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Omaha Magazine

What’s Old is New Again: Boomer Radio

Dec 21, 2023 12:02PM ● By Carol Nigrelli

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.


[L to R] Wes Stingley, Chuck Yates, Dave Wingert, Neil Nelkin

Listen to this article here. Audio Provided by Radio Talking Book Service.

"Boomer Radio with The Chuckster and that was ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!,’ a huge hit for The Byrds…I really love that song.”

If you’re of a certain age listening to Chuck Yates on Boomer Radio (a tip of the cap to baby boomers), you’re probably singing along with The Byrds, recalling the lyrics word-for-word. You may even remember the first time you heard that “huge hit” and the many other hits from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s played on the station, each song bringing a smile of recognition. 

Perhaps the next best thing to hearing these oldies again is the privilege of playing them. For the on-air personalities who provide Omaha’s only local, live broadcasts every weekday from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on 1490 AM and 94.5 FM, Boomer has added another chapter to their already legendary careers. 

Ranging in age from their late 60s to mid-70s, the radio veterans remember when the songs were brand new Top 40 hits and formed the soundtrack of their young lives. Decades later, they come to work enthused and energized by the same music.

The lineup is impressive and includes: Dave Wingert, known as “Wingy” to his listeners, engages the audience on the all-important “Morning Drive” show, followed by Chuck Yates on “Midday,” Jack Swanda on “The Drive Home,” and Neil Nelkin on “Boomer at Night.” 

“I do 6 to 10 every weeknight. At my age, I don’t need to do that—stay up every night,” Nelkin cracked. 

But radio is in his blood. “I like to say radio is a terminal disease. You catch it early, and there is no cure,” said Nelkin, who was only 14 when he hosted a show on a Country station in his hometown of Providence, R.I. 

He possesses the most varied resume of the group, from working behind the scenes at the ABC Television Network in New York to management or operations at several radio stations throughout Nebraska. 

The lure of working again as an announcer postponed any thoughts of retirement. Nelkin said he does it for the listeners, not the ego. 

“We couldn’t find another radio station with live programming until 10 at night,” Dave Wingert interjected. “As a result, Neil’s show is number one in the ratings among listeners 45 and up.” 

Wingert, perhaps the best known of the Boomer hosts, arrived in Omaha in 1975 but took a 20-year detour to Seattle before returning in 2007 to the city he loves.  He’s worked at several stations here, up and down the radio dial. In addition to broadcasting, Wingert often appears on stage as an actor and stays busy as an emcee. His willingness to speak candidly of past struggles with depression and addiction, along with his very personable and authentic style on the air, has won him a legion of listeners. 

“To get this position at this point in time, I am so grateful,” said Wingert, who joined Boomer shortly after the new format began in 2015 as both an announcer and in sales. The good vibrations from his new gig immediately set the tone. “The phrase ‘music that makes you feel good’ that Boomer now uses? That was my thing. I would just say it on the air.”

“You listen to people who call Dave in the morning and they’re not just radio listeners, they’re his best friends,” observed Nelkin. “And he knows their name and all about their life. That’s the difference between Boomer and every other station.”

If Wingert is everybody’s friend, then Chuck Yates is everybody’s uncle. Smiling and jovial with a rich, raspy voice, Yates gets emotional when he recalls a phone call that “saved my life.”

“I was general manager at KLNG, a Christian station in Council Bluffs. I was there 19 years, and they got rid of me just as the pandemic started,” Yates said. “I was floundering for three years, did nothing but collect Social Security. I was asleep at 10 in the morning in September of 2022 when I got a call asking if I’d be interested in coming to Boomer.” 

The Omaha North graduate who “quit playing football at Nebraska” made his bones spinning the heavy sound of Progressive Rock for 25 years on Omaha’s Z-92 where he was known as “The Love Chuckster” to a loyal nighttime audience. He now takes requests by phone and online for songs he never played. 

“Being so steeped in FM and rock, I’ve missed so much good music because I shrugged them off as ‘pop,’” the father of four admitted while sitting in the studio as the Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds hit, “Fallin’ In Love,” played in the background. 

While “The Love Chuckster” ruled the nights at one station, Jack Swanda was getting listeners “Outta Bed with Jack and Fred” at another.  Swanda teamed with Fred Brooks in the early 1980s on KGOR before switching their morning show to 96.1 KEFM in 1989. 

Admired for his smooth style and eloquent delivery, Swanda enjoyed a long and successful tenure until 2004, when the station’s local owners sold KEFM to a broadcast conglomerate. 
“They let me go,” said Swanda, who started his career as a teenager in Lincoln, where he grew up. “I was 50 years old and had two girls in college and one in high school.”

Vowing to never be put in that position again, Swanda decided to become his own boss. He started a financial services company from scratch and worked radio part-time while building his business. 

A three-year gig at 100.7 The Fish ended in 2018 when the Christian radio station was sold. Almost immediately, Boomer came calling and asked Swanda to take over the afternoon drive slot. The irony?

“(The owners of Boomer) had purchased The Fish space when it became available,” he said, referring to the studio on Burt Street in Miracle Hills. “I played contemporary Christian music in the exact same studio as Boomer Radio—same console, same equipment.” 

Swanda’s faith has always been an important part of his life, which is a big reason he quickly said “yes” to working for Boomer owners Steve and Sue Seline of Omaha. “Their Walnut Media is faith-based, so I still get a chance to shine a light on a dark world.”

After the Selines added Boomer to their media and digital services company, they didn’t have to dive too deeply into research to know there was a hole in the market, where listeners 50-plus remained an underserved and underestimated demographic.

“It’s just common sense,” said Patrick Combs, president and CEO of Walnut Media. “That 50-plus crowd controls more money than any other generation, they’re more active than they’ve ever been in history, and they’re homeowners. Plus, they listen to the radio.” 

As a result, playing golden oldies reaps golden ratings for Boomer, which is music to advertisers’ ears. 

“Most ad agencies are stuck in the rut of buying that younger demo of 25 to 54. We’re successfully bucking the trend,” Combs said. “Given the demographics of Omaha and our access to some pretty stellar talent, Boomer is a natural.”

That kind of respect flows two ways. While broadcast talent can often be hired, fired, rehired, criticized, nitpicked, and insulted more times in their careers than Elizabeth Taylor collected husbands, Boomer’s on-air hosts revel in ownership that treats them like adults. 

“They leave us alone,” said Yates, now in his seventh decade of doing radio. “I’ve never had anyone come in here and say, ‘Why did you play that?’ or ‘Why did you say that?’ They don’t micromanage. The freedom is crazy.”

The energy in the studio jumps through the speakers. Avid Boomer listeners like meteorologist Jim Flowers, who spent 34 years delivering forecasts on all three Omaha TV stations, feel a deep connection. 

“I always have Boomer on. They play the songs that I grew up listening to like The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Bee Gees, songs from my formative years,” said Flowers, sitting in his car at Black Elk Lake in Papillion with the radio “booming” and fishing gear beckoning. “The music just makes you feel good,” he said, repeating the station’s mantra. 

Flowers and his wife listen for traffic reports when they’re in the car. Using the moniker Storm Central, Flowers will sometimes call in an accident or tie-up to Jack Swanda, his good friend for over 30 years. 

True to form, Swanda will tape the call, play it back on the air, and exhort Storm Central, as he does with every caller, to “keep boomin’, my friend!” 

For more information about Boomer Radio or to listen live, visit myboomerradio.com.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, 
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