By Tami Watt. Editor
SALAMANCA, NY- WGWE 105.9 first hit the airwaves 10 years ago in their first live broadcast directly from Allegany Territory on February 1st, 2010! The Seneca Nation’s first independent commercial radio station also known as the “gweh” was first owned and operated by Seneca Broadcasting, a company under Seneca Holdings with David Kimelberg as CEO.
The Seneca Nation then acquired an FCC license to broadcast over an FM frequency. Kimelburg hired Michael “Smitty” Smith, a fellow Seneca who had been a longtime host for WPIG 95.7, as the main disc jockey/station manager and the rest is history!
After months of preparation, paperwork, and renovation of an old Uni-Mart on Broad Street, WGWE kicked off with a classic hits format playing music from the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. Smitty served as the host of the morning show and request hour at noon.
Through the years, WGWE has hosted a collection of diverse programs for the Southern Tier and local communities. Soul to Soul with JJ White and Ian Jimerson featured blues music, requests and promoted local blues artists was a popular show. Smitty’s programs with his indistinguishable charm and boisterous presence was a fan favorite. Asa “Ace Boogie” Washburn and Collin “Big Monty” Maybee were local DJ’s who were also favored by listeners.
In 2016, the station took an interesting turn when Smitty resigned from his post to pursue a run for the Mayor’s office. He was elected on November 8, 2016 as the first Seneca Mayor of the city of Salamanca.
Chris Russell took the helm as the station’s Operations/Programming Manager under Seneca Media and Communications Executive Director Dr. Jason Corwin after Smitty’s departure in 2016. Russell redeveloped the format and streamlined many of the programs. The station is no longer under Seneca Holdings but is operated by the Seneca Nation, Dr. Corwin and Russell work closely together toward the economic growth and development of the station.
Today, WGWE has updated the classic hits format to an 80s playlist, some 90s hits are played on Friday night. Russell has added more live on-air hosts including the talents of Miss B, Cindy Scott, Brett Maybee, and Louis Snyder. He has also taken on the role as WGWE’s main sportscaster announcing games for Saint Bonaventure women’s lacrosse, men’s lacrosse, men’s hockey, women’s basketball, and men’s basketball teams. He also announces games for the Olean Oiler’s baseball and various high school sports through the year.
Russell enjoys the fast paced promotion contests that give out prizes to lucky winners because they are popular with listeners. The audience can win anything from Holiday Valley ski passes, to WWE shows, to Buffalo Bison and Buffalo Bandit games, and tickets to top acts at the Seneca casinos.
The station has also formed a partnership with Native Voices One, which provides Indigenous programming from all over the world. American Indian Living focuses on health issues for Indigenous people along with traditional perspectives on medicines, you can listen in on-air Saturdays at 6am. Voices from the Circle hosted by Jim DeNomie brings listeners traditional and contemporary Native music, storytelling, and poetry, catch it on air Sundays at 7am.
Gaë:nö’ is a weekly spotlight of original music that’s been recorded by Indigenous musicians from across Turtle Island Nations with an emphasis on highlighting the diversity of both peoples and styles of music hosted by Brett Maybee, Production Director. Maybee promotes Native artists by featuring their music during the first half of the show, he then utilizes the second half to interview the performer. Some of the notable guests featured on Gaë:nö’ are Joanne Schendoah, Robert Freightrain Parker, and Buffy St. Marie. As a musician himself, Maybee connects with the artists he features and enjoys exchanging artistic visions which is clearly portrayed to the audience. “Buffy St. Marie gave me the sense of community and how we fit into the larger Native American music scene. It was an inspiring moment in my career that changed the course of my vision of what I want to produce as an artist,” Maybee says.
WGWE is the home of Native American Music Awards (NAMA) which is hosted at a Seneca casino every year. The station serves as the main broadcast station for the NAMAs as they report live and interview artists and guests directly from the awards show. Maybee has hosted the biggest award show for Indigenous musicians since 2016. He also features the upcoming performers on his show, Gaë:nö’, leading up to the event.
The “gweh” has a unique position as the one of the few commercial radio stations owned by a Native Nation. The station has incorporated the Seneca language and culture through featured shows and dedicated time slots. Maybee has been instrumental in bridging the gap between modern radio fundamentals and traditional perspectives of the Seneca culture while remaining mindful and respectful. He attempts to use the Seneca language on- air when possible “The more the younger generation hears the language, even if broken, will perpetuate continued use and growth for our future generations. It creates a positive ripple effect that will allow us to continue to increase the amount of in-house productions for radio shows in the Seneca language,” he says.
Although growth is necessary for success, the station has remained a hub for community announcements. WGWE has a community calendar slot for announcements to promote activities in the area. Russell and Maybee both shared that they pride themselves in being a positive bridge for the entire Western New York community. They have a large audience from Jamestown, NY and have regular listeners who call in, send in notices, and participate in promotions and events.
Moving forward, WGWE has plans for expansion in the near future and will base their upcoming project on the 10 year anniversary. Careful not to release too many details, Russell said they plan to announce the new venture hopefully next month that includes plans to expand broadcast coverage and improve ratings. WGWE has seen a significant growth in ratings which gives the staff confidence that they are on to something great and will continue to develop from the strong foundation built over the years.