Rock 'n' roll was born, and WOWO was there

WOWO was radio king
WOWO was radio king
Local radio station WOWO was on the scene when the rock 'n' roll craze, epitomized by Elvis Presley, swept the nation.publicly. (AP Photo/Museum of Television & Radio)
By Scott Hickey of The News-Sentinel

Bob Sievers and Bob Chase, both WOWO air-personalities during the 1950s, were the voices of rock 'n' roll for many in Fort Wayne.

Dianne Giannakeff, director of drama at Trinity English Lutheran Church, remembers the popularity of the rock 'n' roll culture.

"Kids were all busy listening to the radio, and if I recall, parents were busy wringing their hands about the music," she said, laughing. "It seems like Bob Sievers' voice is right there alongside the music in my memory."

Sievers, who worked at WOWO, 1190-AM, from 1936 to 1987, recalls the excitement and exuberance of the time.

"We were playing Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey before rock 'n' roll really took hold. When it started to take off, the whole era changed," he said. "I liked the change, and so did the young people, because we were playing the hits."

Chase began his tenure at WOWO in the early '50s as an afternoon disc jockey, and continues today as the station's sports director. Early on, he was a regular fixture at a long list of record hops and high school dances.

"We were out at least three days a week putting on a dance somewhere. In the beginning, people didn't know what to do at these dances. Honestly, there wasn't a lot of dancing. Some people came just to sit and listen to the music," he said. "It was our job to get people up and dancing."

After a few years, the idea caught, on and record hop crowds swelled from 300 to 1,500, Chase said.

The growing number of young people at the dances was evidence that a new youth culture was taking root, Chase explained.

"Prior to the rock era, we had swing music, but that wasn't the kids' music. The kids could identify with rock, and the older people resisted it, which made it more appealing," he said. "It was good timing. Radio and rock were coming into their own around the same time. I think those were the golden days for radio."

Another part of the rock revolution was the soon-to-be classic hot rods leaving behind patches of smoking rubber at stoplights. Almost a required part of the cruising ritual was a visit to Hall's drive-in restaurant on Bluffton Road, or Gardner's Drive Inn downtown, Sievers said.

"The big thing back then was to buzz Gardner's and then head out and cruise Hall's. Those were the two big spots where young people met here in town," he said.

"My friends and I would stop at Hall's to get a drink and watch people, and toot the horn as they drove by. When I was young, Hall's was certainly the place to be seen," Giannakeff said. "After that, we would drive around to see who else was out that night."

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