Radio Station WSLM, 1220 on the dial in Salem, IN, went on the air on Feb. 14, 1953 as a 250-watt daytime operation.
64 years later, Don Martin’s daughter, Rebecca White, is keeping the station alive and bringing it to the modern age with local and regional news, sports, weather and intermingling it with social media and web updates.
Promotions in the 50s referred to the “tri-county area.”
In 1963, Martin increased the station to 5000 watts and WSLM took its place as the “most powerful radio station in South-Central Indiana”
In a 1963 issue of INDIANA BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY, it was noted “The growth and influence WSLM has in the Kentuckiana area has been phenomenal since its beginning in 1953.”
Martin believed that a radio station located in rural Southern Indiana had a future because larger markets and urban areas were already covered with radio stations.
On this theory, Martin had to convince investors and advertisers he was correct.
Construction of the station and installation of equipment was nearly complete in late 1952 when much of the equipment was stolen and demolished by thieves.
Always having a flair for promotions, Martin told the Associated Press, he had the “equipment most preferred by thieves,” and this made headlines around the country.
Most of the equipment was returned after the FCC detected they were operating a pirate radio station in Ohio.
After repairing and retuning the equipment, WSLM first aired on Feb. 14, 1953.
People came from all over Southern Indiana on that first day and soon accepted the “Big Voice” of WSLM.
In 1958, the station increased its power from 250 watts to 1,000 watts and more than doubled its coverage area.
Ratings sheets showed the station was pulling 50 percent of the listeners at the lowest listener point of the day. During peak listenership, this figure increased to 82 percent.
In 1961, Martin started WSLM FM 98.9 FM. This new station began airing ballgames, midget racing and other evening sporting events.
In 1963, WSLM AM was increased to its current 5000 watt power, which allows it to be heard over most of Southern Indiana, Eastern Illinois, Northern Kentucky and Western Ohio.
In 1968, Martin was named Washington County’s Citizen of the Year. Among his many accomplishments, Martin had chaired the March of Dimes Fund Drive and was cited by the National March of Dimes for having the highest contributions in the State of Indiana.
Martin worked on many other projects as well as operating WSLM AM and FM.
Martin was the vice-president of the Lee J. Fultz Hopewell School in Salem and a member of the board of the Harrison County Crusade School.
He also served as the President of the Salem Rotary Club (and was a Paul Harris Fellow) and served as Vice President of the Salem Exchange Club.
Martin was born in Illinois and moved to Indiana in 1922 when he was two years old.
Martin attended the Salem elementary school for three years and then moved to the country and attended a country school.
A 1936 Graduate of Salem High School, Martin enrolled at IU Bloomington. He went to school there for three years, and then enlisted in the US Marines and served on Guam, where he helped build and engineer the Armed Forces Radio Station there.
After returning home, he completed his fourth year of school at the IU Extension in Jeffersonville. In 1948, he graduated with a Bachelor of Education and in 1951 earned his Masters Degree as well as his principal’s license.
After leaving college, Martin taught at Salem High School for four years (1949-1952) where he taught English and coached the Debate team. During this time, Martin was planning and building support for WSLM.
He had some opposition from people who felt the radio station would “cause power failures, draw lightening, etc.”
He built the stations into a local media empire and pioneered the first Cable TV operation in Indiana with Channel 5.
Martin had seven fully equipped mobile units and two complete mobile studios built into trailers. Back in the 50s, Martin also owned a 50 hp motorboat used to cover events on the Ohio River, and two airplanes.
Martin said the “peanut popper on Radio Ridge has become a Powder Keg,” when increasing to 5000 watts.