Friday, August 10, 2012

West Michigan Broadcaster Jim Higgs Celebrates 50 Years in Radio

In August, 1962 – just two months out of high school – 18-year-old Jim Higgs went into a 12-by-60 house-trailer on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, west of Otsego, for a job interview. The building was marked with the radio station call letters WDMC-AM980. His brief audition must have impressed the owners, because the next day, he started his illustrious career as one of the most noted voices in West Michigan radio. Today, 50 years later, Higgs remains an integral part of the “morning drive” radio time for listeners throughout the greater Kalamazoo area on AM980, WAKV.

Jim’s first stint in Otsego was brief – and by the following summer, he’d accepted an announcer position with WHTC-AM/FM in Holland.

“It was here that I honed my broadcast skills,” Jim says, “doing everything – including announcing, news gathering and writing, and even some sports broadcasting.”

After four years in Holland, Jim made the move in April, 1967, to WKMI in Kalamazoo, serving multiple roles including News Director, Program Director, Music Director and on-air personality for the morning drive shift.

“During the ‘70s, WKMI rose to the top rated position in the Kalamazoo market and was one of the most influential Top 40 stations in the Midwest,” Jim says.

During his years at WKMI, Jim and his cast of characters put Kalamazoo radio on the map – drawing a large fan base and recognition from industry leaders, both regionally and nationally. This was an era of radio when recording artists recognized the value of building relationships with the on-air personalities. Among those who stepped into the studio was legendary broadcaster Wolfman Jack.

Of note during Jim’s years at WKMI was his influence in helping the band The Eagles land their first #1 record.

In August 1974, Elektra-Asylum released the single “James Dean,” from the On the Border album. The band, which formed in 1971, had earned a few Top 10 hits, but really wasn’t a household name – yet. While the label was aggressively pushing “James Dean,” Jim says he chose to play the flip side – a soft ballad written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther. The song, became an instant hit in the Kalamazoo market – so much so that local record stores couldn’t keep On the Border in stock.

While “James Dean” struggled (it never ranked higher than #77 on the charts), Jim was trying to convince executives at Elektra-Asylum to release this flip-side as a single. They ignored his recommendation. Yet, before long, other stations in Michigan – including some in the high-powered Detroit market – started getting requests for this non-released single. It took Michigan by storm! Label execs finally took notice and in November, 1974 officially released this single nationally. The song flew up the Billboard Hot 100 charts and by March, 1975, The Eagles had landed their first #1 of many hits – “Best of My Love.”

Although the album itself never went platinum, representatives from Elektra-Aslyum later that year presented Jim with an autographed copy of the cover of the On the Border album – which still hangs proudly in his office. An account of this story is also scheduled to be featured in the book Blast From Your Past: Rock & Roll Radio DJs by LinDee Rochelle (

Also among Jim’s earlier followers was Narada Michael Walden (also a Plainwell High School graduate) – who left the area in the early 1970s to pursue his own music career as a now internationally-recognized drummer (most recently traveling with Jeff Beck) and Grammy Award-winning producer for superstars Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Hall & Oats, Diana Ross and Mariah Carey.

Following 13 notable years at WKMI, Jim moved on to WNWN - Stereo Country 98, as an on-air personality and later as Program Director, where he worked from 1980 to early 1983.

In 1983, Jim joined forces with several other local radio industry leaders to buy WAOP AM/FM in Otsego (formerly WDMC, the station where he had started 20 years earlier). The station soon became WQXC (Quixie) and the group purchased other stations, including WBNZ in Benzonia and WSTR in Sturgis. While there, Jim jumped back into the morning drive seat, while also serving as Program Director.

It was while at WQXC that Jim’s daughter, Dianna, joined the family business – working weekend programming and later as a news broadcaster from 1987 until 1992.

By 1993, the corporation which owned Quixie (now Cool 101) dissolved, and Jim and his wife, Suzanne, took ownership of the AM station – WAKV AM980. Together, they’re among the six on-air personalities that make up “The Memory Station” – formatted with much of the same playlists that were popular during Jim’s earlier years in the industry. The station operates out of the basement of their home.

“It is geared to people of our age,” Jim says. “I do the live morning show, Suzanne is on in the evenings.” Among the other announcers are those who played a part in Jim’s career over the years – including Tom Somers (who graduated from Plainwell High School with Jim), former WKMI vets Bill Anthony and Phil Britain, and Tom Meiser.

Jim’s daughter still has an active presence on WAKV, with “Promote Michigan” a 90-second segment that runs weekdays at 2pm and “West Michigan Weekend” – a 2-minute segment that airs Friday mornings at 9:10. Over the years, several grandchildren have also worked at the station – including Jim’s granddaughter (Dianna’s daughter), Mollie, who has voiced a couple commercials and weather forecasts.

An avid genealogist, Jim lives in Plainwell – in the house where his mother grew up – and is the second of four generations to graduate from Plainwell High School. Over the years, he’s been active in various aspects of government with the City of Plainwell, including six years as mayor and terms on the Planning Commission, Downtown Development Authority, Library Board and Airport Board. He's also vice-president of the Anna R. Pipp Foundation, which provides scholarships to local high school graduates and cash grants for various local endeavors. He and his wife, Suzanne, have been married for 19 years and between them have four children and 10 grandchildren.


• August 1962-July 1963 - WDMC
• July 1963-April 1967 – WHTC
• April 1967-April 1980 - WKMI
• July 1980 – January 1983 – WNWN
• Feb 1983-July 1993 – WAOP / WQXC
• November 1993-Present WAKV



Ria Bush said...

Nice article Dianna; congrats Jim

Dianna - Promote Michigan said...

Tributes to Jim Higgs!