WJAG Prepares for 100th Year in Broadcasting

Known originally as the “Voice of the Norfolk Daily News,” WJAG (Norfolk, Nebraska) is preparing to celebrate its 100th year of broadcasting in 2022.

“WJAG is the second oldest surviving station from among the first dozen radio outlets licensed in Nebraska by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1922,” said WJAG General Manager Jeffrey Steffen. “WJAG was the creation of the late Gene Huse, then publisher of the Norfolk Daily News, and today is believed to be the oldest single-family ownership radio operation in the world.”

PHOTO: WJAG staff announcer Wayne Larson reports from the field in 1956.

Even in 2020, echoes of the past reverberate in WJAG’s daily broadcast schedule. The noon report of the local news does not begin until approximately 12:10 p.m. In the early days, this would allow workers to return to their homes for lunch in time to hear the complete newscast. Also, WJAG hosts a monthly “Ask a Trooper” program with the Nebraska State Patrol, which had its beginnings in the 1950s.

The station’s initial Staff Announcer Karl Stefan was later elected to Congress in 1934, no doubt bolstered by his popularity on the station. With the deepening of the Great Depression, the station provided affordable access to news and entertainment, which continued through World War II.            

“The station’s programming lineup has always been molded by the audience to some degree. Most Midwest communities know that as agriculture goes so goes everything. When the farmer is doing well, everyone does well, so it is no accident that the programming lineup has always focused on keeping agriculture informed,” Steffen said.       

“WJAG is proudly a member of NAFB and has always prided itself in following the lead of its founders, to be on the leading edge in the ever-changing media landscape,” Steffen added.

In December 1959, a 59-year old Naper, Nebraska, woman stood trial in Boyd county for the murder of her son. Although judicial ethics discouraged it, Judge Lyle Jackson allowed WJAG’s recording apparatus in the courtroom for the trial of Sadie Dickerson. A jury cleared Dickerson, and an edited version of the proceedings was aired on WJAG in January 1960—a first in Nebraska radio history. In 1995, the station installed a World Wide Web computer server and website, www.norfolkonline.com, which furthered the station’s brand on yet another new platform.

“For decades, ag producers have tuned to WJAG as a reliable ag source. Because of its strong 90-plus years of commitment to public service, WJAG touts the three ingredients that have guided the station to almost a century of service: localism, supportive ownership willing to re-invest in local radio, and continuous exposure for the stations in its ownership partner, The Norfolk Daily News. Today’s media platforms continue to expand, yet radio listenership stays strong. Why? Strong local connections to the communities we serve, a model first used in 1922, and will still apply in 2022,” Steffen concluded.