On December 23, 1948, seven area businessmenfiled articles of incorporation for the purpose of creating a new radio station in Pikeville. The radio station born that day was WPKE-AM, which actually began broadcasting on July 31, 1949. Those early owners were Jack Hatcher, O. T. Hinton, Mitchell Preston, Alvis Pat Keene, Dr. O. W. Thompson, Sr., Clyde Childers and Edward Venters. In the early 1950’s, Mr. Hatcher became the sole owner, buying out the other stockholders. During this time, Mr. Hatcher’s business manager, Burton Robinson hired a young sixteen year old boy named Walter E. May who worked at WPKE as one of the country’s first rock and roll disk jockeys. Mr. Hatcher was the sole owner of WPKE until his death in 1960. His heirs then made the decision to sell 100% of the stock to three men from Morehead, Kentucky.
Two years later, that young disk jockey, now an experienced broadcaster, purchased one third of the company, and was named General Manager of East Kentucky Broadcasting. Walter May then took WPKE from its original 250 watts of power up to 1,000 watts. With his love of broadcasting growing, May organized a group of Pikeville businessmen who bought the remaining two thirds of EKB in 1965. After this, he purchased enough stock from these men to bring his total interest in the company to 50%. The five other men, Henry Stratton, Hobert Clay Johnson, C.D. Roberts, Herman G. Dotson and T.T. Colley, each owned 10% of the remaining stock.
During the next several years, EKB saw much growth and success. In 1966, under the leadership of Walter E. May, East Kentucky Broadcasting added another station, WPKE-FM (later called WDHR). At sometime during its history, EKB owned radio stations in Lexington, Hindman, Louisa, Nicholasville, Virgie, Prestonsburg, Coal Run, Jellico, Tennessee and Williamson, West Virginia. After several more years, Mr. May made the decision to buy out his partners to become the sole owner of East Kentucky Broadcasting, which he did in 1980.
Walter E. May has enjoyed more success and accomplished more in his broadcasting career than he would have ever dared to dream. He is the past President of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association, served three terms on the Kentucky Educational Television Authority Board of Directors and served as Vice-Chairman of that Board. He served 16 years as a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Board of Directors, and was the first Kentuckian to serve as Chairman of the Radio Board of the NAB. Mr. May also served as Co-Chairman of the Government Relations Committee of the NAB. This committee is responsible for directing their lobbying efforts for both radio and television with the United States Congress, the White House and the Federal Communications Commission. He served as Co-Chairman of this committee longer than any other individual in the United States. Walter E. May’s success and leadership made such an impact on the radio industry that the engineering laboratory at the NAB building in Washington, D.C. is named in his honor.
Throughout its history, East Kentucky Broadcasting has done much more than just entertain its listeners with music. EKB has built a reputation as being the place to turn when major events unfold. For example, in the spring of 1958, Walter May along with Estil Lee Carter anchored live coverage from the scene of the worst school bus disaster in the state’s history. Twenty-six children along with the bus driver drowned when their school bus left U.S. 23 three miles south of Prestonsburg and crashed into the Big Sandy River. Mr. May provided continuous coverage for several days without leaving the scene. On July 16, 1969, Walter E. May provided live coverage from Cape Canaveral, Florida of the launch of Apollo 11, which four days later landed the first man on the moon. Live interviews have been broadcast with former United States Presidents Truman, Johnson, Ford, Carter and Reagan. He also interviewed Vice-Presidents Al Gore and Hubert Humphrey. And when our region faced major flooding in 1957, 1977 and 1984, East Kentucky Broadcasting was live with the latest updates on water levels as well as interviews with local officials.
In addition to covering major events, EKB has also done its part to help raise money for various organizations. For instance, throughout the years, they raised over one hundred thousand dollars for the March of Dimes, and over fifty thousand dollars for Pikeville Medical Center (formerly Pikeville Methodist Hospital). They have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various non-profit organizations as well as donating millions of dollars in free advertising.
East Kentucky Broadcasting also was home to the longest running radio program in the state of Kentucky. The Personal Touch, was hosted by “Sunshine Girl” Lucille Smith, who hosted the show until she passed away in November of 2007.
In recent years, East Kentucky Broadcasting has seen more success and growth than at any other time in its history. EKB currently consists of nine stations, and broadcasts such formats as Country, Talk, Classic Rock, Oldies and Top 40/Rock. WDHR-FM 93.1 and WXCC-FM 96.5 are the most powerful stations in the group, broadcasting with 50,000 watts on WDHR and 100,000 watts on WXCC reaching into five states. The other stations in the group are: WPKE-AM 1240, WLSI-AM 900, WPKE-FM (Mix 103), WZLK-FM 107.5, WPRT-AM 960, WBTH-AM 1400 and WEKB-AM 1460. It’s interesting to note that East Kentucky Broadcasting now owns the oldest radio stations in their respective communities. WBTH was the first radio station in Williamson, WPRT the first in Prestonsburg, WZLK, the first in Virgie, WLSI in Pikeville and WPKE-FM in Coal Run. EKB is proud to own and operate these flagship stations and be associated with their history.
Since 1990, in addition to serving as C.E.O. of East Kentucky Broadcasting, Walter E. May has served as the mayor of Pikeville and is now the President of the Board of Directors at Pikeville Medical Center. Although he now devotes himself full-time to Pikeville Medical Center, his love for broadcasting is still as strong as ever.
The company is now reaching more listeners than any radio group in this region and serves more advertisers than ever before. East Kentucky Broadcasting has grown into a multi-million dollar corporation. East Kentucky Broadcasting has grown from its humble beginnings in 1949 to being the largest broadcasting company in this part of the state.