Happy anniversary to WNAX radio in Yankton, “Your Big Friend in the Midwest.”
It’s been 95 years since WNAX signed on the air making it not only South Dakota’s first..but one of the very earliest and most powerful broadcast radio stations in the world. It really put our little state on the map with a signal that, back in the uncrowded airwaves days, flowed into homes and business places for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Still does. It’s always fun to tune-in to 570 while driving home from somewhere in Kansas or even Oklahoma and hear the familiar voice of Jerry Oster reading the news from WNAX.
There have been so many WNAX personalities that I remember from my younger days besides Jerry: George B. German, Norm Hilson, Bob Hill and, of course, Your Neighbor Lady, Wynn Speece. I did interviews and stories on all of them over my years at Keloland TV but had a special spot in my heart for the Neighbor Lady.
I was so sad when she died ten years ago. I wrote a Lund at Large blog about our association at that time and thought I’d share it here with a Happy 95th Birthday nod to all the friendly folks at WNAX.
(Lund at Large from 2007)
My favorite neighbor has died.
“The Neighbor Lady,” Wynn Speece, never lived within 70 miles of my house in Volga but she was there every day…on the radio.. and a companion to my mom and thousands of other homemakers and farm wives.
“Hello good friends” was her on-air greeting for 64 years as she opened a program filled with helpful household hints, stories about her family, recipes, listener letters and commercials that she would read live.
Advertisers would line-up trying to get on her show because products endorsed by “The Neighbor Lady” sold like pancakes… pancakes made from “Martha Gooch” flour, of course.
She first signed-on the air in 1941 over WNAX radio in Yankton which had one of the most powerful signals in the world reaching into at least five states.
During the forties and fifties, The Neighbor Lady’s audience numbered into the hundreds of thousands..mostly women listening as they went about their household chores.
The program was such a big hit that the station had people who did nothing but open and answer bags and bags of mail which averaged a quarter million letters a year.
During an interview for Keloland News years ago, I asked The Neighbor Lady about her amazing popularity.
“Back then,” she said, mine would often be the only woman’s voice many of these ladies would hear all day..especially during the winter.”
It was also her sweet gentle voice was a welcome source of comfort and reassurance to those whose husbands or sons were off fighting in the war.
When I was little I just remember her as the nice lady on the radio every morning; a white plastic Philco radio that sat in the kitchen atop the refrigerator.
When the Neighbor Lady made personal appearances huge crowds would turn out to see her demonstrate kitchen appliances, prepare a favorite recipe or sign a copy of the annual WNAX Neighbor Lady cook book.
But mostly, people just wanted to see her..the woman behind the voice.
She was a big star… and even though it wasn’t shining as brightly by the mid 80’s when we did our interview, I was awe-struck.
After saying how great it was to meet her, Wynn said she and her husband, Harry, were longtime fans of Keloland and never missed watching Steve and ME on the news.
How about that?
We’ve had lots of good visits in the years since. I just loved hearing about her lifetime of experiences on the radio.
She was an icon to so many and as genuine as the love she had for Harry who preceded her in death a couple years earlier.
Now we must talk about the Neighbor Lady in the past tense too.
Even though she lived until the age of 90, it’s hard for those of us who knew and admired her, personally and professionally, to say
“Goodbye good friend.”