The story goes that Art Templar, a car enthusiast with deep religious beliefs had filed with the FCC for the license to build WXKE but he wasn’t the only one vying to start up a station on the 103.9 frequency. According to Art one of the applicants had shady roots with ties to organized crime and was disqualified. Art Templar was a car enthusiast and named this radio station after an XKE Jaguar. In the early days of the station Art would display his XKE Jaguar as a symbol of the station.
Art signed on WXKE as a religous radio station. His goal was a council of 104 advertisers who would embrace a religiously rooted radio station in this city of churches. He was unable to achieve his goal of 104 but did convince around 20 or so businesses to advertise.
At one time it was Art’s ability to sell cars that kept the station afloat. There were not enough advertisers or ratings to support the format. Art then tried a pre-recorded format that was called 'The Entertainers.' WXKE played the likes of Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Mel Torme, Dean Martin and others. The first concert that WXKE promoted was crooner Tom Jones at the Coliseum. Luckily at that time Eric Johnson and the Slatewood Record Store came along and convinced Art to try Album Oriented Rock.
From Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa
By Eric Johnson
1974-1975 I worked at Slatewood Records on North Clinton, with owner Danny Chrzan, and my brother Michael Johnson turning people on to new Music all the time. None of which was being played on local radio stations. Alternative rock like Captain Beyond, Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, White Witch, Atomic Rooster, Vandergraf Generator, Velvet Underground, Spooky Tooth, Bob Welch, Black Oak Arkansas the list goes on an on. WXRT Chicago was about the closest radio station we had that was an alternative rock or AOR format near us. Import Albums such as Passport, Camel, Seventh Wave and More were also hot sellers at the time.
1974-1975 Attended IPFW after coming back from military service in Vietnam and was getting my degree in Mass Communications….what better way to mass communicate than be on the Student Union Board with some very wild and crazy guys namely
Mike Yahn & Rusty Cane. Together we started bringing in acts that were very popular
But again were not getting tremendous airplay in Fort Wayne R.E.O. Speedwagon,
Aerosmith, Genesis, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Siegel Schwall Band featuring my favorite harp player Corky Siegel a Chicago Blues band. We even had Kansas on the
Lawn behind the IPFW student union building during Harbor Arbor Days.
1975 Did an internship in radio news at WLYV working for Scott Michaels AKA Steve
Crooks. Steve later was hired by Art Templar to work at WXKE who was starting up “The Entertainers” Format.
1976 Steve went to work for Art. Evenings were always a throwaway in radio ratings so Steve Crooks, Danny Chrzan, Owner of Slatewood Records and I approached Art about turning the evening into progressive rock n roll. After all we knew what Fort Wayne rockers were buying and they were screaming for a music outlet on the radio locally. “The Entertainers” was programmed conservatively from 6am to 6pm. After that
Art was willing to gamble on our thought process of giving the people what they want…
Rock N Roll! He was sure it would fail. Michael Johnson, my brother had the task of pulling the initial record order for WXKE from the Slatewood archives.
Fall of 1976 Rex Jernigan was the first jock to hit the air, Michael O’Martian was the first artist played. It was a transition from very conservative mainstream elevator music to the transition of blow you away rock n roll. That night people were calling in wanting to know where we were broadcasting from and keep it coming. They loved it! The initial album library was about a hundred albums. Unfortunately Frank Zappa was played about the second night and Art had such a fit because the vulgarity he came in the next morning and scratched all the LP’s of Zappa in the library…never to be played on the air again!
Steve Crooks worked the midnight to 6am shift before the station returned to “The Entertainers” format promptly at 6am. I think there was even a talk hour from 4 to 5am, which surprisingly was quite amusing. I think Carolyn Randolph also helped out in the early going. Once Art started to see an influx of new advertising revenue it wasn’t long before the “Entertainers” was history and WXKE was off and running. It also wasn’t long after that, that Steve quit because he couldn’t take working for Art who was a very Christian man and was trying to control the on air jocks and what they played. Eventually someone from another radio station J.B, I believe, came over and put tighter control on the play list. Danny and Michael lost interest because of the “Billboard” play list mentality. I went to work for an Ad Agency and the rest is history.
Danny was killed in an automobile accident on his birthday in 1979.
Steve Crooks is doing Branding and selling radio in Harbor Springs Michigan
Michael is working in Fort Wayne for National Recreation Products
I’m running Ad Lab an Ad Agency in Fort Wayne
Art Templar was never heard from again after he sold the station to Bob Taylor.
Rock was born on WXKE Radio; Concerts were hitting Fort Wayne fast and furious.
Not only was IPFW a hotbed for acts but the Embassy and The Coliseum
Embassy Acts: Savoy Brown, Focus, Brain Augar and the Oblivion Express
Coliseum Shows had Gentle Giant, Santana, Jethro Tull, Eagles, Bob Seager, Stephen Stills, Ac/Dc, Blue Oyster Cult (Who incidentally blew the sound system up after their first song) Queen, Yes and of course Genesis. WOW what a Run!
It probably all started in the late 60’s at the Swinging Gate Downtown. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Jefferson Airplane and the Who!
THE POWER OF RADIO and THE DOORS
My earliest rock and roll memory is seeing a number of shopping carts overflowing with hundreds of copies of ‘Meet the Beatles’ at a department store in Miami in the early 1960’s. It was the first album that my mother bought me. I remember WFUN and WQAM Miami going nuts over who played the most Beatles. I was 12 years old. Local politicians were shown wearing Beatle wigs in the Miami Herald newspaper. I remember a few of my classmates being absent the day the Beatles landed at Miami International Airport. Then they performed live on the Ed Sullivan show from the Deauville Hotel with malfunctioning air conditioning the next day on February 16th, 1964. My father’s comments during that tv performance still ring in my ears. ‘I can’t understand a word they’re singing,’ he said. I remember listening to the top 10 countdown on the radio when the Beatles had 7 out of the top ten songs on the radio at the time. Then I moved on…baseball, football and fishing, and racing slot cars consumed me. Music was always there, but it was background. The way it is in a movie soundtrack.
My stepmother, Louise then took a job at WFUN Miami. But I had moved back to where I was born, Columbus Ohio. My parents had divorced and my mother moved back to Ohio. During Christmastime, my father paid me a visit and among my gifts were about 50 promotional albums from WFUN Miami. So much music to consume at one time. My cousins were envious at my sudden music collection. One of my cousins, Sandy singled out an album that she said was by an incredible new group. She said the lead singer was totally different from anything else in the stack. It was a mono copy of The Doors 1st album. We played it repeatedly. Nothing else in that initial stack of promo records compared to it. Especially the song, ‘The End.’ I was 16 years old, and had no idea at just how much this band was going to affect the rest of my life.
We used to pick up radio stations from Cleveland on a little transistor radio that we would hold up to the ceiling of the second floor of our house. That little radio carried a commercial for a Doors concert coming to Cleveland, Ohio in August 1968. I sent a money order for tickets and rode the Greyhound to Cleveland. After attending that performance I knew what I wanted in life. I wanted to rock! Jim Morrison had accomplished his goal. Hundreds of concerts later, I still have not seen a performer quite stimulate an audience to the point of anarchy. Radio lead me to the Doors, and the Doors lead me to radio, which brought me to Fort Wayne.....
MY FIRST CONCERT
CLEVELAND OHIO, AUGUST 3, 1968
FORT WAYNE RADIO MY FIRST IMPRESSION
I had accepted the gig at WXKE and was going to move within a few days when my old college room mates and I decided to go to Kings Island amusement park between Dayton and Cincinnati and spend a day enjoying the rides. We were in line when we noticed a person wearing a shirt with Fort Wayne on the print. My friend asked the guy if he was from Fort Wayne. He said yes and that lead to the question, ‘What is Fort Wayne into musically?’ Sadly he yelled out ‘DISCO!’ My friends laughed while I shuddered while waiting to ride THE BEAST rollercoaster. The rest of the day I wondered if my journey to the summit city was going to be short lived. Was this radio station going to be a waste of time? After having jocked at a hip progressive rock station, WCOLFM that had changed from a format that was very broad with artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix, Traffic, Miles Davis, The Grateful Dead and was one of the first American radio stations to take a chance on AC/DC to a DISCO/TOP 40 format as 92X. I was fully aware that radio formats were reflective of the community. While waiting to ride THE BEAST I rationalized that moving to Fort Wayne would be short lived but an experience that would help me move on to a larger market. Just as we boarded THE BEAST a spectacular lightning storm started to kick in. Whatever Fort Wayne’s musical tastes were, I figured it would fun but probably a short ride. Wrong once again.