In an era of corporate radio, a Nebraska station bet big on local DJs. It’s paying off.

Listening to the radio, an old familiar voice comes on the air. He spins the hits of yesteryear, sparking trips down memory lane to the days of cruising Dodge Street or driving the Square in Fremont. 

From 5-10 a.m. on Boomer Radio, veteran DJ Dave Wingert entertains listeners with his lively personality, jokes, odd news stories and, of course, songs from the 1960s and ‘70s. He may even delve into the 1950s or toss out a show tune.

But it’s not the song selection that distinguishes Boomer Radio.  

At a time when most area radio stations fall under the umbrellas of a few national and regional networks, including iHeart Radio and Iowa-based NRG Media, locally-owned Boomer Radio is leaning into its Omaha roots. It’s one of the only non-talk metro stations featuring local personalities during prime listening hours. 

Wingert is one of those regular DJs with ties to Omaha’s classic radio era, when AM ruled the dial and WOW and KOIL competed with KFAB – yes, KFAB once played Top 40 music – for the top spot among young radio listeners. 

Chuck Yates (“Love Chuckster” during his days at Z-92), Jack Swanda (half of the “Outta Bed with Jack and Fred” team on KEFM for a dozen years) and radio veteran Neil Nelkin round out the station’s stable.

The boomers seem to have found their groove.

Boomer Radio is one of the fastest-growing outlets in the 25-station Omaha metro market, occasionally cracking the top 10, said Patrick Combs, president and CEO of Walnut Media, Boomer Radio’s parent company. 

Thanks to our sponsor

“We took advantage of an opportunity in this community that didn’t exist because the mega corporate stations have kind of gotten away from their community ties,” he said.

Knowing Boomer Radio isn’t likely to top the market, Combs said the station can instead focus on what made local radio great in the glory days: community. The Salvation Army worked with the station during the holiday season with its annual “Adopt a Family” after about 25 years with Star 104.5.

“(Owner) Steve Seline and I are active with nonprofits and sit on boards and commissions,” Combs said. “We believe in our community. We love our community.”

Hiring the on-air personalities was a coup, according to Combs. 

“They’re disc jockeys that people can relate to, and a lot of them grew up with,” he said.

Dave Wingert, or “Wingy” as he’s known by fans, hopes Boomer Radio is the final stop in a journey that has included stints at four local stations and a two-decade stay in Seattle where he hosted a nationally-syndicated show. Cursing cost him a couple of past jobs, but Wingert said those were just excuses to get rid of him. Photo by Juwan Walton for the Flatwater Free Press

Wingert, or “Wingy” as he’s known by fans, landed at the then-upstart Boomer Radio in 2017 after stints at local stations WOW, KGOR, KEFM and KOOO, as well as a two-decade stay in Seattle where he hosted the nationally-syndicated show “Dave Til Dawn.” 

When Walnut Media was courting Wingert, it had just bought 1490 and grabbed the oldies format that KGOR-FM had abandoned. 

Boomer has since added frequencies 94.5, 97.3 and 104.1 to ensure wide listenership in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, Combs said. And it’s adding 106.7 in Lincoln.

Boomer Radio isn’t the only station with local on-air talent. Bluffs Country 106.5, which plays pop-country from the 1990s and early 2000s, features Omaha radio legends Chuck Denver (KGOR) and Ritch Cassidy (KXKT). 

But Boomer Radio – with its classic DJs, vintage music, local advertising and appeal to an often overlooked demographic (actual Boomers) – is bucking the trends of corporate radio, said Larry Rosin, co-founder and president of Edison Research, a New Jersey-based communication research company.

Radio is operating in an increasingly competitive media ecosystem and seeing listenership decline across the board, although at a slower rate than some might think, he said. 

The percentage of Americans 12 and older who listen to terrestrial radio in a given week fell from 92% in 2012 to 82% in 2022, according to Nielsen Media Research data published by Pew Research.

The most severe drop in listenership is at the younger end, Rosin said. Appealing to a crowd slightly older than the traditional radio audience (25 to 50 years old) is smart, he added.

“The group you’re talking about is leaning into the group that grew up with radio as a lifetime of habituation, and is loyal and likely listening a lot,” Rosin said.

Focusing on local businesses for advertising plays into Boomer’s playbook. Listeners often hear commercials for Jerico’s steakhouse and Husker Roofing among others.

While advertising supports the network, it’s important that listeners engage with the personalities, Combs said.

Chuck Yates

After 25 years with Z-92, Yates dabbled in a few things, but nothing stuck. Then Combs called to gauge his interest in joining Boomer Radio. 

Now “The Chuckster” laughs at his own jokes and shares music trivia 10 a.m.-3 p.m., sandwiched between Wingert’s and Swanda’s shows.

Longevity does have its drawbacks. Yates missed several weeks of work with health issues. So have Wingert and Nelkin. Lonesome Rhodes, who once anchored the evening show, died from health complications in early February.

“These guys love what they do,” Combs said. “And for the most part, they’re dealing with their health issues. Dave says he wants his last breath to be taken at the studio. And I think he’s got a lot of years left.”

Health concerns played a role in Nelkin’s “third retirement” in 2023. He had been serving as Wingert’s co-host on the morning show. 

After moving to Lincoln to be near his daughter and grandchildren, Nelkin leapt out of retirement six months later when Combs called to discuss an opening on the night show.

“Patrick asked if I was interested and I said yes in a heartbeat, but I couldn’t make the drive each night to Omaha. My daughter wouldn’t like that,” Nelkin said. The company built a home studio for “Neil at Night.”

Neil Nelkin typically hosts the nighttime show on Boomer Radio, “Neil at Night,” from his home studio in Lincoln. Health concerns led him to retire in 2023 and move to Lincoln. But he couldn’t resist the chance to go back on the air, especially after the station offered to build a home studio for him. Photo by Juwan Walton for the Flatwater Free Press

Nelkin’s path to the microphone differs from the others. Spending most of his career in radio management, he’s worked at stations from Miami, Florida, to North Platte. He’s seen corporate radio gobble up rural stations. They often keep a few ties to the community, maybe a few local commercials or some local news, but not much else, Nelkin said.

The response to Boomer Radio, he said, “has been absolutely phenomenal.”

On the eve of “The Day the Music Died,” when stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash in Iowa en route to Fargo, North Dakota, Nelkin and listeners relived the horror on his show. 

Nelkin played an interview with Dion DiMucci, leader of Dion and the Belmonts, who recalled their reactions when they learned about the deaths after arriving in Fargo for that night’s show.

“I got more response to that interview than I think almost anything I’ve done since I’ve been on air,” he said. “People love the personal approach that we take with the music and the personalities. We’re fulfilling a need here with Boomer.”

Each DJ has his following, but Swanda commands large listenership during the afternoon drivetime. Twice in 2023 he ranked No. 1 in monthly listenership among music stations in the 55 and older demographic, Combs said. (Correction: This article incorrectly described Swanda’s performance in the fourth quarter of 2023. It has since been corrected.) 

After more than 30 years in radio and another layoff, Jack Swanda pursued a career change. But he couldn’t shake the allure of radio. Now he is at Boomer Radio in the afternoon drivetime slot. Swanda occasionally uses his grandchildren to do short interviews and voice cuts. Photo by Juwan Walton for the Flatwater Free Press

It harkened back to 35 years ago, when he and Fred Brooks dominated the morning ratings with “Outta Bed with Jack and Fred” on KEFM 96.1. The duo worked together for about 10 years until Swanda was let go by the station.

With more than 30 years in radio and two daughters in college and another in high school, Swanda left the industry and became a financial adviser. 

But radio kept eating away at him. He took a side job recording programming for smaller stations. One of the stations happened to be 1490, the original Boomer station.

“They had a format with a lot of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, lounge singers. And they called it ‘Lounge Radio,’” Swanda said.

In 2014, Swanda, a devout Christian, was offered the 3-6 p.m. time slot at KGBI playing contemporary Christian music.

Walnut Media ended up buying KGBI and its studios, and Swanda eventually took over the afternoon drivetime. It proved to be a winner for him and the station.

Swanda connects with his listeners. They call in from around the country, each with their own on-air nickname. Combs said that kind of engagement is just as important as listenership numbers.

“Radio is intimate. It’s one-to-one … They’re not listening as a big audience. They’re listening as individuals,” Swanda said. 

“And it’s local, so if you can tie in with where that person is, and the things that are happening in their lives, you become part of the community along with them.”

By Tim Trudell

Tim Trudell is a freelance writer based in Omaha and an enrolled member of the Santee Dakota Tribe. Trudell has co-written three books with his wife Lisa. Together they run a travel blog, Trudell has also written for outlets such as The Omaha World-Herald, Omaha Magazine, Nebraska Magazine and Living Here Midwest.


Jack Swanda,When I phone .I address him as Mr. Swanda. He Knows who I’am. My wife Lucy Loves his show, but she’s shy to call,most of the time., we feel we have met a Friend .. and did I say … This is Jim and Lucy From Florida.. Jack knows.. Thank you for the memories and the new Friends..

Growing up near Onawa, Iowa in the 50’s/60’s/70’s – OUR ‘music’ was found on KOIL radio in Omaha – but, at night the blow-torch transmitters from KAAY (Little Rock) and KOMA (Oklahoma City) were the easy choices. Without being able to listen to boomer by radio (now in Sioux City) – the internet provides the ability to listen and interact – which we do on all the shows from time to time and have become good friends with those on the air (R. Doc Z and Louanne)

Love My Boomer! I would listen on my drives from Lincoln to Sioux City and back! I begged Patrick to cover Lincoln, which I am so glad to see is happening! I moved back to the Sioux City area after many years. The stations are the same and play the same songs over and over. I hope My Boomer is available over the air in Siouxland in the future.
I enjoy Neil at Night each evening as I prefer music over TV. The listeners rule the shows with their requests. I’m lucky because Neil got a kick out of my “fixation” of my teen idols The Bay City Rollers. He also will play my request of The Partridge Family and The Osmonds. Most “Oldies” stations forget the last of the Boomers were born late ’50’s and ’60’s. My Boomer covers our high school tunes with playing up to 1982 songs.
I’m so thankful to be able to My Boomer through the Internet and will continue to “Keep on Boomin'” from where ever I am!

For me, there’s a real value to local radio and Boomer’s format — beyond the vintage music, you feel connected, learning about the day’s events, news, weather and traffic. A few other area stations are still actually “local” but Boomer speaks most authentically to the generation that grew up thriving on radio. One story edit: “Jack and Fred” aired on KGOR, not KEFM, as I recall.

Hi Steve. “Jack and Fred” actually aired on both of those stations, per the story’s author. Thanks for reading and commenting.

We love listening to Boomer Radio every day! Especially Jack on the drive home! My hubby is “Mike Fab” and loves his Beatles. Calling in a song request reminds you when you were a teenager! Please continue this station! Keep on Boomin my friend!!

Picture it….2024 and I am driving around town with my car radio set to Boomer Radio! The music of my youth is Blaring and my Favorite…the Chuckster is the one playing my requests!! Can’t get any better than this!

I discovered this station when I was back in Omaha this past August. The music and personalities harken back to listening to KOIL on a transistor radio in the late 60’s and 70s. Now back in Michigan, I’m able to listen to the station via their streaming app and Apple CarPlay.

Thanks for the article I am glad to know this exists and local DJs are manning the boards.. I lived in Lincoln and was a faithful listener and part-time programmer for KZUM.Org their community radio. There is nothing like community radio. I remember moving to Omaha before streaming was possible and being disappointed there was only 5 hours of blues I could find in the Omaha Metro Area (KIOS Monday 1-3 and The River Sunday 9-12) whereas KZUM had 3 hours of drive time blues every afternoon, as well as Beatles, jazz, bluegrass, folk, alternative, Latin, African, womens Blues and Boogie, immigrants sharing their music, alternative news sources, you name it. KIOS has been a great substitution and my dial has been tuned into that for years and has a wonderful variety of rich local programming. Bravo to Boomer for further diversifying the air waves.

“And it’s adding 106.7 in Lincoln.” Three cheers for that! A brave and bold move because others have tried to capture the Capitol City’s 50+ market with limited success. Knowing that Jack Swanda and CEO Patrick Combs have several years of experience living and working in Lincoln is an advantage from the get-go.

Excellent article, Tim! I think you got everything right except one thing. Walnut did not buy KGBI – it was bought by a different entity but Walnut did get the studios. Funny thing is that Jack went from KGBI to Boomer and still comes to work at the very same studio – just over different transmitters and frequencies now! Again, great job, Tim.

Neil in La Noche. Neil Nelkin the voice of reason. Neil has been in radio so long, he remembers the first radio using smoke signals. The natives would see the smoke and go, Hey! I know that song!

Ask Alexa is alway asked to play kmns ( 620 ) )by mistake it was what i grew up on in Sioux City. Still ask for it. It’s not their! Don’t listen to that woke station that fire Omaha’s
Funniest DJ. He posted something the big boys didn’t like on his own email. And they fired him. They think people will forget about it.
think most people remember him. Start asking for his return and watch a new boomer station take command.

CANADA EH! LOVES BOOMER RADIO !!!.We found Boomer radio in Aug 2023 , 104 .1 Now we boom on 94.5.. We are professional pianists classical , jazz , aswell as professional piano teachers .We could write a book on all the stars we have crossed paths with .Quite a life
Boomer radio is so personal and is a pleasure to listen to. Great tunes all day long We love all the djs but Neil at Night is our favorite as our greyhound Zeus and us have faithfully not missed a night since Aug 1st .Talking to Jack Swanda is a pleasure .asthey are such pros We are going to keep on booming station like it around !!!

Great article! Congratulations Patrick! Can’t wait to hear Boomer in Lincoln! We definitely need an alternative to the mind numbing talk radio that dominates Lincoln today!



Every Friday, we’ll deliver to your inbox Nebraska’s most interesting, meaningful, deeply reported and well-written news stories.