Elgin radio station marks 70 years of local content
"Ruth, how are you? I haven't talked to you in a while," radio host Leah Unser said on the air on a recent Tuesday afternoon.
A frequent caller into The Radio Shopping Show on Elgin's WRMN Radio 1410 AM, Ruth proceeded to describe her 11-day trip to Europe and chat with Unser about meals and cruises. Then the two got down to business, with Ruth purchasing several gift certificates at lower-than-retail value, including for a bakery and cafe in town and a restaurant in East Dundee, spending a total $125.
The Radio Shopping Show is the flagship show of the Elgin radio station, which celebrated is 70th on-air anniversary last month. "I build a kinship with people," Unser said. "There's people who talk to me like we're best friends and they've never seen me."
Another popular show is "Morning Wake Up Call" from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday to Friday, said Unser, who also produces shows and is the station's general sales manager.
WRMN's enduring, successful formula is all about local content -- news, sports and varied voices -- and community involvement, said owner Bill Pollack of Pollack Companies based in Tennessee. WRMN received the community partner award this year from the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I love local radio," said Pollack, who has owned the station since February 2017. "I like radio stations that serve the community well, that serve your backyard, your immediate area."
WRMN, whose general manager is Steve Marten, employs about 10 people, including two part-timers. It initially was located in the former Fox Hotel, later renamed The Douglas Hotel, in downtown Elgin. In 1965, it moved nearby to the second floor of 16 Douglas Ave., where it stayed until the first floor became vacant about two years ago, Unser said. Its offices remained upstairs, while its "redemption center" -- where people get their gift certificates -- and on-air studio moved to the first floor, in full view of Douglas Avenue.
The move has given the station even more of a community feel, with people looking in, smiling and waving, and even honking, Unser said. The broadcast can be heard by passersby. "It helped get us a voice in the street, literally," she said.
Pollack invested in expanding the radio station to 96.7 FM on the radio dial last month. AM radio signals tend to weaken at night, and the new FM component particularly helps listeners northwest of Elgin, said radio engineer Brien Prenevost.
"The station is doing very well," Pollack said. "We are very happy with the growth. Every year seems to be a little bit better than the year before."
Founded by George Ralston and Jerry Miller, WRMN began broadcasting Sept. 10, 1949. The call letters derive from the names of Ralston's children, Richard, Mary and Nancy, according to information gathered by Elgin historian Mike Alft.
Elgin resident Rick Jakle bought the station in 1966 when he was in his early 20s and owned it 50 years. Jakle came up with the concept for The Radio Shopping Show, which first aired in 1982.
"I knew that local radio was terribly important to people, and we made everything local, all the time," he said. "The Radio Shopping Show was my baby ... We were the first outfit in the country to sell stuff over the radio. That has helped us survive and prosper when other newspaper outlets and radio stations were on the decline."
Jakle sold Pollack two other stations: WBIG 1280 AM radio in Aurora and KSHP 1400 AM radio in Las Vegas. He previously sold WJKL 94.3 FM to a Christian broadcasting group, he said.
"I am the luckiest guy in the world because I found someone (Pollack) to purchase the property that thinks just like we do -- if not even more so," he said. "All he's done is made the station better. He moved it up to the next level."