Marshall’s Ghost Radio Station, WMRR
You’ve probably driven past Marshall’s “ghost radio station” hundreds of times. If you listen closely as you drive by the intersection of I-94 and Partello Road, you might even hear The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody”. WMRR went on the air in August of 1964. By the middle of 1967, it had faded away. All that is left is the tower, which still stands today just northwest of the interchange.
WMRR stood for “We’re Marshall Redskins Radio.” Ironically, the station often had to sign off before the high school games even started. It was a 250 watt, daytime only station at 1540 on the AM Dial. Most games had to be recorded and aired the next day. A 1965 newspaper add read “Dial Dynamic! Check out Marshall’s own radio station WMRR, at 1540 on your dial.” A later slogan used by the station was “All Heart Radio.”
Some pretty good DJ’s worked there. One was former WBCK and Keener 14 personality Bill Gray. Gray remembers that he made $85 per week and was also paid $7.50 for each high school game that he broadcast. He says they also did Olivet College football and that the team was very good in 1965. Another original DJ was Keener 14’s Bobby Todd, aka Bob Thurgaland, who’s had a big career and still working. Even a young Jim Gysel was there for a minute. The station manager was John Meder, who still does the morning show every day in Sebring, Florida at WWOJ. He's been there more than 30 years.
Meder remembers that the station was doing pretty well for a while, getting good support from the community. Be he says that another broadcaster, C. Wayne Wright, who owned 1260AM in Albion made it difficult. He says Wright tried to get an FCC license to block WMRR, and that the fight in Washington drained the resources of the small start-up station.
The station had been on the air less than a year when the studios burned to the ground. Bill Gray says there was speculation that the teletype machine may have overheated. Others say it was a “suspicious fire”, but nothing was ever proved. Gray says the ironic thing was that he was a volunteer fireman in those days, but slept through the fire and missed it completely. Meder says he usually called the fire department early in the morning to get any news they might have. “It happened about two in the morning, and it was odd that the fire department called me that morning with the bad news.” Meder says the radio station studios were across the road from the Calhoun County Juvenile home on 18 ½ Mile Road. “The executive director of the Marshall Chamber of commerce was a friend and found us a new place, in downtown Marshall. That really made C. Wayne Wright mad. And we got donations from radio stations all over the country that heard about the fire. We got a mic from WGN, some stuff was donated from Sturgis, and we even got a new battery-operated remote broadcast unit from somewhere. We were off the air maybe 3 days. It was incredible how the industry got behind us.”
The new studios were next to the “Coffee Pot”, and owned by Marshall businessman Moose Waidelich. Gray remembers one receptionist was Helen Hayes of Marshall, and the sales person was Max Kimmel, who had worked for the Marshall Chronicle. Meder says the wife of a Marshall barber also worked as a receptionist.
Record Melt-down Lore
One story circulating was that the station stayed on the air briefly, using a remote studio. It was supposedly a small trailer shaped like a classic microphone. The rumor was they parked it out in the middle of the field, next to the tower. It was so hot in there that DJ’s blocked the sun out with album covers taped to the windows, and the vinyl records would supposedly warp before they played all the way through. John Meder isn’t so sure about that story, but does remember that the sister station in Hastings did have a trailer like that.
Broadcast Legend Neil Rogers at WMRR
Another employee of WMRR was Neil Rogers, a broadcast legend in Miami for many years, and possibly radio first talk radio “Shock Jock.” Rogers did some play by play for Albion College and Marshall High School. Meder says Rogers was an excellent play-by-play announcer, and originally worked for Wright at WALM. But he didn’t like Wright, and moved to the upstart WMRR. Rogers talked about working for Wright, in a 1995 radio show on WIOD. Hear it in this YouTube video at the 7:55 mark or just click the audio player below.
The "Power Failure"
Meder remembers that WMRR used to broadcast all the Marshall Redskin sports events tape delayed, while WALM, Albion did them live. “They used to take over Marshall. One day, it was a State Final Marshall baseball game, and since it was an afternoon game we could broadcast it live. But guess who else showed up? WALM. Now one of the pieces of equipment we got through donations was a four channel battery operated remote unit. Our engineer, ‘Harvey the Grease’ had it all set up for Neil Rogers, who was an excellent play by play guy. Even tape-delayed, WMRR had sold out game. Somebody said, too bad there isn’t a power failure. We’ve got this battery operated unit. Well, that’s when I heard Harvey laughing, ‘hee’. He looked like he had an evil idea in his head. Well, he disappears and was gone about 15 minutes. The game started and somehow, WALM had no power. WMRR had the exclusive broadcast. That sure made C. Wayne Wright mad.”
Meder says C. Wayne Wright managed to tick off Fetzer Broadcasting, owned by John Fetzer who also owned the Detroit Tigers. He says WMRR had occasion to help Fetzer out one time. "They asked if there was anything they could do for us", said Meder. "How about letting us have the Tigers? Done. That sure made C. Wayne Wright mad."
Meder left WMRR for a short time, and worked mid-days at WBCK, Battle Creek. He says he didn’t like the station too much, as the engineers modulated at 40% to save wear and tear on the transmitter tubes, and the staff had to wear a shirt with a collar, tie and jacket. He went back to WMRR when finances there improved for a short time. But the station faded away by the summer of 1967, after less than three years on the airwaves….or did it? Listen closely the next time you pass I-94 exit 112.
Here are some pictures of what's left at the tower field, which may just have the healthiest crop of poison ivy in the county.