On The Air – The Story of WLUV


WLUV advertisement

Michael Morrisett

It was raining, and the Rockford East Girls’ Softball team was waiting for hours to receive a bus ride back from a game. As we made our way back the rain struck against the windows as WLUV played over the speakers lining the bus interior, and I asked the bus driver what channel it was. Little did I know, asking that question that day would inspire a terrific story into the history of Rockford East High School and WLUV. 

The story would bring me to meet Susie Buckwalter, a graduate of East High School class of 1976, and she would quickly teach me about all the connections between the past and East High today.

I met Buckwalter at the Stockholm Inn a few days after the radio station she had been operating, WLUV, had closed down and been sold to VCY America, a Christian station based out of Milwaukee, cutting short the station’s long and colorful history. Buckwalter told me everything about the history of the station. 

I learned Buckwalter’s maiden name is Salvi, a name synonymous with the glory days of East High School sports. Her family has a history of coaching here; her father Dan Salvi was a coach for track from 1965-1989.

“He is one of the winningest track coaches,” Buckwalter told me.

Buckwalter’s uncle was Joe Salvi who owned WLUV, which he founded Valentine’s Day in 1962 in Loves Park with the call letters W♥LUV (yes, the logo has a heart in its call sign), and I LUV that when the station ceased this year, it was playing the best love songs of the 60s and the 70s. The station was located in a small red building when Salvi owned it, broadcasting classic country, something Rockford didn’t have at the time. It was the first station in the area to play Black soul music and air live NASCAR before it became popular, the station was very progressive.

The station rested off North Main St. on the outskirts of Rockford near SportsCore 1 in a fielded area, Buckwalter described its beauty and the relaxed atmosphere and nature. 

“Fourteen point nine acres, that it’s sitting on. It’s beautiful, the turkeys and deer. It’s just gorgeous out. there,” Buckwalter said. 

Salvi constantly gave those who wished to work at the station the chance. He also owned 96.7 the Eagle, another Rockford radio station, and sold his FM transmitter to 97.5 WZOK, according to Buckwalter. 

“You mentioned 96.7, The Eagle. Well, I’ve got stuff that shows my uncle owned 96.7,  and he sold it to the Broadcasting Company that owned it back in 1999,” Buckwalter said. 

One of the people Salvi  invited to work on the radio station was Tim Lawrson, who had worked for Auburn High School’s station, WINGS. Buckwalter remembers how her uncle had called Lawrson asking him if he “wanted to work on a real radio station,” and Lawrson would also return later to work at WLUV after Buckwalter took over.

Buckwalter acquired the station for its last year or so in service after her uncle passed away January 28, 2020, at the ripe old age of 98. “Papa” Joe Salvi enjoyed running WLUV, which left the station with a need for a owner, Buckwalter’s aunt approached her and asked if she would operate the historic station. She accepted and would take care of the station until easing it into retirement Dec. 1, 2021. Her biggest role was to bring the station into the 21st Century.

After Salvi’s passing, many who had gotten their start at WLUV came to her aid. One of these people was Larry Roberts. Back in 1963, he was only 13 when his mom would read gospel verses on WLUV, one of many shows on the station. Salvi would teach him to spin records and more, and all these years later, Roberts, who had sold over 60 stations and three NBC affiliates, returned and began researching the local stations. He came back to Buckwalter saying she had a gap of 60s and 70s and would make that the station’s current format before the station shut down.

“This is WLUV, the best of the 60s and the 70s,” became their new tagline  and began broadcasting August 1st 2020 under the new format. Buckwalter would acquire a 2000-song playlist of 60s and 70s music using automation to run the music and still having DJs in for the live shows and NASCAR. 

Virgie Lameyer stayed at the station for over 50 years, working as the secretary and taking care of payroll and documents. 

As more and more people offered their support, Buckwalter found out more and more about her uncle she had never known before. 

“Talking to all the old DJs, oh my God. It just came out of the woodwork. And if you look at yesterday’s paper, Sunday, our former State’s Attorney that is now the United Way CEO, Paul Logli. I found out he was a DJ. I didn’t even know that,” Buckwalter said. 

And how those people helped her in so many ways. 

“I had experts, I had former employees. I had DJs, you know, I had lawyers. The accountants, you know, I was able to do that because of the experts. There was an IOU to Joseph. They felt a loyalty; they wanted his legacy to go on. There are very few people that own independent radio stations today, and my uncle made it almost 60 years still doing that,” 

Buckwalter spent time working on the station through COVID. It helped her through the lockdown and gave her something to look forward to before it would be sold to VCY. She says her favorite music was the 70s. As the now-renovated WLUV still plays music, the memory of the station and the people live on in the listeners. Friends and family of Joe Salvi are remembered as well.

Meanwhile, Buckwalter is ready to retire and relax. 

You know, I was okay. I was satisfied because I really knew I felt like I had done my uncle well,” she said. 

She left the radio business knowing so much more and so many more people. She spoke of how she felt like Carol Burnett when she left. 

“Carol Burnett was a comedian, and at the end of her show, she’s always singing this song. ‘I’m so glad we had this time together.’ Anyways, she was always mopping the floor.  I was mopping the floorboards, that last day, cleaning it up before I left. And I was thinking of Carol Burnett,” she recalled. 

As she left and locked the station for the last time, another story of local history is etched into the past, and another tale is left in our thoughts as is true to radio fashion, this story is signing off.