He addresses his fans as “doll,” “girlfriend,” and the occasional, Zsa Zsa Gabor-esque “dahling.” And those are for his male callers.
“C’mon in, pussycat,” the man known as “Wingy” beckons with a broad smile. “We’re on the air!”
It’s a damp, gluey-eyed, pre-dawn hour, but Dave Wingert is already deep in a groove. The perpetually perky Big O 101.9 FM personality effortlessly manipulates a dizzying array of sliding control panel buttons while simultaneously juggling coffee, headphones, mic, and a trio of computer mice below a quartet of monitors. It’s the most improbable of ballets, all perfectly choreographed for the sole purpose of transitioning into the bouncy intro of a Men at Work tune, the one about a man in Brussels who was full of muscles.
Such dexterity is a skill the New York City native honed in a broadcasting career spanning six decades. First coming to Omaha in the ’70s, he had four radio and two television programs before spending the next 20 years in Seattle hosting the nationally syndicated Dave ’Til Dawn show.
LBJ was in the Oval Office when Wingert landed his first gig, an unpaid one on Ohio University’s campus radio station. “I wanted to be an actor,” he explains, “but the radio studio in the basement of the school’s theater building caught my attention. My very Jewish mother had an [insert wagging finger] ‘Over my dead body’ attitude about acting. She insisted I do something that promised a regular paycheck.”
Wingert found that regular paycheck and many more among an alphabet soup of radio station call letters but never abandoned the stage. He has been featured in the footlights of countless community theater, Off-Broadway, and Actors’ Equity stage roles, garnering several awards along the way.
“I’ve always considered myself an actor who just happens to do radio,” says the member of the Nebraska Broadcasting Association Hall of Fame who now serves on the board of Omaha’s Blue Barn Theatre. “Whether behind the mic or on stage, it’s just like sitting around a campfire telling stories. Storytelling helps us understand how we—all of us—are alike. Storytelling erases our differences.”
The radio celeb known for his conversational, authentic, and hilariously over-the-top banter admits to not always being so comfortably at ease behind the mic.
“Do people like me? Am I doing okay? How did that last show go?” he recalls of his earlier days in radio while, in the background, the Thompson Twins insist, as if on cue, that someone “Hold Me Now.” “I had a million unanswered questions,” says the man who now peppers his program with self-help segments that have a deeply personal meaning for many in his audience. “Now I’m at a place where I no longer question myself; I just enjoy being myself. I’m okay with that.”
It’s a sentiment that also seems to be more than okay with legions of loyal followers.
“What’s big for me now is a sense of belonging, community, the satisfaction of making a difference,” he adds. “My ability to help the Blue Barn raise big money for a new theater, for example, is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my return to Omaha. My role there is to connect with the community just like my role here at the station is to connect with the community. The only way for me to do that is to just be me.”
Wingert reaches for his headphones as the interview closes and he lapses into his best Yiddish to offer a cheerful “Bye-bye bubbe! Come back any time!”
And with that, Wingy was back on the air, this time playing the infectiously upbeat Katrina and the Waves number that could easily pass for his personal theme song—“Walking on Sunshine.”