Monday, January 7, 2019

R.I.P.: Shelby Harbison, Longtime Springfield IL Radio Broadcaster

Shelby Haribson
Shelby Harbison, a Springfield radio legend known for his nearly four-decade association with WTAX/WDBR, died Saturday morning.

He was 94, according to

Harbison was perhaps most easily identified through his voice, which he shared over the airwaves during his radio career — which included stints as station owner, general manager and on-air personality.

Harbison was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He came to Springfield in 1948 on the invitation of an old Navy buddy whose father — a former editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — had purchased WTAX two years earlier.

At the outset, he did a little bit of everything: morning announcer, advertising salesman and sports announcer, to name a few.

Little did Harbison know at the time that it would be the beginning of a long, successful career.

In 1968, Harbison became the station’s general manager. Four years later, he bought the station. And though he would sell it for a hefty return in 1978, Harbison remained GM until retiring in 1987.

Several “firsts” were notched during Harbison’s career: Springfield’s first black radio personality, Gene Woodson, was put on the air. Harbison helped set up, then took over, the first radio network to operate at the state Capitol, and he made WDBR Springfield’s first FM rock station.

Harbison’s former employees fondly remembered him for hiring quality people and then giving them the space to do their jobs.

“He was very supportive and always very cordial for the staff,” said Ben Kiningham, a former WTAX news director. “From my standpoint, he supported the news product, let us get the news and didn’t get involved in its processing and airing. ... I really respected that.”

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