CLASS OF 2009
Lee Thomas went from DJ to Ph.D. At KLMS Lincoln for 27 years, Thomas served as music director, program director, operations manager, and general manager by 1974, and for listeners, a popular reviewer of movies. From there he went on to earn a doctorate and teach communications at Doane College in Crete.
Lee’s radio experience goes back to his teenage years in Denver. When he came to Lincoln to attend Nebraska Wesleyan University he worked the evenings as a disc jockey on KLMS in early 1959.
After a brief return to Denver, Lee came back to KLMS in the early 1960s and stayed, serving as music director, program director, operations manager, and eventually general manager. Under his guidance and despite the competition including some high-powered Omaha stations, KLMS consistently dominated the young adult radio ratings in Lincoln. To that, he added responsibilities for operating KFMQ-FM when KLMS owners bought the station in 1979.
A stickler for details, Thomas made yearly trips to Beltsville, Maryland to examine the diaries that Lincoln’s listeners filled out for rating purposes. He was among the first programmers in the country to use callouts for music research and listener impressions of the station’s programming. He conducted regular air check critique sessions with his air staff, right down to the newest part-timer.
His top hits music station also respected the value of news and information. The KLMS six-person news department was repeatedly designated Nebraska Associated Press Station of the Year for innovative reporting and for technology that includes the installation of color weather radar.
Lee served on the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Board of Directors, NBA committees, and as the Nebraska representative for the National Radio Broadcasters Association.
After leaving KLMS/KFMQ, Lee and three partners purchased a failing 3,000-watt Lincoln FM station, changed the call letters to KLDZ, moved the frequency, and increased the power to 50,000 watts. After they sold the station, Thomas went into education.
Already armed with a master’s degree, Thomas returned to graduate school and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For over 20 years, Dr. Thomas taught communications at Doane College (University) in Crete. The student radio station KDNE received much recognition under Lee’s guidance and his students credited him as the toughest teacher on campus who made them think and make their own decisions.
Thomas has since retired.