Jerry Martin 1916-2008

Jerry Martin, the longtime chief engineer for WKMH/WKNR/WNIC passed away on New Year’s Eve, two days after his 92nd birthday.

Jerry began his career as a radio engineer in 1946, assisting in the construction of Keener’s predecessor, WKMH and holds the distinction of being the second employee hired by Fred Knorr at the station. His many accomplishments through the years include supervising the installation and construction of the present day transmitting facilities of WNIC-FM. Since retiring in 1985, Jerry worked as a consultant and co-authored the operating information for what is now known as the Emergency Action System (EAS). He was a life member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers and Certified Senior Broadcast Engineer. Earlier this year, The Michigan Association of Broadcasters Honored Jerry with the Carl Lee Broadcast Engineering Excellence Award.

And.. He built that incredible reverb unit that gave WKNR its distinctive sound.

“The heart of the system was a Hammond spring type reverb system,” Jerry told us in December of 2005. “It was about four feet tall and about six to eight inches square. In it I believe there were four pipes each of which encased a spring of various sizes and tensions. The unit had to stand erect since the pipes were filled with oil, which I presume provided a damping efect on the springs. I built an amplifier to drive the springs an then pick up spring output. The audio was fed straight thru and to the reverb system. The reverb audio was then recombined with the straight thru audio, The input and output of the reverb system was controlled to achieve a desired effect.. At the time we had engineers at the transmitter so it was placed there to keep curious fingers from messing with it.”

Jerry was a friend and mentor to many, both inside and outside of broadcasting. The engineering fraternity in Detroit came to rely on his experience and judgement. “While the radio business in Detroit was extremely competitive,” he once said, “we were always willing to help one another when there were technical issues.”

He had a special place in his heart for the Boy Scouts and was an active Scouter throught his life, continuing to volunteer and add value to young lives long after his retirement.

Other Voices:

Bob Green: I’m glad I had the opportunity to see Jerry at Mrs. Knorr’s funeral. He really looked incredible and hadn’t changed that much since the days. He’d gone through a lot over the years though, with his son’s illness and eventual death, and then the loss of his wife Bernice. Only memories in our relationship—engineer to DJ; Jerry. Like most chief engineers , wasn’t too crazy about the air personel screwing up his equipment…but in that regard, Jerry & I got along fabulously. For whatever reason, my “tweaking” of the tape machines , eq’s etc. yielded good results…I was”hi-tech” in 1965…certainly not now. Jerry was the jokester at the last Christmas party at WKNR in 1970, wearing a table cloth & doing some dance from an undetermined country. Last time we shared exclamatory remarks with no words was in 1971 when, for a brief period, Harry Walker became General Manager. He held a gung ho meeting for the staff at his home where (with his idea of esprit de corps & excitement) he announced that we were looking into putting the Keener tower (pattern and ground system be damned) on top of the Honeywell building on the Lodge fwy. Jerry & I chortled for the rest of the evening.

Steve Schram: My recall of Jerry was similar to that of Bob’s. He was generally focused on his engineering matters, and of course, had seen hundreds of announcers at 15001 during his career. I did not have the technical production chops of Bob, but I too would EQ the WWKR cart machines ( while on the air…bringing in my own screwdriver and small wrenches) , adjust the azimuth when needed and see what could be done to “influence” the processing from time to time. If he noticed anything, he never got upset about it. Whenever I could find time, I’d wander down the hall to the engineering room and chat him up about the WKNR days. He had great perspective. He was an original force of the Keener era, and I recall him being very touched when I invited he and Dick Buller to a WNIC Christmas party event and honored them with acknowledgement of their lifetime achievement status for the stations.

Dec 31st, 2008 | Posted in Keener
  1. May 5th, 2009 at 18:44 | #1

    So glad to have met and spoken with Jerry at Nellie Knorr’s memorial. I forgotten all about the Keener reverb sound until that day. RIP, Jerry.

  2. Jim Brooker
    May 9th, 2009 at 10:08 | #2

    Jerry’s long career at the radio station(s) was a labor of love. I’ll never forget having to share part of the newsroom with him as he labored over that wicked automation machine we called “Igor” to keep the damn thing working.

    His family, the Boy Scouts and radio were clearly the things to which Jerry dedicated his life. He was a giant.

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