Everyone in Winchester knows Tim Smith as the guy who asks the questions. As the host of Mornings on Main on Winchester radio station WWKY, 990 AM and 102.9 FM, Tim has interviewed hundreds of folks on the air. This week WCN&V’s Chuck Witt reversed roles with Tim, asking the questions and allowing Tim to answer. The two men sat down at the studios of the station at 138 North Main Street on December 21.
WCN&V – Since you spend two hours per day, five days per week interviewing other people, it’s nice to be able to turn the tables on you a bit and ask you some questions. To start with, give us a little history of WWKY.
TS – WWKY came on the air in October of 1954. It was owned by Bluegrass Broadcast which was owned by Garvice Kincaid, who also owned WVLK, WKYT, WUKY in Richmond, and WFKY in Frankfort, Central Bank, and some other enterprises. The studio at that time was located at 17 1⁄2 West Broadway on the second floor over a liquor store. The broadcast tower was located on Mt. Sterling road across from what later became Lykins Park. Eventually, the FCC determined that Mr. Kincaid could not own all these broadcast stations and would have to divest of some of them. He chose to divest the three small radio stations and a gentleman named Don Horton wound up with WWKY. It was later sold in 1981 to the Cromwell Radio Group in Nashville, Tennessee and run by Bud Walters. While he owned it, it was combined with an FM station, 100.1. He later sold the two stations to Premier Broadcast Group of Albany, New York and they operated the stations until the early part of 1991. Then 100.1 was sold to the IHeart group and operated as WKQQ. I wound up with Kelly Combs and Jerry Patton with 1380 and we sold it to Mike Dempsey in 1995 and it was moved to Lexington and Winchester lost its local radio station.
WCN&V – So what happened then?
TS – In 2007, Hays McMakin had an FM station operating out of Mt. Sterling and began broadcasting high school ball games in Clark County. I left the radio business in 1995 and was brought back in 2009 by Mr. McMakin and started getting involved more in local issues. In 2016 we became aware of FM translators which would enhance the marketability of AM radio
WVN&V – Which led to what?
TS – In order to secure an FM translator, you have to also have an AM license and we no longer had 1380. So we had to go looking for an AM license and the only way to get one is to buy one that is going out of business. We were lucky enough to find 990, which was being operated by a single individual who was running the 990 out of his house and playing church tapes all day. He was about 70 years old and wanted to get out of the business so we bought the frequency, not his business, just the frequency. And so, with an AM station on board, we were now able to secure an FM frequency as well, 102.9.
WCN&V – And how do the AM and FM operate?
TS – The AM frequency operates at 1000 watts during the day and drops to 20 watts at night. This is done to protect metropolitan area broadcasts so we aren’t broadcasting over them. The FM frequency operates at 250 watts all day but it’s designed to basically cover the county so you’ll lose the signal when you hit the Boonesboro Bridge. During the day, 990 AM can reach as far as Elizabethtown or Edgewood in northern Kentucky.
WCN&V – So how does the station operate during the day after Mornings on Main?
TS – There are five stations as part of this group, WWKY, WMST and WKYN in Mt. Sterling, WKCA and WIVY in Morehead. Four of the five stations operate off satellite service from Westwood One which has multiple formats from which each station can select. Our programming here comes from Denver, Colorado and it’s live. We have roughly eighteen minutes per hour where we can plug in local elements, commercials, weather forecasts, etc. Our format is called Light Adult Contemporary. We can pull away whenever we want to broadcast local interest information such as Clark County ball games. So we pull away and do Mornings on Main.
WCN&V – You don’t have someone in the building twenty-four hours, do you? You don’t require staff here to operate equipment at night?
TS – No, we have to have someone in the building from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to meet FCC broadcast requirements.
WCN&V – Who comprises the staff here at WWKY?
TS – Neal Howard is the Head Producer. He handles most of the commercial production, and Cora Hefner is the Administrative Assistant.
WCN&V – Let’s go back a minute and talk about how WWKY got from West Broadway to 138 North Main Street.
TS – We moved from that location to a second-floor office at 53 South Main Street, above what was then the Bethany Book Room, and weren’t there for very long before moving to the small cubbyhole on Cleveland Avenue that was next to the Elkins/Keeton Law Office. I expect you remember it, about five feet wide and twenty feet deep. We moved there in 2009. I had to go across the street to the Courthouse if I needed to use the restroom. When we realized that we were going to be able to operate the AM and FM together we started looking for a more permanent place. I had been over on Highland Street on some business and was coming down Depot Street and saw a for sale sign on this building. Hays McMakin and I investigated the possibility of a long-term lease but were offered a good price to buy it and it has turned out to be perfect for our purposes. We bought the building in 2017 and WWKY was back on the air in January of 2018.
WCN&V – And how about you, Tim. Are you a native of Winchester?
TS – No, I was raised in Cynthiana, but my grandparents lived here in Winchester, in Bön Haven. After graduating high school in 1973, I entered EKU and while there I would finish classes and drive back to Winchester and be a DJ on WWKY. And then I worked at WVLK as a disc jockey from 1976 to 1980, but I’ve always loved the smaller town atmosphere so came to WWKY as soon as I had the chance.
WCN&V – Well, Tim, it’s been a real pleasure talking with you and getting a great dose of local history. Thanks for your time and for what you do for the community.
TS – My pleasure. Thank you.