There are few names more recognizable in the Shamokin and Mount Carmel areas than Tom Kutza, and even fewer that conjure up such positive and happy memories. Of all the voices heard over the WISL airwaves, Tom’s was there the longest, spending roughly 34 years behind the microphone. To many, it’s unimaginable to think that Tom worked anywhere else other than WISL, but believe it or not, there was a time that Tom was just a kid trying to break into the business. In radio, you needed to take whatever job or jobs you could get, and Tom’s break into the business occurred at two different radio stations in the late 1950’s, WBRX in Berwick and WPPA in Pottsville. Tom simultaneously worked at both of these stations on a part time basis, mostly as a news reader.
In 1960 Tom would be offered a job at a station much closer to his hometown of Mount Carmel. Tom joined WISL in October 1960 covering the night shift and a program they called “Moonlight Serenade.” He would work his way up the WISL ladder, moving next to afternoon drive and finally getting a shot at the “big time” and the morning show in 1964. Generations of Shamokin residents would wake up to the Tom Kutza Morning Show, dubbing him “Shamokin’s Morning Mayor” over the years. Tom kept everyone up to date on, local news, weather, sports, school cancellations and yes even the school lunch menus.
Tom’s position as the morning disc jockey gave him great community visibility, and Tom was everywhere. He was the MC at local proms, the DJ at sock hops, dances and weddings, the live host at your favorite store and even the color commentator on the WISL sports broadcasts. Tom even had the chance to play super hero to his legions of adoring fans as “Captain Action” for an appearance at the Big N Department Store in Coal Township.
Tom’s on air legacy included his years hosting the “Welker’s Furniture Polka Show” on Sundays. Tom recalled in a News Item interview…
“I remember one summer day walking from Springfield to my former home on Race Street (in Shamokin); I heard the polka show on every radio between those two points.”
Christmas was a special time of year in Shamokin and a favorite for Kutza as well. The popular “Letters to Santa” program actually dates back to the 1950’s and WISL newsman Jim Reilly. Reilly would gather letter written to Santa by children in the listening area and read them on the air. Years later, Kutza would ask if he could read the letters in the role of Santa Claus himself, a tradition that Kutza would continue even after leaving the station.
Over the years, Tom welcomed many people to the WISL microphone. There were celebrities such as singer Frankie Laine, music groups such as the 1910 Fruit Gum Company, sports figure Stanley Covaleski, and almost anyone else that would have a chat with Tom. Kutza remembers…
“I really enjoyed doing the talk show over the years. We would get on the air and our guests would ask what we were going to talk about, and I would just say ‘I don’t know, we’ll just see how it goes”
Following their interview, guests would remark that Tom made it so easy. Tom had a way to always put his guests at ease, creating a fun and free atmosphere.
Tom’s days at WISL made him a part of the family for many in the Shamokin and Mount Carmel areas. People woke-up every morning to his program, listened to him at work and during their lunch hour, shook his hand on the street and did the polka with him on the weekend. Parents recorded his program and sent it to their children serving in Vietnam, in a way sending them a piece of “home.” Tom’s legacy in Shamokin continues to this day.
Tom’s stay at WISL ended in 1998, victim of a combination of Shamokin’s deteriorating economy and poor station management. However, Tom would take everything he learned in his 34 years on the radio and embark on a new career, becoming the Tourism Director of Northumberland County. His job now was to travel the county creating awareness of the many great thing that Northumberland County had to offer. Tom talked to children about history and the amazing stories of the past. He visited the senior centers to bring back memories of younger days and helped let others know all that Northumberland County has to offer. Tom would retire from the county a decade later.
While Tom may be retired he is far from finished. Tom is still keeping the memory of WISL alive, now online at www.WISL1480.com, Tom has revived the traditional “Sunday Afternoon Polka Program” every Sunday afternoon at 2pm. Every Christmas Tom teams up with the News Item to present his “Letters to Santa” program. The News Item still receives hundred of letters each year from children hoping to get Jolly Old St. Nick to read their letter. Tom is also now a national personality, taking his Coal Region Christmas memories to a whole new audience with “Christmas Eve with Tom Kutza,” a five hour Christmas music and memories program. Originally broadcast on WBLJ (formerly WISL-FM) in Shamokin in 2005, in recent years the program has been carried on stations as far away as North Dakota and Florida. Tom has also relived the memories of WISL, being on hand at the WISL display at Shamokin’s Anthracite Heritage Festival meeting old friends and reliving great memories. In his spare time Tom enjoys life with his incredible and growing family.
A typical Tom Kutza Morning Show open, Tom begins with a polka, then it’s Big Red to wake up Shamokin!
Tom’s trademark program close: “… put that lunch on…”
A Vintage Tom Kutza Program Liner
Commercial for Tony’s Store and Garage from May 13th 1994 voiced by Tom Kutza
The WISL Time Machine from November 27th 1989
The WISL Time Machine from December 1st 1989