The ‘mobile voice of Lexington’ goes silent

John Paul Warnecke
John Paul Warnecke

Amid the booms and pops of Independence Day fireworks, Lexington lost its voice, its “mobile voice.” Paul Warnecke, 81, a pioneer of broadcast journalism in Lexington, died.

From the late 1950s through the ’60s Paul and the red WVLK mobile studio were at any significant event, even some not so significant, in the Bluegrass. Paul and his engineer, Paul Dunbar, using newly available equipment, moved live radio from the station’s studios, atop the old Phoenix Hotel, to the scene of whatever was happening, and more importantly, as it happened.

Later, when WVLK’s parent company bought WKYT-TV, Paul took his imagination and talents to a new medium. There, he brought Lexington into the modern era of television news complete with the latest in on the scene news gathering equipment for “Eyewitness News” and, of course, a live mobile production unit.

After a few years at WTVQ, broadcasting lost Warnecke to the Commonwealth of Kentucky where he ran the project to take Kentucky’s public safety radio communications from World War II technology to state of the art. As part of that project KET was provided an electronic backbone for its transmissions across the state.

But Paul will always be associated with that iconic WVLK red truck known to all as the mobile studio. Last year, I attended a reunion of former Fayette County police officers whose reminiscences of me and Paul were not about our years at WKYT but about their memories of events involving the red truck.

Recently, I was talking about Paul with U.S Rep. and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers. He too is an alum of the red truck. We both remembered that you did not work for Paul, you worked with him. There are many other graduates of the Warnecke school who learned important life lessons from him.

There is one thing we had in common and all remember; no matter who the reporter, we all used the same words to close out our mobile broadcasts. On Monday, I am certain that his last words were: “This is the mobile voice of Lexington, KD4461 out”... for the last time.

John McGarvey is a Louisville attorney and former broadcast journalist.