Personalities: Wynn Speece, Our WNAX Neighbor Lady
For 54 years, the friendly greeting “Hello there, good friends” resonated over WNAX radio waves throughout the Midwest, delivering trusted recipes, words of advice, and Yankton’s most reliable neighbor lady—Wynn Speece.
From 1941-2005, Speece, a South Dakotan radio icon of the 20th century, broadcasted live shows featuring letters from faithful listeners, interviews with both national and hometown celebrities, and numerous household tips. Beginning in 1949 with the birth of her first child, Speece began broadcasting from her own dining room table, conversing with women throughout South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
In June of 1995, Chuck Anderson visited Speece and her husband Harry at this unconventional studio to chat about her rise to radio fame.
Growing up and attending high school in Des Moines, Iowa, Speece caught the “radio bug” early on.
Speece went on to pursue a dual degree from Drake University in Theatre and Speech/English. She graduated in 1939 and proceeded to search for a job in radio--unsuccessfully. A few months later, she received a promising postcard from Art Brown, a continuity writer at WNAX in Yankton, SD.
After two years of writing and occasionally hosting special events, Wynn officially became “The Neighbor Lady”.
During World War II, many husbands and young men were sent overseas and women in the rural Midwest were oftentimes left without a neighbor for miles. Due to these circumstances, Speece’s show grew overnight in popularity, finding satisfaction with newlyweds and grandmothers alike.
At the peak of her career, Speece received nearly 800,000 letters annually from daily listeners, released a yearly cookbook, and hosted a 50-minute program every day, Monday-Friday. However, these acclamations arose only after recreating the program to be entirely off-script.
Speece even had the opportunity to interview then first-lady Margaret Truman, for better or for worse.
Despite the occasional interview flop, Speece had a talent for finding an optimistic spin for every situation.
Signing off the waves for the last time in 2005, Speece continued to live as 'The Neighbor Lady' until her death in 2007. Memories and recipes can still be recalled by longtime listeners and their children throughout the Midwest.
For the full Chuck Anderson interview with Wynn Speece, listen here.