WKOA/WHVO - Birth of Rock and Roll in Hoptown - 1954
WKOA signed on the air in September 1954. It was originally owned by the Kentucky New Era Corporation. The first voice to ever broadcast on WKOA was not who you would expect. It was a young ad salesman for the New Era named Robert C. Carter, who would later become Publisher of the New Era and President of the Corporation. He gave the call letters the very first time during equipment testing, with Bruno Wilson, Leo's brother, as engineer. Carter worked weekends for two years, hosting a classical music show on Sunday afternoons called the Holland Opera House On the Air. The original location of WKOA was in the building on Main Street called the Holland Opera House, which actually held performances on its upstairs stage.
Charlie Stratton was the first manager of WKOA. Merwin Bass and Don Ritter were early announcers.
The Kentucky New Era sold it a few years later to Bill, John, and Walker Higgins, who also operated other local businesses, including a drug store.
In those days, music programming was not as formatted as it is now. Local country bands, including Gene Francis and Thunderbirds, and Ross Sisk's band, Junior and the Jays, played live on the radio. Singers like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Pat Boone, the Kingston Trio, and Anita Bryant were played. A local black music show was also featured. The early mornings included the farm report as well as all kinds of other local news and happenings from Bob McGaughey. Each morning at 9, Miss Julia Henry played the piano, gave recipes, and kept the housewives informed of all the local happenings.
During WKOA's first year on the air, the music that we now know as Rock and Roll came of age. It was on WKOA that many of us first heard Elvis Presley, The Drifters and Coasters, The Spinners, Wayne Newton, the Supremes, the Everly Brothers, the Righteous Brothers, and all the other greats of the Rock and Roll era.
It was during these years that the voices of Bob McGaughey, Miss Julia Henry, Jim Robertson, Don DeMarsilis, Boyd Clark, Dave Ralston, Jim Suddeth, Ross "Junior" Sisk, Jimmy Wilkins, Stan Murphy, Vern Brewer, Marvin Mahoney, Pat Denny, and Dennis Myers filled the airwaves. Other WKOA voices and employees over the years included Hal King, Ken Woosley, Stan Rice, Eddie Owen, Bill Higgins Junior, Randall McCarty, Dave Mize, Kathy Mize, Travis Middleton, Curtis Cunningham, J. C. McCarty, Sonny Allen, Joyce Ann Dorris, Betty Catlett, Ed Griffin, Leo Wilson, Doug Hamby, Beverly Piatt, Mary Catherine Word, Don Stewart, and Paul Gilliam (who did a daily program live from his Kentucky Lake Fisherman's One Stop) were heard on this very station. Virginia Alexander and Ruth Humphries did daily reports from Cadiz.
WKOA was an affiliate of the ABC Radio Network, and presented ABC Information News and Paul Harvey to compliment its strong local news efforts. WKOA moved from its Main Street studios to new ones on South Virginia Street in the mid 60's, then to 9th and Main and its showcase studio in the old First City Bank building in 1975.
During the 80's and into the early 90's the station was bought and sold several times, and like so many AM stations challenged for listeners by the new rage of FM, changed formats and personnel numerous times.
In 1996, it was purchased by its current owner, Ham Broadcasting Co., and the oldies format was established shortly thereafter. Local news and information were added to the Oldies music, and the slogan "Where you heard em the first time" was used to point out that the same songs played today, were first played by WKOA. Unfortunately, a station elsewhere had the WKOA call letters by then, so the call letters WHVO, which stand for We're Hoptown's Very Own, were selected, along with a drawing of the town clock on the logo to underscore the station's local operation. WHVO is now the only locally owned commercial radio station licensed to Hopkinsville. WKDZ joined forces with WHVO to create what is now known as Boomer Radio.