WYEN radio memorabilia now at Des Plaines History Center

  • Stew Cohen donating a WYEN-FM T-shirt at the Des Plaines History Center in August.

    Stew Cohen donating a WYEN-FM T-shirt at the Des Plaines History Center in August. Courtesy of Rita Heuel

 
 
Posted10/14/2021 10:04 AM

Nearly 50 years ago, a new suburban radio station brought attention to Des Plaines as the home of Request Radio. Even though WYEN 107 FM has long since disappeared, you'll now find the significance of WYEN at the Des Plaines History Center.

Stew Cohen, author of "The WYEN Experience," has presented to the staff at the Des Plaines History Center several boxes of WYEN memorabilia.

 

In an initial inquiry to Curator of Collections Siobhan Heraty, Cohen learned the History Center could certainly welcome donated materials on Request Radio.

"The History Center had very little documentation on our holdings on WYEN. This donation helps fill a gap in our collection on the history of local news media and is a great addition to our archives," Heraty said. 

With the radio station's 50-year anniversary approaching this winter, the former WYEN news director made available research he gathered and used for the book, audio interviews of the station's broadcasters, WYEN T-shirts, and other memorabilia. 

"Although a few of the WYEN materials donated to the History Center may appear trivial, such as a blue plastic WYEN coaster, the totality of the donation has a singular significance," Cohen said.

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Within the pages of "The WYEN Experience" and on the audio CD interviews are the names of broadcasters that not only entertained and informed for decades in the Chicago area and across the U.S., but had served as role models for another generation of broadcasters on-air today.

The names and stories of former WYEN broadcasters include Bob Roberts (formerly of WMAQ and WBBM-AM), Rob Reynolds (former voice of Speedway radio spots and owner of Omnibus Advertising), Garry Meier (formerly of WGN 720 and The Loop on-air team with Steve Dahl), Jayne Neches Simon (formerly a music industry executive), Greg Brown (formerly of WLS-FM), Mike Tanner (formerly with Westwood One Radio/CBS Radio/Unistar/Transtar Radio), Dave Alpert (formerly at WMET-FM, Satellite Music Network, and Los Angeles ABC network correspondent), Bob Worthington/aka Danny Lake (formerly at WLS-FM and Solid Gold Saturday Night syndicated nationally), Val Stouffer (formerly of WMET-FM), Ray Smithers (1st WYEN program director, formerly with WFMF, WIND-AM, and WGLD), Allen Weintraub/aka Wayne Allen (formerly marketing and sales manager at WLS-TV Chicago), and Mike Roberts (formerly of WTMX 101.9-FM). 

On Dec. 3, 1971, WYEN announcer Gil Peters flipped on the on-air studio microphone. Watching with a mixture of relief and anticipation from the long "wrestling match" with the Federal Communications Commission over the last available radio license in Chicago, the station's owner and president Ed Walters and vice president Jerry Westerfield of Walt-West Enterprises were among key staff members of WYEN that peered through a studio window and listened intently on a monitor in the adjacent conference room.

Walters and Westerfield heard Gil's every word and every song on his show.

"They were transfixed to this new, fresh sound with mostly young and barely tested broadcasters," Cohen said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The major events "in WYEN's backyard" from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s drove a commitment to the community by WYEN announcers.

On May 25, 1979, a fully loaded American Airlines DC-10 crashed and burned not far from where the aircraft had taken off at O'Hare Airport. The crash and explosion killed 271 passengers and crew and two people on the ground.

WYEN announcers Nick Farella (formerly of WXLC and WKRS) and Wayne Bryman/aka Roger Leyden (former announcer at WCFL and Satellite Music Network) were working the day of the plane crash. Bryman was filling in on WYEN news for a vacationing news anchor. The entire staff assisted them by gathering information from callers and official sources and they went on-air for five hours of nonstop coverage.

WYEN FM, located in the O'Hare Lake Office Plaza, 2400 E. Devon Ave., in Des Plaines, had become the suburban competitor of Chicago radio powerhouse stations with its music and news. Walters' dream of giving local Chicago area talent a radio home with room for creativity had finally become a reality.

"The WYEN Experience" is available for purchase in the gift shop at the Des Plaines History Center, 781 Pearson St. Proceeds from Cohen's book benefit the History Center. For more details, visit www.desplaineshistory.org.

To donate to the History Center, visit www.desplaineshistory.org/joingive. Please contact the staff at the History Center if you are interested in donating any materials to the collection.

The current exhibit, "Des Plaines Takes Flight," explores the history of aviation in the Des Plaines area.

"The exhibit tells the stories of Des Plaines civilian and military pilots and aircrews, small area airports in the 1920s-1930s, the World War II Douglas Aircraft factory at Mannheim and Higgins, and the construction of O'Hare, among other stories," Heraty said.

The exhibit is on display through the end of 2021.

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