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Royals Radio Affiliate Spotlight: [580 WIBW-AM] Topeka, Kansas

As part of an ongoing series celebrating the Royals Radio network, we highlight WIBW-AM in Topeka, our first Kansas affiliate to be spotlighted. Unlike the smallish locales profiled earlier, Topeka is a larger city, and WIBW is one of the stronger radio stations in the country.

The latest entry was kindly submitted by Paul Carr of WIBW Radio. Thanks again to Paul for a tremendous contribution. In this vein, I've received quite a bit of positive feedback about the Radio profiles this summer, and if you'd like to suggest the next location, or even share your own profile, email me and let me know what you think.

Previous Affiliate Profiles:

York, Nebraska
Conway, Arkansas
Waynesville, Missouri


By Paul Carr

Topeka, Kansas- Population: 122,377

Until recently 580 WIBW in Topeka, Kansas was the flagship of the Kansas City Royals. That responsibility departed in the last decade, but WIBW is still a proud affiliate, as they have been since game number one in 1969. From the capital city of Kansas, the station also distributes the radio broadcasts via digital satellite to the largest network of affiliates in the American League, with seventy-six stations scattered over eight states. (Why exactly Sundance, Wyoming yearns to hear Royals games is a subject for a different time.)

The politicians of Kansas listen to the Royals religiously on WIBW-AM.

Chartered in 1857 after springing up along the Oregon Trail, Topeka gets its name from an Indian term meaning "a good place to grow potatoes." That vegetable is not particularly prevalent among the 57 square miles the city currently occupies, but the misnomer has not prevented Topeka from serving as state capital since Kansas became the 34th state in 1861. The capitol building is known for its tarnished copper dome topped by an Indian firing an arrow toward the North Star. The Indian's name is Ad Astra, taken from the state's motto, Ad Astra per Aspera. Almost needless to say, the loin-cloth wearing Native American is often the subject of ridicule, often referred to (at least by me) sarcastically as Ed Asner. The city is located about 60 miles west of Kansas City on Interstate 70, which means that everyone seems to have driven through town on the way to Colorado. With a metro area consisting of 226,000 people and an official population of 122,377 (as of 2000), Topeka is the third largest city in the state, trailing Wichita and Kansas City.

What are you looking at?

Topeka's place in United States history was written in 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiff Linda Brown in the famed Brown v. Board of Education case, a landmark decision that ended segregation in public schools. The city was the corporate headquarters for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway until 1996, when the company merged with Burlington Northern. If you recognize the song On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe, then you're either old or watch AMC too much. The song was published in 1944; four different recordings of the song reached Billboard's Top Ten in 1945; and Johnny Mercer's rendition peaked at #1. The song gained further recognition in the 1946 film The Harvey Girls, which starred Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, and Angela Lansbury.

Currently Topeka hosts the corporate offices of Hill's Pet Nutrition and Payless Shoe Source, along with major plants belonging to Goodyear, Target, and Hallmark. So swing through town if you need to retread something or buy your cat a nutritious birthday card. Just please ignore the infamous cult of people preaching hate and picketing against our beloved nation.

Topeka is the home of the country's only municipally owned university, Washburn, which is in the midst of an identity shift away from its reputation as a commuter school. WU boasts a renowned law school and a unique mascot among its most recognizable attributes. A la the Vanderbilt Commodores, The men's sports teams play under the moniker of Ichabods, a tribute to the school's founder Ichabod Washburn. Coach Bob Chipman led the men's basketball team to an NAIA national championship in 1987 and a NCAA Division II runner-up finish in 2001. His prot?g? Ron McHenry matched Chipman's feat in 2005, coaching his women's team, the Lady Blues, to a Division II title. The gridiron Ichabods are also on the rise, having won their first conference championship in 22 years last season. The baseball team has struggled lately, but does boast Davey Lopes, 16-year major league veteran and current Washington Nationals first base coach, among its alumni.

Lady Blue Pride

Two major league stars have had their beginnings in Topeka. Outfielder Ken Berry graduated from Washburn Rural High School before playing in the majors for four different teams from 1962-1975. He was an All-Star in 1967, won two Gold Gloves for his stellar outfield play, and could easily have had another, as he committed zero errors in the 1969 season. He picked up his first fielding award the following year after throwing out nine baserunners, making only four errors, and coincidentally (wink wink) improving his offensive stats dramatically. Berry then nailed thirteen runners and replicated his flawless fielding season in 1972 to earn his second award. He currently resides in Topeka , where he runs instructional academies and has a youth baseball league named in his honor. Topeka High School product Mike Torrez pitched for seven different teams from 1967-1984, amassing 177 career victories over his successful career. Unfortunately, Torrez is best known for his place in Boston Red Sox infamy. 1n a 1978 one-game playoff at Fenway Park, he took a shutout into the seventh, where he surrendered Bucky Dent's game-winning three-run home run, giving the American League pennant to the hated Yankees. A baseball complex in Topeka bears his name, and Torrez now resides in Naperville, IL.

Two Topeka natives have played with the Royals. Reliever Don O'Riley appeared in 27 games during Kansas City's first two seasons, 1969 and 1970. More recently, Seaman High and Washburn graduate Rick DeHart pitched in four games in 2003 after three years with the Expos.

Many accomplished sportscasters have worked behind the WIBW microphone over the years. Among the roster of stars are Mitch Holthus (radio voice of the Kansas City Chiefs), Kevin Harlan (former voice of the Chiefs, now with CBS & TNT), and Steve Physioc (LA Angels television). But the former WIBW employee most familiar to Royals faithful is Fred White, who paired with Denny Matthews on Royals broadcasts from 1974-1998, before being bumped into a front office position as the club's Director of Broadcast Services and Royals Alumni. White still calls several games a year on the Royals Radio Network.

Clockwise (from top left) distinguished WIBW Alumni: Kevin Harlan, Steve Physioc, Mitch and Fred White

Broadcasting at 5000 watts for 24 hours a day, 580 WIBW features the 11th strongest signal in the nation, booming out over five states (Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and Oklahoma) when the sun is up, stretching from Lincoln, Nebraska to Oklahoma City, and Goodland, KS, to Columbia, MO. At night, the station turns its antenna to the west and easily reaches the foothills of Colorado's Rocky Mountains with its low frequency.

Serving up a variety of news, farm, talk, and sports, 580 WIBW is currently the top-rated AM station in Topeka, and has won four straight Station of the Year awards from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters. Two local sports talk shows appear everyday: Peerless Tyre Sports Sanity with Greg Sharpe (former voice of the Kansas State Wildcats) and DL Smith Electric SportsTalk with Bruce Steinbrock (two-time Kansas Sportscaster of the Year). The sports coverage is best known for the annual wall-to-wall broadcasts from all six high school state tournament basketball sites, an impressive accomplishment now, let alone when it began over three decades ago. The school year is always busy at 580, because in addition to its thorough high school coverage, WIBW produces Washburn football and basketball broadcasts, and is also an affiliate for Kansas Jayhawks football and basketball. Plus they carry the Kansas City Chiefs and are proud to continue being the home of the Royals through thick and thin, as they have since their very first pitch.

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