WHGR and WJGS radio- A Houghton Lake Century

From The Houghton Lake Resorter, Dec 30 1999
Written by Cheryl Mendham, with Marcia Pike providing information

Perhaps not many children today can grasp the concept of a world without television. They may not believe that there was, in fact, a time when there existed no radio...at least, not at Houghton lake. WHGR AM 1290 and WJGS FM 98.5 reached the airwaves in 1955 when owners Jacob B. Sparks, Garnet G. Sparks initiated what are believed to be the first radio stations in Northern Michigan.

During the years Between 1954 and 1965, WHGR was a 5,000- watt station and WJGS was 19,000 watts. Managers at Sparks Broadcasting Company were Robert D. Ditmer and his wife, Beverly. They employed about six full time people. During this time, the station suffered a fire which destroyed the building...just before Christmas. The station remained on the air, broadcasting from a trailer. A new station was built within a year. The Ditmers left to manage their own radio stations, WQON in Grayling and WRBJ in St. Johns. Today, they pastor a church in Eureka.

Houghton Lake High School Graduate Art Wainwright , a popular DJ, has remained in broadcasting and now does feature stories for "Route 10" on WILX TV in Lansing. He is working on a special from Australia and the Netherlands.

Between 1965 and 1983 many changes took place at WJGS and WHGR. New managers, Norman F. Pike and his wife, Marcia, took over operations. During this time, they brought in the ABC radio network and automated WJGS. The station suffered a second fire, but the building remained standing. Norm Pike and Gayle B. "Sax" Saxton, a school principal at the time, announced play-by-play action for the Houghton Lake Bobcats and the Roscommon Bucks. Sax lives at the Masonic Home in Alma and writes a column, "Sax Says," for the Resorter. J.C. Wapplehorst Hosted the No. 1 talk show, 'Your Opinion Please'. Today he pastors a church in Alpena.

Sparks Broadcasting featured women on the radio before many DJ's took over the airwaves. The voices of the Pike's children, Jillayne, Janelle, and Jackie, as well as 'Miss Talk of the Town' Marcia, could be heard in the broadcasting region. In those days, the AM station was predominant. The Pikes retired from radio, and Norm today manages Pike's Enterprises at Houghton Lake. Marcia is a realtor for Century 21 Professional Realty. Jillayne and Janelle are both second grade teachers, and Jackie is married and home-schools three children. Jacob and Garnet Sparks are deceased, but Gordon still has a summer home at Houghton Lake.

In 1983, Sparks Broadcasting was sold to Shea Broadcasting. Barbara Rigling, traffic receptionist,stayed on during the transition and later moved up to office manager. She retired in 1997 and lives at Houghton Lake. Ed Shea owned the station for five years and then sold it to Northland Communications (parent company was Melling Tool Company) in 1988, at which time the tower was moved from Maple Valley and a new 900-foot tower was installed at Nestle Road. John Salov managed the station and oversaw the change in call letters over the fourth of July weekend, 1988 from WJGS to WUPS, the FM station that 'Delivers the Hits'.

Things changed again when the Wal-Mart came to Houghton Lake. The radio station was torn down to make room for the store's parking lot. WUPS and WHGR are now broadcast from their Prudenville and Mt.Pleasant (auxiliary) studios. John Salov bought out Melling last summer and changed the broadcasting name to ColTrace Communications. Sindy Winkler took over as general manager.

Over the years, listeners have heard the voices of disc jockeys including Don London, Mike Williams, Mike Ignat, Pete Michaels, Tammy Thompson, Charlie Fredrick, Paul Mathews, Russ Bennett, Carl Eyer, Tina Lee, Mary Turner, Bob Peters, Pat Quinn, Amy Robinson, Gary Burton, Jim Calkins, Leeann Curtis, Heidi Holtz and Stacie Emery.

The current day shift on WUPS consists of Chris Shafer and C.J. Russell, Charlie Fredrick, and 'J.T.' John Thomas. 'Swap Shop' can still be heard on WHGR.

Houghton Lake's radio station has the largest land mass coverage area, from Ithaca to the south to Vanderbilt to the north, encompassing the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron coasts. WUPS has had a contract to broadcast Central Michigan University football and basketball games for the past 11 years and it is contracted to do so for the next six years. UPS produces and directs the game broadcasts and distributes the shows via satellite to 16 other stations.

WHGR and the Former WJGS have grown from their humble beginnings over the last 45 years, providing radio listeners with music, sports, and information. It is hard to tell what technological and business changes will occur in the future, but hopefully the memories of Houghton Lake's radio past will remain.

Reprinted with permission.


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