The Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company

This is the first known photograph of "BIG MIK" taken in 1948. Nearly every word spoken, every music note, and every preachers sermon in Studio A came through this RCA microphone.


The Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company was one of Kentucky's greatest radio broadcasting corporations from 1945 until its end in 1992. The CGBC is no longer parent company of radio stations WMIK AM and FM of Middlesboro, Kentucky. These pages will provide historical radio information and special radio broadcasts from the early days of radio in the Tri-State area.

For nearly 50 years, the Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company owned and operated WMIK-AM 560 KHz and later WMIK-FM 92.7 MHz. WMIK AM and FM were purchased by Gateway Broadcasting Corporation in 1992, and both stations continue to serve the Cumberland Gap region twenty four hours a day.

The Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company began operation with WMIK AM on November 14, 1948. For many years thereafter, WMIK was the regional coverage leader, sales leader, and was number one as determined by the ratings company, Arbitron.

Through the boom and bust of the Southern Appalachian coal economy, the Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company faithfully served thousands of listeners in the Tri-state area of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

The picture above was taken early in 1948 while the photographer stood on the future site of the WMIK tower. The view is almost due West and shows the tiny community of Binghamtown in Middlesboro. The old Binghamtown Baptist Church building is in the center of the photograph. Today, that same church, though in a much larger building, with hundreds of members, owns WMIK AM and FM.

This is the WMIK studio as it appeared from 1948 until additions were added to each side in 1971.

Part II - The Plans Are Laid For A New Radio Station

During the latter part of World War II, a group of Middlesboro businessmen purchased Middlesboro’s newspaper, The Daily News. Still later in April of 1945, that same group decided to pursue plans for a radio station in Middlesboro. They chose the Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company for their corporate name.

Another group, The Pinnacle Broadcasting Company had applied for a construction permit and had actually been granted the permit and callsign, WWPN, in 1947. According to an announcement distributed around town, a public hearing to decide who would eventually get the new station was set for April 1, 1947 in the Circuit Court room of Middlesboro’s City Hall. The FCC sent a commissioner to determine which group would prevail.

There is little other information available on the subject except for a short newspaper article addressing the issue.

(Reprinted from the Middlesboro Daily News, October 23, 1947)


Claim Applicants Misrepresented Circumstances

Washington, Oct. 17 - The Federal Communications Commission has revoked the construction permit granted last January to the Pinnacle Broadcasting Company for a new standard radio station in Middlesboro. It ordered a competitive application of the Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company reinstated for further consideration.

Both companies sought operation on 1490 kilocycles, 250 watts, unlimited time. After a hearing, the commission awarded the station to Pinnacle, a partnership of E.P. Nicholson and John Wallbrecht.

The commission said in today’s revocation order that its action was taken because the partners "misrepresented to the commission facts and circumstances surrounding the filing of their applications and financial arrangements connected therewith."

Under the decision, Pinnacle may request permission to present its case anew when the Cumberland application is given further hearing.

To cloud matters further, the 1948 annual issue of Broadcasting and Telecasting magazine lists both WWPN and WMIK as having construction permits as of January 1, 1948. Interestingly, WMIK's construction permit was for 560 Khz while WWPN got the 1490 spot. The company name for WMIK was listed as Middlesboro Radio Company. I have never seen this name in any of the other records.

After the revocation WMIK went back to the commission and requested 1490. In May of 1950, WMIK would again end up with 560 Khz when it bought out WCPM. Still later, the 1490 frequency would be used in Middlesboro when radio station WAFI on 1560, now WFXY, applied for the 1490 frequency in 1977. The callsign WWPN is now in use at a station in Westernport, Maryland. WCPM is the callsign of a station in Cumberland, Kentucky. WAFI was at one time in Unidilla, Georgia.

There is a final footnote to this story. According to FCC records, WWPN was only the third station to have its license (CP) revoked since the federal agency began in 1934. The two other revocations occured in 1939. The WWPN permit was revoked on October 16, 1947 and the date of station deletion was February 27, 1948. (From the FCC Annual Report of 1995)

The Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company which had incorporated on October 5th 1945, would eventually be granted the license. The original officers and stockholders of the corporation were as follows: Neil Barry, president; Dr. U.G. Brummett, vice president; J. Mitchell Alexander, secretary; Sam Mars; Dr. Robert L. Kincaid; Dr. C.K. Brosheer; Dr. A.G Barton; Dr. H.C. Chance; Dr. J.M. Brooks; and Dr. J.H. Brooks.

The new company observed the same policies of public service as had been stated when the Daily News was purchased. Perhaps an excerpt from one of the original announcements of the FCC hearing best states the corporation’s purpose. They wrote, "The operation of the radio station to the end that the best interests of the community will be served and the radio station’s facilities placed at the disposal of the entire community on a fair and impartial basis to all."

The corporation met on April 12, 1948 to discuss the progress of the new station. Radio equipment valued at some $10,000.00 was ordered, and a tentative location for the studio and transmitter were located near the Binghamtown section of Middlesboro. Building estimates ranged from $12,500.00 to $16,000.00. C.K. Brosheer made a motion to build the station even if the cost ran more than the $20,000.00 allocated. He went as far to say that if necessary to build a good studio, even double that amount should be approved. The July meeting dealt with tower equipment, building materials, and final approval to release funds for both. The August corporate meeting recorded news of great progress in construction and hiring for the new station. Erection of the tower was complete and both a chief engineer and station manager were hired. By September, progress had slowed due to a lack of cement. Station manager Robert J. Williamson prepared for a trip to New York to finalize network affiliation with The Mutual Broadcasting Company. Chief engineer George Mendenhall set sail for Washington to confer with the consultant engineer. Typical station operation was discussed including employees, rates, and budget. When the October meeting rolled around conversation centered on the Mutual Network. Though Mutual’s monthly charge amounted to some $142.00, Williamson stated that Mutual programs such as Gabriel Heatter and Kate Smith would provide sponsorship possibilities for advertisers. Engineer Mendenhall began a search for a better frequency other than 1490 KHz to allow for stronger nighttime broadcasting.

In a November 8th meeting only days before going on the air on, perhaps the most important question of all was asked of manager R.J. Williamson by one of the stockholders, "From your point of view of our surrounding territory, what revenue might we expect?" The answer to that question was later answered by Maurice K. Henry. It was several years before the station saw a profit. Budget, employees, and station coverage were also discussed during that meeting. No record has been found for the December 1948 meeting; however, dozens of documents still exist for opening day.


On November 14th 1948 operating on 1490 KHz with a power of 250 watts, WMIK, Kentucky’s newest radio station went on the air with enormous fanfare, especially for a small mountain town like Middlesboro. Among others, "Johnny Philip Morris" (Johnny Roventini in real life)provided excitement for the hundreds of people on hand for the opening day activities. A news release prepared for The Three States newspaper provided comprehensive information about the new enterprise.

WMIK Goes on the Air at Two O’clock Sunday November 14th

"Sunday’s operation lasting until one o’clock will consist of dedication ceremonies, greetings to WMIK and the peoples of Middlesboro from some of Mutual’s brightest stars.

These congratulatory greetings will be broadcast over their nationwide network. Many other stations have sent in their congratulatory messages and recording transcribed artists.

Regular commercial operation commences Monday November 15th. Broadcast hours are 5:30 A.M. to 1:00 A.M. Monday through Saturday and 6:00 A.M. through 1:00 A.M. on Sunday.

The studios of WMIK compare favorably with those of any other station in the United States. Sound proofing, materials and technique have been used which are the result of many years experience by national engineers. All electronic equipment is of the highest quality and has been installed in such a manner that network programs can be aired.

Considerable effort has been expended to staff WMIK with the best of announcing voices, the most in engineers and operators, and the most courteous and efficient business personal.

Mr. Robert J. Williamson, manager, holds a master of arts degree from the University of South Dakota in radio management and radio speech. He has worked at many stations throughout the mid-west performing both managerial duties and "on the air" work.

Mr. George C. Mendenhall, chief engineer, as commercial station construction engineer and transmitter operator on many different types of operations. It is known that the transmitter and the radiating system of a station is the heart of the entire project. Mr. Mendenhall has proven his ability to excel in this type of work.

Mr. Hal Bigger, program manager, received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of South Dakota in Radio Engineering and Program Direction and Production. Prior to his arrival in Middlesboro he was assistant chief engineer and production manager of KIHO, a 1000 watt basic Mutual station in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

John H. Farmer, sales manager, previously worked for Corn Products Sales Agency, New York, New York as sales manager.

Herbert C. Leach, chief announcer, has been in radio fourteen years starting as a musician into announcing and engineering having worked as assistant manager and production in other stations.

Fred Campbell, news-editor, has served in this capacity for many stations throughout the mid-west.

Julian H. Pitzer, sports announcer, was formerly assistant football coach, teacher, and local sports writer.

Charles R. Hull, comes to WMIK from Del Rio and has previously worked on the West coast. He is a former member of the Don Lee Mutual network.

John Hutton comes to WMIK from KWKW in Pasedena, California and KASA in Elk City, Kansas as MC.

Bud Canamar was previously with Broadcaster’s Network Studios in Hollywood."

One look at the list above makes one wonder how payroll was met! The staff of WMIK appears comparable with other radio stations in much larger markets. Other documents in the archive indicate the format. The Mutual Network and "the finest music, news and sports and the transcription services of World and M.M. Cole" were listed with the other very high standards of the new station.

Here is another newspaper report concerning WMIK's first day on the air.

From the Daily News November 9, 1948

WMIK Climaxes Legal Battle To Go On Air at 2 P.M. Sunday

Radio and Screen Personalities Send Congratulations

Middlesboro and vicinity will be greeted at 2 P.M. Sunday by the radio voice of WMIK.

The Mutual Broadcasting Network will salute the new 250 watt station to be found on your dial at 1490. Radio and screen personalities have recorded a number of congratulatory messages to WMIK and the people of Middlesboro and these will be heard during Sunday’s opening.

The opening of the station marks the completion of a long, bitter fight to bring radio to the Middlesboro area. The three year battle to secure a Federal Communications Commission construction permit and the difficulty of obtaining a proper site and of building the studio and facilities have been surmounted.

Ground was broken July 28 of this year to start the active work toward starting the voice the public will hear Sunday on the air. Was only after the FCC denied a petition of the Tri-State Broadcasting Company earlier in July with some degree of safety began. The Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company was granted a construction permit February 28. After the last legal battle was removed, Station Manager C.H. Arundel began the difficult task of staffing the new station which chose as its name, WMIK, meaning Middlesboro In Kentucky.

The first official program will include dignitaries from all over Kentucky including Lt. Gov. Lawrence W. Wethrington

Following this broadcast, WMIK will pick-up the Mutual Broadcasting Companies 3 p.m. show which features Michael O’Duffy, the imported Irish tenor. O’Duffy’s program will be one of the one’s which will officially salute WMIK on that day.

Other programs that will send congratulations over the airways will be Voice Strings at 10 p.m. Bill McCune at 11:30 p.m. and Teddy Phillips at 12:30 p.m.

An arrangement between the daily News and WMIK will give the radio station local news at intervals throughout the day. The local news combined with news from the Associated Press will give listeners complete coverage of all news events through the radio station.

The Associated Press has already wired congratulations to the station and welcomes it as a member of the press association. Checks are being made to determine the radius of the station in this area. A telephone call from Birmingham, Ala. revealed that the station was heard there, and another call from North Platte, Neb. that it was also heard there.

Hal Bigger, program director, said that this was possible through a freak skywave which will carry sound of the station a great distance. It does not mean that the station can be heard continuously at this distance.

A report of the Federal Communications Commission places radio station WMIK on equal rating with other stations of this area to construction design of the studios, acoustical treatment and general operational management.

Some of the telegrams received already by the station include ones from Vic Damone, radio singer, Eddy Howard and his band, Jaqueline Smith of the Hollywood stage and screen, Cowboy Copas, and Patty Page the recording artist and others.

The stockholders of WMIK began to realize that a lot of money would be needed to keep the present staff and pay the other monthly bills. Perhaps two plans were put into effect to reduce the amount of money pumped into the business in those early days. The first plan dealt with staff reduction over the first year or so. The second plan concerns "the other station" in town, WCPM. Take a look at "WCPM-Its One Year History."

This site was written and is maintained by Chuck Owens.

Copyright 2003, The Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company Inc., Middlesboro, Kentucky 40965