By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Bill Korst: A little bit of luck has taken him a long way
Times photo: Marissa Weiher
Bill Korst may not be from Monroe, or have ever lived here, but his connections to the town run deep after hosting Bill's Big Band Era Radio Show for almost 20 years on Monroe's WEKZ Big Radio.

He said throughout his life, it has almost always been a bit of luck that's taken him where he is today. At 89, he's taking time to enjoy life after following a passion to do what he loved for so long.

Korst was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois, and said growing up in the city brought him great joy. He attended what he said was one of the best school systems in the country at that time.

He recalls clearly at age 9 getting a phonograph that brought delight to him immediately. Early on he began collecting records and did so up until a few years ago - after his assortment reached six figures. Growing up in Chicago helped feed Korst's need for music, and he recalls finding several radio stations playing jazz, a genre that still captivates him.

"What's not to like," Korst said of jazz. "There's rhythm, improv and excitement."

As a youngster, Korst lived a half-mile from Chicago's "L" - making it easy to access the rapid transit system to get downtown for a dime. He said he could get into the big theaters before 11 a.m. for 35 cents, giving him quick access to what's known as the loop, Chicago's business district.

"I'd hop on the L and there would be huge theaters with stage shows in between films with big name bands," he said. Korst was an only child but often had a neighborhood friend tagging along with him.

By fifth grade, Korst said his love for music was in full swing, and he began playing the drums with the school band. In high school, he played in group bands with friends on weekends and said it was a great way to discover girls.

He wasn't much of an athlete in high school, he said, likely because his focus stayed on music. For fun, he recalls attending dances and seeing several bands for a few dollars.

Korst also worked part time for his father, who ran a diaper service before disposable diapers. He said the job helped him travel with ease around the city and get to know all the hot spots.

He graduated in 1945 from Oak Park River Forest Township High School and said despite being a poor student, he got into Beloit College. He was only 17 and was too young to be drafted.

He quit school for a year, he said, to work in a record store in downtown Chicago before it closed. He said he never regrets the decision because he met so many wonderful musicians who would often stop in. When he returned to college, the school started a radio station and Korst jumped on board, becoming heavily involved once everyone realized he had an immense record collection and commitment to music.

After his graduation from Beloit College in speech and drama, Korst was drafted, and in May of 1951 he went to Fort Sheridan, near Lake Michigan. While getting his assignment, he said he got lucky and found a person he knew from college. Because of his connection, he was sent to Cryptography School, enciphering and deciphering messages. He liked the work and eventually received orders to report to Washington, D.C.

While at the bus depot, he saw several people from the communications department. They boarded an old Air Force bus, he said, and headed for Warrenton, Virginia, just outside of D.C. They were served an unexpected fancy meal, he said, and an Air Force major came in and presented them all with a decision to make. They could either train in communications for an additional nine months added to their two-year commitment, or go to Korea.

"I had nine months to spare," Korst said.

After a lie detector test, he attended CIA school and worked in D.C. He said he learned all sorts of code, and was given money to purchase civilian clothing with a promise that was kept - he would never wear a uniform again.

Around Christmas, he was sent to Yokosuka, Japan, for about a year before his discharge in Fort Myer, Virginia, in February 1954. He was ready to get out of the service and marry his wife, Nancy, who he'd met while on leave to be in a friend's wedding, where they walked down the aisle together. They were engaged shortly after.

"I only saw her a few times before asking her to marry me," he said.

When Korst returned home, he looked first for a radio job. Despite searching all over Chicago, he could only find part-time, weekend work. Eventually, he landed a position at WCLO in Janesville that April. Two years later, he moved on to WREX TV Channel 13 in Rockford in their sales department.

Korst was there for a few years when one of his clients offered him a job selling mobile homes, something he did for more than a decade.

In 1971, when Korst got an offer to come back to the WREX station, he said he couldn't say no and spent the rest of his career there working in sales. In 1985, his job changed when they found out he had a knack for computers, and his duties included billing and logs for the company under new management. He took over in that realm until his retirement.

Despite working mostly in sales, Korst's love for music continued. He always had side jobs working radio stations on weekends. In 1973, he took over a Big Band show in Rockton, spending six years there before moving to WCLO FM (now WJVL FM) for another six years. He then moved to a station in Fort Atkinson (107.3) for 18 years with the Sunday Morning Big Band Show.

In April of 1999 Korst said he came to see Scott Thompson at the radio station in Monroe. He has spent the last 18 years every Sunday from 8 to 11 a.m. playing the Big Band Era's delightful sounds on the local channel.

Korst said the show changed a bit over the years. He added jazz a while back to keep up with the times, he said. He loves the work and all that comes with both recording and music.

"It was fun," Korst said. "I miss it."

For the past 14 years, Korst has played drums for the Monday Morning Dixie Band, and they still perform every Thursday evening at Fibs in Rockton, Illinois. He was recently ill and hadn't played for a while but was anxious to get back at it.

"It was just wonderful to get back out there," he said. "We've outgrown our audience, but people still like us."

They often play old standards, like "Riverboat Shuffle," as well as any requests.

Korst heard often from people around Monroe who enjoyed his local show, and he made frequent stops for a limburger cheese sandwich or a local beer at Baumgartner's. His son, David, would join him a few times a year on the air, which was also a special time.

For now, Korst is simply enjoying life. He said having breakfast each morning with the music cranked up is something he's done for years and will never get old. He and Nancy enjoy traveling, spending time with their six children and socializing with friends.