WREN radio | 1926 radio station returns with new format

Driving north on Topeka Boulevard and entering the outskirts of downtown Topeka, one may notice a large replica bird on the east side of the street. What many may not know, however, is its history.

The large replica is actually the world’s largest Wren, and it hasn’t always been in its current location. It formerly belonged to WREN, a radio station that started in Tonganoxie, Kan. in 1926. The station then moved to Lawrence before settling in Topeka in 1947. The replica followed.

Fast forwarding to 1988, WREN closed its doors and after the building was purchased by another radio station, the bird was put up for auction. It was purchased and preserved by Topekans and placed in its current location in downtown.

Moving forward again to the present day, the bird now has regained relevance. The reason is due to a reestablishment of WREN in February 2012. The station now broadcasts in an online format at wrenradio.net. Frank Chaffin, co-owner and general manager of WREN, said he started formulating the idea to reestablish the station close to two years ago. He worked with Les Glenn, fellow co-owner and program manager, to make the station a reality.

Glenn now works as the current voice of WREN when it broadcasts live from 3 to 6p, Monday through Friday. He formerly was a program and operations manager for a station in Burlington, Kan. and also worked for KTOP, KMAJ and more in Topeka. Chaffin has 30 years in television and radio, including work with WREN as a DJ, sales manager and general manager.

Chaffin said the change to an online format will decrease overhead significantly and that online radio is likely a stepping stone towards future radio success. It has also opened their eyes to where the music is being heard, as listeners have tuned in from Ukraine, Scotland, England, Sweden and more.

“We’re ahead of the curve,” said Chaffin.

WREN staff knew, despite lower overhead and an all-volunteer staff, they would have to sell ads. They were able to recruit Topekan Ed Carmona for sales management. Carmona said he thinks the station’s popularity is continuing to increase.

“We’re gaining more and more interest every day,” said Carmona.

One of the main curiosities to be had was why the group had an interest in reestablishing WREN at all. Glenn explained when Oldies 99.3 changed its format in 2004, it created a void for those who wanted to listen to music from the 1950s and 1960s.

“There was a whole generation of music that wasn’t getting heard [after the format change,]” said Glenn.

The library of music to choose from consists of roughly 3,000 songs, according to Glenn. He also said that it’s not likely to ever hear the same song twice in a day, so listeners always have something new to enjoy. Chaffin also said if he wanted to play a certain song, it would be literally a button click away.

WREN is currently operating out of a small corner of the Lazy Toad, 5331 SW 22nd Place. The location has been modified now to include a window which looks out to the walking portion of the mall. Inside the small room are the computers which hold the music as well as old memorabilia from Topeka radio stations, including a newspaper clipping from the day the replica Wren was first seen publicly in 1932.

Only a few months in, Chaffin is glad he made the decision to help give WREN its revitalization. He states that individuals including Nancy Sinatra, have tweeted the station to thank them for playing their music. His hope is the success will continue.

“When you’ve been in radio, you always dream of owning a station,” said Chaffin. “So I said, ‘let’s give it a shot.’”

Some of the future plans include a junior disk jockey show on Saturdays as well as live broadcasting from 6a to 6p Monday through Friday. To find out more about WREN, visit their website wrenradio.net.

[ Story by Richard Kelly | Photography by Adam Koger | reprinted from July 13-August 21, 2012 issue ]

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