The early, early daysIn 1969, George Kello began his radio career at WRVC (102.9mh). The station originated in 1949 and was located at 2712 Colley Avenue in a non-descript warehouse and later moved (as Progressive WOWI) to 713 Colonial Avenue in the residential Ghent section of Norfolk. At the time, WRVC offered classical music and the Drake Hit Parade ‘70’ during the day while Kello hosted a progressive show called The Sounds of Life at night (9pm to midnight, Mon - Sat). Kello’s nightly intro was “When people force music about truth, loneliness, love, and revolution underground, it is because their ears are afraid to experience the sounds of life. This is George Kello, not underground, but above ground". His first recording wasn’t a song but a peace chant delivered by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a concert in Ontario. Kello’s program helped set the stage for the diverse musical offerings that followed where the on-air hosts “said what they wanted to say, and played what they wanted to play.”
Stewart Brinsfield, a lawyer, bought WRVC on March 16, 1970 and changed the name to WOWI (pronounced WOW-WEE). Kello’s program stayed on the air for the rest of the year. The station switched to a full-time progressive format on May 15, 1971 with program director Chuck Taylor proclaiming, “By progressive, I don’t mean to imply solid acid; rather, a carefully blended mixture of hard rock, hip country, blues, and jazz. [We] don’t want to be a radical, revolutionary voice that widens the already wide gap. I would hope that we can be a bridge over that gap.” The musical range was vast, mixing the somewhat obscure, well-intentioned, ready-to-be-heard with the slightly familiar. Brinsfield also oversaw the construction of the station’s 50,000w tower in Deep Creek, dramatically adding to the station’s coverage. He was also known for sometimes hiring on the spot.
On airThe main on-air studio was located on the third floor of the house at 713 Colonial Avenue in the Ghent area of Norfolk. The studio was small, the equipment was barely reliable and many of the staffers had their first ‘and best’ on-air experiences there. One door led to a fire escape and that Kello recalled being ‘like an Earth orbiter escape hatch’ giving a sense of sustained orbit above the earth.’ Many listeners and fans used the fire escape to visit the on-air staff, often bearing assorted gifts and new recordings to share. At times, a room on the first floor operated as an in-house studio where noted musicians and bands would play live on the air.
Besides Kello, who was hired and fired by Brinsfield several times, the more knowledgeable and gifted curators of sounds included: Art Williamson, Bruce Garraway, Rollie Bristol (d), Dave (But You Can Call Me Nick) Nichols, Larry Dinger, Dick Ross, Larry Gray (d), Greg Bernet, Randy Spiers, Gandalf, aka George Wolf, Larry Allen, John Nesci (Ahh-Clem) (d), Sue Billingsley, John Stevens, and Margaret 'Peggy' Woods. Others included Dave Webster, Jim Minard, and Chuck Taylor. Also helping out were Miss Betty and office manager Elaine Cohen.
Many of the staffers give credit to Bruce Garraway for making the station more professional in its activities. He, along with Larry Dinger and several others, brought order to the 30,000 strong song catalog that the station collected. Staffers often left the recently played records out where others could see them so that no one would repeat songs that were recently played.
Another important seminal figure at the station turned out to be Bob Conwell (BC). Conwell sold advertising and as then, continues to be one of Progressive WOWI’s biggest cheerleaders. Besides still carrying the torch for the station, he aired ‘Rare and Imported Tracks’ on WMYK-94 and featured a long-standing Progressive WOWI reunion show in the early 1980s that brought many of the original WOWI on-air personnel back for music offerings and discussions about what WOWI was and the effect that it had. Conwell is to be credited with helping to piece together this history. Through Conwell’s and co-hort Gary Steinberg's efforts, more than 20 hours of original programming and early 80s reunion shows is currently available. Keith Nuttall, a friend of George Kello, also provided some 18 additional hours of original shows for the author.