Gehman, former radio engineer dies at 59

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dale Gehman was an imagineer.

Gehman, of Akron, Penn., died unexpectedly at the age of 59.

dale-gehman-4-webHis legacy in Atmore — whether it was through the airwaves at WASG-AM 550 in the 1980s and early ‘90s or during the annual Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce Twilight Christmas parade — will live on for many years to come.

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One of Dale’s younger brothers, David, said his brother lived a good life.

“It wasn’t as long as we’d like it to have been,” David said. “Most of his life was right here in Atmore.”

Dale served on the Poarch Creek Indians’ Tribal Council for some 13 years, and it was during that time that the Indians were granted federal recognition.

“The work those councils did was without reward,” David recalled. “They didn’t get paid. They put in a lot of time and effort, and didn’t have the publicity and recognition we have today.”

Much like the council during his tenure, Dale was the type of person that didn’t need much recognition to help others, his brother said.

Dale graduated from Escambia County High School, was an excellent piano player and had a large interest in electronics.

In fact, at 16, Dale worked at WATM and eventually led David and his younger brother, Jerry, to work a the station.

“In radio and TV electronics, Dale excelled,” David said. “He was extremely sharp. He was in the VICA (Vocational Industrial Club of America) club, won the state competition and went to the SkillsUSA Olympics in 1975.”

David said Dale placed in the top 10 of the competition, where he fixed a TV and radio in 20 minutes. From there, Dale went to Ozark to the Alabama Aviation Technical College, where his engineering career started.

He then became a broadcasting engineer at WABB-FM in Mobile, and was the engineer when Hurricane Frederick struck in 1979.

Dale’s work as a radio engineer led him, along with his brothers, to construct the WASG-AM radio station in Atmore.

“We went on the air Nov. 12, 1981,” David said. “We operated on south Main Street, where the weather radar tower is.”

David said the weather radar was an acquisition from Fort Smith, Ark., and it was a purchase the National Weather Service took notice. This was a big purchase because it helped lead to the current emergency management system of notifying residents of bad weather.

“The state of Alabama was so impressed,” David said. “At that time, it wasn’t the (emergency management system) EMS, but they actually put up signs along the Interstate at 65, saying for weather information, tune to AM 1140 or AM 550.”

Because of Dale’s engineering gift, David said the station would receive cards from around the United States and world, letting them know that listeners picked up their AM signal.

Before the Christmas parade was held during nighttime and on Thursday afternoons, David said after a trip with his wife to Disneyland, he brought the idea of having the parade at night, instead.

David said Dale talked to the chamber, and he talked with merchants about the parade.

What made the parade extra special was the Dale found a way to wire speakers downtown so they would play Christmas music throughout the month of December, David said.

“We had speakers up downtown,” David said. “Jerry was broadcasting live, and it was coming over the speakers downtown. It was an absolutely incredible event.

“That was Dale’s legacy,” he said. “Dale saw those type of things and he embraced it. He worked tirelessly to create those opportunities.”

David said Dale made it to where he would set up a remote radio station to broadcast live from the Poarch Creek Indians’ annual Thanksgiving Pow Wow.

David has plenty of stories to tell of Dale, but there’s one that stood out to him that is a perfect example of Dale’s character.

When they were boys in the 1960s, David said Dale befriended a train engineer when the train would come through town at Jack Springs Road and Howard Street.

David said one day, the engineer invited Dale to ride along for a bit. A while later, Dale encouraged David and Jerry to ride on the train with him.

David said Dale was inclusive of his younger brothers.

“That was something we got to do back in day,” he said. “That was a powerful motivation that Dale was the lead on that, and he brought his two brothers along. As a result, Jerry has a passion of trains.”

A memorial service will be held at Gospel Light Church on Sun., Dec. 11, at 3 p.m., and friends and members of the community are invited to attend.