Tag Archives: KVNO

Remember The Maine!

April 7, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Remember the Maine?

Press baron and Citizen Kane archetype William Randolph Hearst told us to do just that in 1898, but most have forgotten these days because we have so many other things to remember, like our Amazon Prime password and debit card pin number, let alone where we parked the car in the shopping mall parking lot.

In our defense, we do still remember Pearl Harbor and some of us even “remember the kind of September,” though revivals of The Fantasticks do seem to be thankfully decreasing in frequency.

Anyway, here’s a refresher. The USS Maine, an obsolete, poorly designed battleship, plagued by cost overruns during its construction—there is nothing new about military budget waste—sailed into Havana harbor to “show the flag.” That is, America wanted to show a little newfound muscle towards Spain, the last colonial power besides us left in the Western Hemisphere.

Well, our “muscle” sat there in the harbor for a couple of weeks until, tragically, it blew up along with 200 of its sailors. Immediately the American newspapers put forth the story that the Spaniards had treacherously used a mine to destroy the ship. Hence the headlines: “Remember the Maine!”

A nifty little war ensued. In short order, Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila and sank the Spanish Pacific fleet, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, in support of the African-American 10th Cavalry, charged up San Juan Hill in Cuba. (Teddy got all the press, of course.) Cuba was independent pending the later outcome of Michael Corleone’s casino scheme with Hyman Roth, and the Philippines, freed of its old Spanish overlords, were then happy to be governed by new American overlords. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Sorry, I can never resist tossing in a quote from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. It’s my thing. Stick with me, I know where I’m going.

So—“Remember the Maine”—remember? Well, the thing is, it wasn’t blown up by a mine at all. Most experts now agree that the cause of the fateful explosion was a fire in a coal bunker. Yes, our old friend coal. It was big in 1898. Sure glad we’ve moved on from the stuff here in the “modern” world. The slowly growing fire in one of the battleship’s coal bunkers eventually ignited the ship’s powder stores. Boom! War! History!

And where do you keep the powder, and ammunition for a big ship’s guns? According to Merriam-Webster, you keep that stuff in a “magazine.” In this case, a magazine that changed the course of a nation.

Which brings me to my point—I know, finally, right?—a magazine.

Happy milestone to Omaha Magazine. This issue marks the completion of 35 volumes in print. Has this magazine changed the world? Maybe it has, a little here, a little there. Change does occur when facts and inspiration can join forces. Thirty-five volumes highlighting the people, places, issues, and interests of our community; giving writers, journalists, artists, and leaders a forum where they can share and inform; giving our city and region a chance to look clearly at our triumphs and tribulations.

So, here’s to more explosions of art and ideas. Here’s to Omaha Magazine.

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Melissa Dundis

February 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a dim corner of Dundee’s Blue Line Coffee, Melissa Dundis places petite fingers to six nylon strings. A strum, followed by the coo of her voice, and the windowless back half of the café is aglow. Her hand glides up, down, over, and across the thick neck of her classical guitar as her nails pluck out a slow, steady rhythm. “I get by with what I have/Like a caveman,” the 26-year-old’s lyrics and melody are spellbindingly simple.

“Sometimes the song happens all at once. Once I pick up a vibe, I just start singing,” says Dundis.“I’ll write a verse then find what key I want the song in. It really starts from inside.”

By day, Dundis serves as the only female disc jockey at an independent radio station, but by night she’s a classical guitarist and vocalist, performing at venues across Omaha from España to the Side Door Lounge to Pageturners. A graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Music Education program, Dundis also teaches private guitar lessons on the side.

Dundis first began playing when she found an acoustic guitar in the basement. Her grandfather, a former bar owner, obtained the instrument after a drunk gave it to him in trade for a bottle of whisky. She picked up classical guitar as a student at UNO. At first, she only performed one hour a day. This evolved to four hours a day as her senior recital approached.

“I couldn’t have been happier to witness her success in the classical program,” says Michael Saklar, Dundis’ former guitar teacher. “I’ve had close to a thousand students over 25 years, and she stands out at the top.”

Even as a kid growing up in Springfield, Nebraska, Dundis was obsessed with the rhythmic flow and simplicity of folk rock. At age 4, Dundis remembers requesting her first song on the radio—Neil Young’s “No More.” While her peers sang “I wanna zigazig-ah” along to the Spice Girls, Dundis listened to songs created for older audiences and looked for ways to share her connection to this music with others.

More than 20 years later, she continues this as a part-time DJ at KVNO, a station primarily devoted to classical music. As one of the youngest staff members, she writes her own scripts and plans to help KVNO reach new audiences by playing unique interpretations of classical music, creating playlists that mix opera, video game theme music, and compositions by the Talking Heads.

Dundis hopes to release a self-penned EP soon, but for now her focus remains on radio. She’s vying for a full-time gig at KVNO and contemplating a future as a radio producer. Whether she’s holding a radio mic or her guitar, Dundis’ passion and belief in music is unwavering.

“Music has the ability to help us recognize our own artistic gifts,” she says.

Visit soundcloud.com/melissa-dundis to hear her work.

Melissa-Dundis-w2

Otis XII

November 4, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’ve spent any time in Omaha, you know the voice. The voice. It’s been in your head since the 1970s. It was in your head at the height of album rock, back when the pot haze up in the rafters of the Civic Auditorium got you higher than… well, the rafters of the Civic Auditorium. The voice invited you there and you followed the voice there and there on that Best Day Ever you experienced Eddie Van Halen shredding the Frankenstrat and your eardrums. Dude, seriously, Otis XII might have spoken to you more than your own mother. And since he was probably the coolest guy you knew, since he was always there for you, he may be the guy you’re still trying to be.

The voice still fills a room at 64 years of age. It even fills the back yard of his home near Maple Street and I-680. This writer first heard the voice on his Pioneer SK95 boom box back in the early 1980s nearly 100 miles southeast of Omaha. Riding the Z-92 waves the voice reached even the hinterlands of Eastern Nebraska.

Here on the patio, the voice that filled a yesteryear of pimples and awkwardness and premature-everything carries pretty much that same memorable tenor. Let’s say it hovers in the low G range: Resonant like the deep bong of a wind gong. But, alas, the vocal chords, thanks to his last active addiction—smoking—have been scraped ragged. There is gravel now. We’ll call it character.

Really, the gravel fits the man behind the voice. Somehow, this guy brought a soothing heft to the locker room heckling of FM radio. He was funny, but there were strong suggestions of the Jesuit upbringing, the formative years spent in a monastery, the love for Continental and Eastern philosophies, the years on the road, and maybe, a collection of scars. The guy wasn’t heavy, really. He just had a heft and thoughtfulness unusual for the morning drive. Even the absurdities had a hint of gravity. It is a mind and voice that arguably better fits his current job. He is the voice of UNO’s KVNO radio. Classical music. No way is this guy classy. But he is still pitch-perfect for the refined.

As for his face—damn. Rasputin? “I got the face I deserve,” he says. Is “fugly” too strong a term? This is not the face of a man without sin, woe, and hard-won experience. If you are of a certain bent, though, this is the roadmap face of a fellow you really want to explore.

Much of his story’s arc is funky cool and full of holy-cow moments, but, ultimately, kinda what you’d expect from a roaming hippie, travelling-show-minstrel-turned-radio-star that is now the sagely, sedate, wisely-sober-but-not-overly-AAish voice of a cultured non-profit. The chronology: college shenanigans. Electric Bathwater. Haight-Ashbury. Crazy hippie sh*t. Dr. Demento. Good Times. The Mean Farmer. Space Commander Wack. Bad behavior. Worse behavior. Rehab. Family life restored. The middle-age writing phase. Lots of memorabilia. Mozart. The occasional charity event. All great campfire fare.

But underneath all of this, there was always a horrible secret festering. This other story is heartbreaking and messed up. When the drinking stopped in the late 1980s—when things slowed down and the self-medicating stopped—a monster returned. Here is where the story turns.

At this point, we’ll call him by his birth name, Doug Wesselmann. This was his name when he was 12 years old and the man he most trusted from church took him for a ride.

He was that cool older friend.” The guy drove a cool convertible with duel pipes and a nice stereo. “It all lured me in—that’s how predators operate,” Wesselmann says.

It happened out on a quiet county road not far from Wesselmann’s home in Kansas City. The guy took him for a ride, then parked unexpectedly. Wesselmann understandably truncates details. He’ll say this much: The man raped him, strangled him, and left him for dead in a ditch. Wesselmann awoke and staggered home dazed with an aching throat and blinding headache. At his house, he washed himself off with a garden hose and went inside. His father, who travelled often for business, wasn’t there. His mother was asleep. He didn’t speak in detail about the attack for more than 30 years.

A few months after the attack, Wesselmann left for Atchison, Kansas, to enter the Benedictine monastery there. Each day until he graduated from secondary school he spent time in the strict silence demanded by the Rule of St. Benedictine. The monks believe silence clears the mind of distractions.

He came to Omaha in the mid-1960s to attend Creighton University. He was steeped in church teaching, he loved philosophy, but the priesthood, as any longtime listener might guess, was not for him. At Creighton, he started a counter-culture radio show on Creighton’s university station that regularly rankled the Jesuits.

Along with his friends, Wesselmann gravitated toward programs “with this really odd mix” of music and comedy. Skits, weird characters, the latest trippy music. The names of the shows and troupes were psychedelic and inspired. (“The Electric Bathwater,”  for one). In 1970, Wesselmann, Bill Frenzer,” and Bill Carey formed the music and comedy troupe “The Ogden Edsl Wahalia Blues Ensemble Mondo Bizzario Band,” a name they wisely shortened to “Ogden Edsl.” Weird, satirical, and often quite dark (one of their biggest hits was “Dead Puppies”), the group was often featured on the nationally syndicated “Dr. Demento” radio show based out of Los Angeles. In fact, “Dead Puppies,” became the most requested song in the history of “Dr. Demento.”

Wesselmann lived “hand-to-mouth” off of his band earnings in the San Francisco of the early 1970s. Life was “pretty much what you’d imagine” for a travelling comedy and music troop in that era.  “We weren’t making much, but, you know, we were actually making a living doing that stuff,” Wesselmann says. “It’s something every young person should do.”

Through this time, he says, the trauma from the attack in his adolescence stayed neatly packed away. His lifestyle, he says, helped keep anything unpleasant at bay. “Drugs and alcohol can work great for a while.”

By 1977, though, Wesselmann decided it was time to move on. He wanted to marry and have kids— “that whole thing.” He moved back to Omaha. Here, his good friend, artist Kent Bellows, introduced him to his sister. “I guess Kent thought we were good breeding stock.” Doug and Deb have been married for 37 years.

Upon arriving in Omaha, Wesselmann quickly teamed up with a like-minded comedian named Jim Celer, who picked up his own moniker, “Diver Dan Doomey.” The duo started with a weekly show on rock station KQKQ. They were then asked to do the morning show for a new Omaha rock station, KEZO-FM. Z92 took off thanks to their morning show and what Wesselmann calls a “genuinely superb staff.”

The ride lasted 13 years.

Through the 1980s, in the background, Wesselmann drank. He lived the substance-abuse cliché: He kept a balance for years, then he increasingly didn’t. He started damaging his relationships. “Drugs and alcohol worked for a long time, and then they stopped working but I kept using. That’s the stage there where you put everyone around you in pain. The usual process.” Wesselmann entered rehab in 1989. He has been sober for a quarter century.

Flipping through the dial here: In 1992, he went to KFAB. In 1993, CD-105. After six years, he started doing talk radio for KKAR. In 2001, not long after September 11, Wesselmann left KKAR. “After 9/11, everything became jingoistic. You were expected to provoke, not inform. That’s what made money. It just wasn’t for me.”

He and Deb moved 54 miles east of Omaha to Walnut, Iowa. At the time, Wesselmann was increasingly becoming known for his short stories. After leaving radio in 2002, he turned his attention to writing fiction and essays. His first novel, On the Albino Farm, was shortlisted for the 2003 British Crime Writers Association “Debut Dagger Award.”

Other pieces, A Prozac Notion, The Goodness of Trees, and On the Albino Farm all won significant prizes. Wesselmann, for whatever reason, was particularly popular and critically-acclaimed in England.

But, his royalty checks looked like those of most fiction writers. In 2006, the family moved back to Omaha and Wesselmann took his current job with KVNO.

Although he no longer writes fulltime, Wesselmann says he is not finished with writing. He has journaled all his life. He continues to journal. He journaled heavily once the night terrors began back in the mid-1990s.

Now, he and Deb have begun writing a book together. Deb is a psychologist who works with trauma victims (this isn’t why the couple met). Their book will be an amalgam: She will discuss methods of coping and working past PTSD, he will provide interludes in poetry and essays from the perspective of someone who has been wounded by trauma.

He will be telling the story of how he found peace. He will also tell the story of the day he went hunting for his attacker.

The night the couple met, Deb says, “I really had no intention of ever seeing him again. He was trying to impress me with his knowledge. We got in a big fight. I told my brother (Kent Bellows) that he was the most obnoxious person I had ever met.”

Needless to say, her opinion softened in subsequent meetings. The couple married and had children. Work and family life was all-consuming.

Through the 1980s, Doug marched through the stages of addiction. A few years after he got sober, Deb left teaching to pursue a master’s degree in psychology. She wanted to work with traumatized children, in particular. It was “just strange coincidence” that, “somewhere around 1994, [Doug] started giving these hints that something was wrong—that something happened at some point
in the past.

“There was no longer the self-medicating. He didn’t have that crutch. He became more easily agitated. The night terrors really floored him. It was awful for him, it was really awful to live with for both of us. There were all the symptoms of [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].”

He finally told her the details of the attack. He sought therapy. He meditated. He journaled. “The process was pure drudgery, two steps forward, one step back,” Deb says. “Five years. Finally, he started reaching some level of peace.”

For the most part, Doug says, the years in Walnut and the years with KVNO “were the most peaceful of my life.” But there was still an unresolved issue: Where was his attacker?

Two years ago, against the wishes of his wife, Wesselmann took a trip back to the monastery in Atchison, Kan. He wanted to talk to the priest who helped cover up the crimes of his attacker. He says he honestly couldn’t predict his reaction if he found out where his attacker lived. “I assumed I could make peace with it. I don’t know.”

Wesselmann found the priest. He told the priest that he wanted to go to confession. Wesselmann had a plan: “In a confessional, it would be very difficult for him to lie. Did the priest feel any remorse? Where was the guy? I just wanted to know.”

He found what he was looking for: “There was heartfelt remorse.”

And then…

“The priest tells me that the guy wrapped his car around a tree. Dead. Done. Maybe it’s what he deserved. I don’t know. But he was dead.”

“There was a whole new serenity to him when he came back,” Deb says.

Now Doug and Deb are in the process of co-writing a book on overcoming severe trauma. As co-founder of The Attachment and Trauma Center of Nebraska, Deb has helped hundreds of victims of trauma find peace. In her portion of the book, she’ll provide a toolbox for trauma victims.

And Doug “will be doing the right-brained stuff.” Interwoven with her expert advice (Deb has already written three books herself) will be his essays and poems—some humorous, some decidedly not—detailing and ruminating on his journey. The couple is in the beginning stages of writing and compiling.

Maybe the book succeeds. Maybe it doesn’t. “It’s not going to change things either way,” he says. “I’m where I want to be.”

“Since that trip to Atchison, he’s really been at more peace in his life than ever,” Deb says. “I put that in the category of a ‘miracle.’ Considering where he was—truly, deeply tormented—to where he is now, it’s difficult not to call all of this a miracle.”

Becka’s Back

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The unmistakable voice that many in Omaha have come to love (or, if we’re honest, love to hate) has returned to the airwaves. In January, radio talk show host and Benson High School grad Tom Becka found himself in a familiar seat back in Dundee. (Not a Dundee Dell barstool; although, Becka is known to wax poetic on the air about his love for the Dell’s single malt scotch selection.)

Many recently remember Becka from his weekday afternoon show on KFAB (1110 AM), located in the heart of Dundee. But in October 2011, the decision was made to end Becka’s tenure with KFAB and its parent company, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. Becka insists the decision was issued not locally, but at the corporate level: “I didn’t fit their line-item formula.”

Becka then headed north for about a year, landing a job as program director for an FM talk station in Fargo, N.D. But not long after Becka set up shop, he was lured back to Omaha, sort of, hosting an afternoon talk show on KKAR (1290 AM). KKAR is owned by NRG Media and located in Becka’s old stomping grounds near 50th and Dodge streets. He pulled double-duty for several months: waking pre-dawn to host a morning talk show, managing the radio station and all its moving parts, and then prepping for his two-hour afternoon show in Omaha (broadcasting from a makeshift studio fashioned in his West Fargo apartment).

But the sale of the Fargo radio station gave Becka an opportunity to return to Omaha and pursue radio full-time…once again, in his beloved Dundee. “The Tom Becka Show” airs from 2 to 6 p.m. on 1290 AM, now dubbed the Mighty 1290 KOIL. “I am genuinely excited about helping rebuild this legendary radio station,” Becka says. “By working at 1290 KOIL…I can focus on what is happening here in Omaha, and not have to worry about what they say at the home office in Texas.”

“I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

KFAB was Becka’s home not once, but twice. He launched his talk radio career at “the 50,000-watt blowtorch” in 1994, but left five years later for an on-air job in Kansas City. He returned to Omaha (and KFAB) in 2004, where he remained until his termination in 2011.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Becka moved to Omaha his junior year of high school. (“When you move outside of Omaha and tell people your high school mascot was a bunny, they think you’re making it up.”) He studied at UNO and was active with the university’s radio station, KVNO (90.7 FM).

Although talk radio would become his wheelhouse, Becka fell hard when he discovered rock and roll. An AM Cleveland DJ by the name of Jerry G played popular tracks overnight. “He was the king of Cleveland Top 40 radio. Even though I was supposed to be asleep, I would hide a radio under the blankets and listen until late at night,” he recalls. “I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

Becka’s voice has become his signature statement: fast, high-pitched, loud, and always laced with his own opinion, whether listeners like it or not.

His career has been spent in an industry rife with obstacle, ratings, and setbacks. Becka says he has learned perseverance, adapting to change, and how to maintain friendships when lines are drawn in the sand. “I have fond memories of my time at KFAB and a lot of respect for my friends who are still working there,” Becka says. “But I am really excited about competing against them. I like to think of it as a football player who has been traded to another team. My job is to beat them, but we can remain friends off the field.”