Bill Finch loved music. But it was broadcasting where he left his mark.
A native of
He also had a knack for new technologies and ventured into broadcasting – first radio, and then television. But television was a mere flirtation, and he molded his lifelong career around radio, sharing his love of big band music with radio audiences from
It’s no surprise that he was blending those two traits when he partnered with Coloradan Bob Fouse to put Chadron radio station KCSR on the air back in May of 1954. That event was listed among “New Beginnings” in the recently-published history of Chadron, Nebraska, prepared as part of the quasquicentennial celebration this summer.
Few folks with first-hand knowledge about the beginning of KCSR are still around. So it’s left to those of us who were mere youngsters romping around Chadron in the mid 1950’s to tell the story. And that story can’t be told without first knowing about the people who made it happen – and Bill Finch was in the thick of it!
“The gangsters were often looked at as sort of folk heroes…we didn’t worry about them, though. They were never a real danger to citizens – only to each other when one invaded the other’s turf. The police figured they’d just kill each other,” Finch was quoted as saying.
He also remembered with great delight the wide array of big bands that would play in the many ballrooms around
“Being raised in the Big Band era was the best thing a person who was musically inclined could possibly experience,” he was once quoted as saying. Those inclinations led him to master the saxophone and clarinet.
During World War II, Finch served a stint in the Pacific with the U.S. Army Signal Corps. His four-year hitch included an assignment to Special Services and ended in
It was likely in
Much could be written about those early days of KCSR, which operated at 1450 Kilocycles with only 250 watts. Nonetheless, the station boasted that it was the “Tri-State Voice by Listener Choice,” but the signal struggled to reliably serve an audience in
But everywhere the signal could be heard, the station was a hit!
Early KCSR staff members included other DU alums like Cliff Pike and Freeman Hover. They were creative and resourceful, and they didn’t hesitate to take chances trying new things. The station was on the air 18-hours a day and incorporated everything from country and western to classical music in a format that was “keyed to the mood of the day.” But it was the local news, sports, and weather that caught the fancy of a Chadron-area audience hungry for their own radio station. They loved it.
Other early staff included Dave Scherling, who had been at KGOS in
Finch served as Station Manager and guided most of the technical work, while Fouse was Commercial Manager. Both did on-air work, but Fouse dove full force into programming, injecting his rare brand of creativity that was showcased on a weekday morning program called Breakfast with the Boys. We have a some photographs from this era; you'll find them posted in our KCSR Gallery.
Finch and his wife
In 1958, as a part-time announcer at the station, I vividly recall one summer afternoon when Bill was at the control board hosting an afternoon of recorded music. He decided to spice it up a bit by playing Count Basie's “One O’clock Jump,” followed by another version of....“One O’clock Jump”......and then..... yet another version! I have no recollection of just how many renditions he found, but he was loving every minute of it. It was clear he had a passion for big band music – even if it was demonstrated in a rather unorthodox way! He was, after all, the boss!
By late 1958 and early 1959, Finch was simultaneously managing KDUH-TV in Hay Springs, the new television station owned by Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises. Whatever the motivation for Finch and Fouse, they sold KCSR to the Huse Publishing Company of
Finch then bought a radio station in
By 1963, Bill Finch met magazine editor
The program was heard by an Air Force colonel who had some clout with higher brass, and Finch was asked to produce the program for the worldwide audience of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. He’d periodically fly to
This phase of Bill Finch’s career accomplished several things. First, it gave him an opportunity to invite top-name talent to the studio for interviews that could be inserted into his programs, which were pressed to LP discs and distributed to AFRTS station and ships around the globe. Surely, it must have been a real kick for the kid from
Bill and Pat Finch had a son of their own, Holmes, who spent his formative years in
The AFRTS gig went on for more than a decade, but – according to a 2002 news story – Finch lost is voice and had to undergo surgery on his vocal chords. While he regained his voice, it was markedly different, and Finch apparently felt that his tenure as a radio announcer was at an end.
Shortly thereafter, the family headed east – to
In 1975, the final chapter of Bill Finch’s broadcast career unfolded. He went to work at WJMX in nearby
Finch's first wife, Dorothy, suffered a bout of heart ailments and passed away in 1995 in Orlando, Florida. Their daughter Barbara lives in
In 2002, on his 80th birthday, Finch suffered a stroke. Despite this significant setback, he fought his way back and was soon sharing the helm of The Finch Bandwagon on another
Bill Finch died June 9, 2004, just a few weeks shy of his 82nd birthday. His wife, Pat, continues to live in her native Pamplico, South Carolina.
Our thanks to Pat Finch, Barbara (Finch) Schenk, Holmes Finch, and Ruth Munn Kilgallon for generously sharing photos and other materials used in this article.