of Omaha radio. Although nothing like the magnitude of some recent multi-station deals, the switch was complicated for a time when you could own only one AM and one FM. It began when Meredith Broadcasting decided to get out of the radio business in Omaha. They put 92.3 and 590 on the block (at the time WOW). Great Empire ( 94.1 and 1490) wanted the better 590 frequency, but would need to spin off 1490. Albimar Broadcasting was interested in Meredith's 92.3, so Great Empire offered them 1490. It took over a year to make the deal, but in the end Great Empire ended up with 94.1 KYNN-FM and 590 WOW. Albimar owned 92.3 WOW-FM and 1490 KYNN. Great Empire kept the WOW call letters for 590 and shifted them to 94.1 as WOW- FM. By early 1984 the deal was finally done and the rest is a very memorable piece of Great Empire history in the Omaha market. Right or wrong, sometimes a new company feels they need to completely shed the old company image to accomplish their goals. So, when Great Empire sold WOW AM/FM to Journal Broadcasting it was the beginning of a 'break up' for an Omaha legend. 590's AG format with Classic Country was dropped, but initially went on to do great things as KOMJ, one of the highest rated Adult Standards stations in the country. 94.1 was dealt a different fate. "Those legendary 3 lettter calls, beginning with W on the wrong side of the Mississippi" were retired. One Friday afternoon At 5pm Bill Jensen gave the final WOW hourly newscast and WOW became Kiss Country as KSS0...But not for long. Clear Channel claimed ownership to the "KISS" trademark (and owned the competing country station in town) forcing another quick change by Journal to "94 Max Country" and new call letters, KMXM. Journal wasn't confident with the Country format. At the same time another Journal station at 97.7 (Channel 97.7) was going through the roof. However, 97.7 was Licensed to Nebraska City, with a transmitter site near Weeping Water. Their signal simply didn't penetrate well into the North part of Omaha. 94.1's tower was in Omaha city limits (along with most of the other Omaha Stations located at Crown Point). On May 4th, 2002, 94 Max Country would come out with their best book ever...the day after the format was discontinued. Journal had chosen to move 97.7 and reposition the station as Channel 94 1. 94.1 was once again home to a successful station on a solid frequency.

A Tribute To A Midwest Broadcast Legend



IN THE BEGINNING... Nearly 80 years ago, when radio was new, Woodmen of the World Sovereign Commander W.A. Fraser sensed the potential of the fledgling industry and how it could benefit businesses in the form of advertising and ultimately, the Woodmen of the World Society. While the officers and directors of the Society approved a national advertising campaign directed at print and were fielding proposals from a national weekly publication, they stopped to investigate this suspected "passing fancy" called radio. It was their opinion this was no fad and a full investigation was called for.

At the time, there were only a few stations in the country actually on the air. Orson Stiles, head of the organization department of the Society and Colonel T.E. Patterson held lengthy discussions and finally called in the "experts".

The "experts" advised them that it would be difficult to control any power beyond ten watts. Further investigation revealed Western Electric was capable of building the Society a 500 watt transmitter. Unaccustomed to doing anything halfway, the society decided to sponsor a BIG station. The transmitter was purchased at a considerable cost and the legacy began.

In this period there were no radio laws, regulations or programming formulas. "One just turned on the juice and started talking into the microphone" said Mr. Stiles.

A license for radio station WOW was applied for with the US Department of commerce and ultimately issued on November 27, 1922 to the Society for station WOAW, as the WOW letters were already in use by the steamship Henry J. Bibble.

Broadcasting equipment and a studio were installed in the Woodmen of the World Building, located at 14th & Farnum. The total cost of the equipment and studio was approximately $18,000.


During testing periods, WOAW was one of four stations used by Explorer Donald McMillian during his expedition to the North Pole. Letters came in that voices on WOAW were heard on ships in both mid-Pacific and mid-Atlantic waters.

 On April 2, 1923, WOAW’s first broadcast took place. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the first sound broadcast from the 19th floor studio, followed appropriate words from Sovereign Commander Fraser and speeches by Nebraska state and Omaha local officials and prominent Omahans. Also featured were an orchestra and a 75-member chorus.

In these early days, Fraser himself was the station announcer and active manager. Stiles, Col. T.E. Patterson and General Attorney De E. Bradshaw were his willing and enthusiastic assistants. The rest of the staff included one day and one night hostess, both of whom doubled as pianists and singers, as well as one night announcer, plus two engineers.

Earl May, a seed and nursery man from Shenandoah, Iowa, was able to foresee the great opportunity of talking to thousands of people by this new means of communication called radio. He traveled to Omaha to broadcast his program on WOAW. After two years, he built his own station in Shenandoah, the historic KMA.

The original operating power was a maximum of 500 watts, with an increase to 1,000 watts in 1927. Later, on October 1st, WOW became affiliated with the Red network of the National Broadcasting Company. In 1926, with the retirement from service by the SS Bibble, the letters WOW were awarded to the Society.


In 1928, WOW was forced to share the 590 frequency with Nebraska Weslayan College station WCAJ. WOW was permitted to use the frequency six-sevenths of the time, with the college using the remaining seventh. In 1930, WOW applied for full time use of the frequency, finally winning its battle in 1933.

On December 8, 1935, the Society moved into the Insurance Building at 17th & Farnum, and opened a new studio. After the move, the radio station was permitted to operate at 5,000 watts of power, making it, at the time, one of the most powerful broadcasting facilities in the Midwest.


WOW's physical property included a modern transmitter facility located at 56th Street and Kansas Avenue, then on the outskirts of Omaha, in a 16 acre tract, referred to as "The WOW Farm". The transmitter was housed in a brick building, which included living quarters for it's staff of engineers. The single transmitting antenna stood 454 feet, weighed 29 tons and reputedly could be seen for 50 miles.



WOW could boast of a nine-man news department at the time. In 1937, the station received the coveted Variety Showmanship Award, as the outstanding showmanship radio station in the U.S.


November 1939 saw the Federal Radio Commission grant WOW a full 5,000 watts operating power during the night time hours, giving the station a solid 300 mile radius coverage area.

In 1940, the staff increased to 65, plus a host of others who did specialized programs.


The Sophisticated Rangers - 1939


The WOW Orchestra, circa 1941


Perpetual showman, GM Johnnie Gillin with his "Prestige Plate".

The summer of 1945 marked the end of a legal battle over the sale of the radio station. After 20 years of success, the station was offered for sale because it was feared the Society's tax-exempt status may be threatened. When a purchaser could not be found, the station was leased in 1943 to Radio Station WOW, Inc., for 15 years and the broadcasting license was transferred to the new operators. However, the lease was challenged in court when the amount of the lease did not compensate the Society for the value of the facility. After months of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the lease void and returned the property to the Society, but left the license to operate the station in the hands of the lessee.

The Society soon negotiated a 25-year lease with the same company - Radio Station WOW, Inc.--and the deal was closed.


In October 1958, the stock of Radio Station WOW, Inc., was purchased by the Meredith Corporation, which subsequently purchased the property for $1.2 million. Meredith paid a rental fee of $140,000 per year until 1976 as deferred payment of the purchase price.

During the Meredith years, WOW changed with the times, adopting a Top 40 format about 1970. WOW attracted popular Disc Jockeys well known in the Omaha area and offered the areas youthful listeners a new alternative. Competing head to head with the Top 40 giant KOIL, WOW proved a worthy challenger, but after only a few years chose to rather "switch than fight". Country and Western music, along with farm news, became the niche WOW targeted and succeeded at for the next quarter century.

In 1983, Mike Lynch and Mike Oatman, as "Great Empire" acquired WOW-AM and KYNN-FM. The FM call letters were changed to create the WOW- AM/FM combination. Ken Fearnow was named vice president and general manager of the two stations.

WOW, along with 12 other Great Empire stations, was sold to Milwaukee-based Journal Broadcast Group on June 14, 1999.

In a surprise move, the historic call letters of WOW-AM were then surrendered and the station became KOMJ "Magic 590" on November 22, 1999, with the format switching from Country to Adult Standards. WOW-FM became KYSS-FM. KOMJ has since moved to 1490 and has been replaced with KXSP, all sports.

If you have stories, photographs, tapes or memories of WOW Radio, please consider sharing them with us.



This WOW Radio Tribute is not affiliated with Journal Broadcasting, KOMJ "Magic 1490" Radio or any WOW past employees.