The history of WBAY

WBAY Building
WBAY Building(WBAY)
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 1:03 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The WBAY Building at 115 South Jefferson Street in downtown Green Bay.

What is now known as the WBAY Building started in 1924 as a Knights of Columbus health center. From the bottom up, it featured an Olympic-size swimming pool, a restaurant, a gymnasium, and -- at the time -- the largest auditorium in the city. On the second floor you would find a billiard parlor and meeting rooms. The third floor featured a community kitchen, a lodge room that became a small gym, and four handball courts.

In the 1940s, the Norbertine Fathers -- the same order of priests that began St. Norbert College in De Pere -- took over the building. Back in 1925, Father James Wagner enjoyed experimenting with crystal radio sets at St. Norbert College. He applied for a permit and started a campus radio station, WHBY. It was said the call letters stood for “Where Happy Boys Yodel.” When the Norbertines took over the WBAY Building, they began operating WHBY radio from the third floor. Even today we still receive mail addressed to WHBY -- even though the television station has never used those call letters.

When television came along in the 1950s, the Norbertine Fathers applied for a license. They were approved to build the first television station in Northeast Wisconsin, and only the second TV station in the state (the first being in Milwaukee).

WBAY-TV went on the air March 17, 1953. WBAY TV & Radio operated from the third floor. The television studio occupied the lodge room.

The school was moved out of the building and became Premontre High School (now Notre Dame Academy).

In 1954, an addition was built on the back of the building for new studios and production facilities. That expansion includes our news sets and StormCenter 2. For four decades, the studios included a fully-functional kitchen set.

In 1991, the Bay Bowl bowling alley and diner that operated in the lower level of the WBAY Building was replaced with a new, computerized newsroom, which more than tripled the size of the News Department’s workspace. This doubled the number of editing rooms to allow the news, sports, and weather departments to share the same space and work more closely together.

And through the floorboards of one basement storage room, you can still see where the Olympic-size swimming pool once was.

Chuck Ramsay

From WBAY’s Archives, November 2002:

Chuck Ramsay began his WBAY career in 1960, and what a career it has been! He’s been all over the world, bringing back interesting stories we’ve all enjoyed, and he sat at the anchor desk for 29 straight years.

Chuck was born in Cheboygan, Michigan, and grew up near Detroit wanting to be a Michigan state trooper. He wound up on a different beat. He graduated from the Brown Institute of Radio and TV in 1957. After a brief radio career in Michigan’s upper peninsula, he arrived in Green Bay in 1960, doing sports and just about everything else. He left twice to pursue other interests but kept coming back to his friends he knew through the station.

“People have been wonderful to me. That’s probably the most enjoyable thing about it, being able to get out there and enjoy the people, and everybody loves to be loved and I’m not any different. The people of Northeast Wisconsin became very good friends to me and I appreciate that.”

Chuck quickly realized the power he had as a TV anchorman.

“It’s amazing how much power TV has. I never realized how much power it had and it’s sort of awesome. It really gave me a lesson that you really have to be careful with the power you have. I’ve always cherished that thought and tried to be very careful with it.”

Chuck grew up with television, and television grew up with him. He had chances to leave a couple of times but stayed because of the people in Northeast Wisconsin.

“That’s what I like about Green Bay especially, everybody seems to know everybody. The culture stays here, the Polish-Belgian culture, I love it! It’s here and probably will be here forever.”

Chuck's career spanned 45 years. He came to WBAY-TV in 1971 and people called him the Walter Cronkite of Northeast Wisconsin.

Bob Nelson

WBAY aired its first live television program in 1953, and it was a weather show with Bob (“Bobby”) Nelson.

From the WBAY archives (April 6, 1993):

He was 26 years old, stood 5 feet 6 inches tall, and had a crew cut which he kept for many years. His puckish humor made him a natural for sponsors. He also did the commercials-- from wieners to ring bologna to dairy products. He had a flair for entertaining.

And you loved him. Bobby Nelson was everyone’s favorite guy on the magic tube in the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s. His show was the easiest show to sell in the market.

Remember the WBAY raft contest? Guess when the frozen river would thaw enough for the raft to hit the Main Street Bridge and win a prize. Bobby was involved in that, too.

Bobby Nelson suffered a stroke in 1982. His speech was also affected, and so were his arm and leg. Bobby Nelson may have been down but he wasn’t out. It wasn’t long before he was not only walking and talking but driving again.

This past week he visited the newsroom to see our new state-of-the-art facilities, and naturally, he gravitated to the weather room where George Graphos holds court.

Bobby Nelson was first on the air and in our hearts. He still is.

WBAY'S Bobby Nelson
WBAY'S Bobby Nelson(WBAY)

Russ Widoe

From the WBAY archives (October 24, 1999):

Russell Widoe was a television pioneer and one of the most popular broadcasters in Northeast Wisconsin’s history. For more than a decade between the 1950′s and 60′s, kids in this area grew up with Colonel Caboose.

He passed away yesterday in his California home after a short illness. He was 83.

Today, some of those who knew him best, including his daughter, Pat Schuh, and long-time WBAY director Len Ihlenfeldt shared their thoughts on a man who was loved by many.

Pat Schuh: “He commanded at that time 75 percent of the market, and people knew Colonel Caboose almost better than Captain Kangaroo. I couldn’t walk down the street where someone didn’t stop him and the kids would come up and hold his hand.”

Len Ihlenfeldt: “Such magnitude, interest and compassion for people. He was not only the entertainer we had on the air that all the kiddies loved all over this whole area, but he was a person we really loved here also.”

Don Poh, longtime friend: “He was a real artist. Came to this community in the radio business but had a master’s degree in music from Northwestern, so he really knew what he was doing. What else can you say about the man except he was without question the most important performing arts figure in the 50′s and had influence far beyond that.”

Len: “To have somebody who pioneered TV in that respect, educational, and to be the same man-- he was the same man on the street he was in the studio.”

After retiring from television in 1980, Widoe founded Northeastern Wisconsin In-School Telecommunications or NEWIST. I

Charlie Hanson

Before there was day-long network programming and syndicated shows, there was Charlie Hanson. Each day, Charlie created a one-act play and provided an hour of live entertainment to Northeast Wisconsin, often teaming up with other familiar faces of WBAY such as Bobby Nelson and Helen Day.

Charlie was an all-around entertainer: A musician, comedian, and actor-- and one of the founding stars of WBAY-TV.

Hal O’Halloran

Hal O’Halloran was one of the founding stars from WBAY-TV’s early days.

Hal came to WBAY from Chicago, where he woke up Mid America with WLS Radio and the Smile-a-While Crew. The 6′2″ O’Halloran was trained as a singer. He had a mellow voice and a melodious Irish laugh.

Hal was known for his love for children, and was the star of WBAY-TV’s first children’s show, “Captain Hal.” The show was the predecessor of Russ Widoe’s “Colonel Caboose.”

Eddy Jason

The late, great Eddy Jason. A great personality on the radio, he spent some time with us on WBAY-TV. He was co-host of “Party Line” and “A Day with Eddy Jason” on WBAY-TV. He came back from retirement to continue a career on the radio, where he had a great following of listeners.

From WBAY archives, January 16, 1995:

A legend in Green Bay radio died on Sunday... Eddy Jason. Eddy Jason worked at WBAY radio, which later became WGEE, for more than 50 years. He worked as a silent screen actor and did theatre production in Chicago before coming to Green Bay. The radio actor and entertainer started working at WBAY in 1939. He was a charter member of the Wisconsin Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. Jason started the Party Line 47 years ago. The program continues to this day. He did his last radio show on Friday, two days before he died. Eddy Jason was 94 years old.

From WBAY archives, January 17, 1995:

This past Sunday a man who was considered an institution in Wisconsin radio passed away. Eddy Jason died Sunday. His radio show touched thousands of people through WBAY and WGEE radio. Co-workers and listeners spent today’s “Party Line” radio hour reflecting on Eddy’s magic.

“Good morning, you’re on Party Line.”

The voice, the guests, and the spirit of Eddy Jason’s Party Line program were cherished today after 48 years on the air.

“I consider myself pretty lucky to have met the man before he passed away.”

“Just remember Eddy’s recipe for starting every day with a big smile.”

“He let people know what was going on in the community, and really was a lifeline for the community and especially the homebound.”

“He told me someday I’d really go far with my singing.”

Since 1938 Eddie did it all. Commercials, radio, TV, and most of all he made friends.

“I did the Party Line with Eddie and let me tell you looking back on my career he was a unique guy.”

“When he was sitting out there waiting for his kids to pick him up he’s talk to just about anybody.”

(Reporter) “Even I had a reflection of Eddy Jason today. I heard him only a few times but never met him. Yet for the past year, every day at the WBAY building when I came to work, there was an old man who sat here waiting for a ride. He’d open the door for me, and would always talked to me for a while. I never knew who he was. I do now.”

“He made you feel like it was great to be alive.”

Don Sidney

Don Sidney’s real name was Donald (Sidney) Steinberg.

From WBAY’s archives (date unknown):

It’s a long way from a G.I. entertainment show touring the Korean battlefront to becoming “Mr. TV News” in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but it’s just par for the course for Don Sidney, an energetic young man. Don, a Chicago native, majored in speech and English at the University of Illinois and graduated from Chicago’s Columbia College with a major in TV and radio broadcasting.

His first broadcasting job was at WOMT in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 957, and later that same year he became WBAY radio’s nighttime DJ. In 1958, he joined WBAY-TV as a staff announcer, a position which led to his becoming B-A-Y Land’s top TV newscaster.

From WBAY’s archives, 1958:

Even though Don Sidney is a comparative newcomer to the Green Bay television scene, he has garnered a vast host of friends through his personable on-the-air work combining a workman-like selling flair with an inborn knack for showmanship.

Yes, Don is a “new face” on the Channel 2 screens, but WBAY Radio fans have heard that familiar voice interspersed with top tunes of the day since November of 1957 when “Symphony Sid” first made with the music as night-time tune-smith on the 1360 spot on the dial. The ground-work for his professional air work was laid in Manitowoc at WOMT, and the foundation was dug at Columbia College in Chicago where Don majored in radio and television broadcasting.

It was only natural that a Chicago school was chosen by Don because the Windy City is his hometown... and that of his wife, Rita. But there were many years when there were many miles separating Don from the State Street breezes. Some of these years were spent at the University of Illinois, and there was a two-year hitch in Uncle Sam’s marching army where Don learned much about Korean-type living. During this “command performance” period, Don appeared in many G.I. entertainment units and was master of ceremonies for a 30-day engagement with a show that toured most of Korea. This was the brighter part of the picture. On the other side of the scene was a military policeman’s uniform and the duty that goes with it.

With service obligations out of the way, he returned to the “big city on the shores of Lake Michigan” entering the off-set printing business as the lithographer. But a printing press didn’t hold as much fascination for Don as “hot pressed platters” and that’s when Columbia College beckoned and a career was started with his first assignment in professional radio at the completion of this broadcasting course.

His Manitowoc mission was the first venture into Wisconsin for Don and his wife, and now that they’re living in the great Green Bay country, he’s taking advantage of the golfing and fishing possibilities in the area “and could really become a regular fairway fanatic and fishing fan” as he put it.

Don Sidney and his wife love to travel and are exploring the countryside surrounding Green Bay, hoping to get to know ‘BAY-land a bit better. They were married in 1951, have no children and both take an active interest in civic projects and activities.

Don works hard at doing a good job and if people like him as much as he likes people, Don Sidney will certainly succeed in his chosen field of television which started just recently at WBAY-TV.

Les Sturmer

From WBAY’s archives:

Born on a farm near Rush City, Minnesota... August 10, 1920. Came to Wisconsin at a year old and lived at Port Edwards and Wisconsin Rapids thru High School and worked on the farms in Southern Minnesota near Amboy, Minnesota thru grade school, Wisconsin Rapids in 1938.

Have been in the radio business in all phases, sales, announcements, programming, and especially farm programming, since 1940. Had some experience with advertising on General Mills “Larro” feeds account in 1947 with WJPG and transferred to WBAY radio and Television Farm Service Department in 1956.

Was a member of the WBAY Farm department which won the State Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Radio and Television Farm Service Award to Agriculture in 1956-thru 1959. Have several Honorary FFA Chapter farmer awards, and the Wisconsin FFA Distinguished Service Award 1972.

Was part of the Farm Department team to win the Peabody Farm Service Story award in 1957 on Operation Heifer lift. Distinguished Farm Service Award, Outagamie Co. Banker’s Association, 1973.

Serves on the Wisconsin State FFA-Vocational Agriculture Support Committee (Vice-Chairman) and the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Committee, Northeast Wisconsin Jr. Livestock Show Committee, and the Green Bay area Public Schools Agri-Business and Vocational Agriculture Advisory Committee...

We have a working relationship with Wisconsin Cooperative Extension programs including regular radio program (Monday through Sunday) with 7 Counties in the N.E. Wisconsin area. Regular television appearances by County Extension, SCS, ASCS, and other agencies on Noon Show on Channel 2.

Helen Day

Helen Day starred in the first cooking show on WBAY in 1955.

She also co-starred with Eddy Jason on “A Day with Eddy Jason,” which was a forerunner of today’s variety talk shows.

Jerry Burke, Fox Valley Bureau Chief

The Fox Valley has been Jerry Burke’s home for all but four years of his life, including almost 34 years with WBAY-TV and Action 2 News.

Born in Neenah, Jerry grew up in the Valley’s “Twin Cities,” Neenah and Menasha. He graduated in Menasha High School’s Class of ‘59. From there he attended school at the nearby University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh when he also worked at a Neenah radio station.

After more than 20 years in the Valley, the next four years would see Jerry on the West Coast, in the U.S. Air Force protecting California. Jerry worked on the Minuteman missile launch crew at Vandenberg Air Force Base from 1963 to 1967.

Following his military service, Jerry returned home to the Fox Valley. For six years he worked at an FM radio station in Oshkosh before FM radio was popular.

Then on February 1, 1973, he took the step to television, hired by WBAY-TV as the 6 o’clock news anchor when Action 2 News only had two newscasts -- at 6 and 10 p.m. He worked the dual roles of news anchor and reporter.

WBAY became the first local TV station to have a Fox Valley news bureau, on October 31, 1977. Jerry was the logical choice to run the bureau.

In 1991, Jerry returned to the anchor desk during the first Gulf War, anchoring Action 2 News weekend newscasts.

Once the war subsided, he left news reporting for a job as marketing director for a Fox Valley (of course) industrial construction company. But you can’t take the newsroom out of the journalist, and Jerry was back in the Fox Valley bureau six months later.

You might expect Jerry to have a difficult time answering when you ask him what news stories stick out in his mind after more than 40 years in radio and television, but instead he answers quickly: The grim stories of serial killer David Spanbauer and, on the other end of the spectrum, the Concorde’s exciting first arrival at the EAA convention.

“Spanbauer was the toughest to handle,” Jerry says. David Spanbauer was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping and murdering young girls. Covering those cases and Spanbauer’s arrest, Jerry says, “had a profound impact on me. My son was the same age as the victims.”

But Jerry’s voice perks right up when he remembers the supersonic Concorde landing in Oshkosh in 1985. It was the jet’s only stop in the U.S. other than its regular destinations of New York and Washington, DC. “That was a fun experience,” Jerry says, “and I got to ride it, too!”

But don’t ask Jerry about the journalism awards he’s earned. “I’m very uncomfortable talking about awards.”

“Colonel Caboose”

“Colonel Caboose” was on the air for about ten years, from the 1950′s to the early 1960′s. It aired from 4 to 5 p.m. weekdays-- giving children time to do their homework, but just before the dinner hour.

“Colonel Caboose” was the successor to WBAY’s original kiddie show, “Captain Hal.”

Russ Widoe was Colonel Caboose.

Chopper 2

From WBAY’s archives:

“TV-2′s two new additions, CHOPPER-2 and our REMOTE BROADCAST CENTER, help us keep our commitment to provide the best service possible to both our advertisers and our viewers!

CHOPPER-2 allows us to get anywhere news is happening FAST! In an area as large as our viewing area, that’s important. And when we get there CHOPPER-2 provides an aerial view so we can see the entire picture. CHOPPER-2 KEEPS YOU ON TOP OF THE NEWS.”

“A Day with Eddy Jason”

From WBAY’s archives:

Presenting - “A DAY WITH EDDY JASON”

The name “A Day with Eddy Jason” may mislead you... until you’ve tuned in to WBAY-TV on a weekday and discovered that Helen Day and Eddy Jason conduct a home-maker program -- with a difference!

Part of the difference is in the good-natured humor imparted by veteran showman Eddy Jason as he mops the floor (to demonstrate a new work-saving mop)... tests an easy chair (to show folks it will hold a heavy man) or makes candy from an easy-mix, and then samples it! He does anything Helen asks, and a few things she doesn’t expect!

But, the biggest reason WBAY-TV viewers quickly become loyal Day-Jason fans is that they see demonstrations packed with information they need and want -- on hundreds of subjects connected with everyday living... from planning more interesting meals to training a parakeet. There’s an inspiration to make work and play hours fun by watching the program “A Day with Eddy Jason”.

Also, you never know what’s going to happen next. For that reason, even the children are glued to the screen to watch Eddy and Helen. Perhaps for a magic show by a local hobbyist-magician... a homemade clay demonstration... or just Eddy trying to sneak a peek into a locked suitcase (containing hand-made doll clothes from a famous pattern company). Of course, Eddy hoped there would be food in the suitcase.

Guests who visit Helen and Eddy’s TV living room to present demonstrations come from everywhere... a gun expert from Waupaca providing wild game recipes... an Italian native from Fond du Lac with cheese delicacies... an artist from Two Rivers... the cranberry pie-baking champion from Wisconsin Rapids or an Appleton youngster with a pet monkey.

Whoever the guest, and whatever goes on, you’re always entertained and enlightened when you watch “A Day (Helen Day) With Eddy Jason” program on WBAY-TV.