Ad Astra Radio Family Brands

Back Where ‘Big Mac’ Belongs


By Brenna Eller

Rob preparing a segment as News Director for Radio Kansas around 1986 – 1988 (Courtesy Photo).

Rob Mackey is thrilled to be back in the radio world as the current morning On-Air Personality for KWHK FM at Ad Astra Radio.

Although his father’s legacy radio station KWHK AM went off the air in the nineties, Mackey gets to share his love for music and history on a station with the close name of KWHK FM, which makes coming back even sweeter to him.

“I was so excited by the opportunity with Ad Astra,” Mackey said. “I’m over the moon.”

Mackey became an On-Air Personality with Ad Astra Radio on June 5, 2023 after about three decades being out of the business. Mackey’s father, David Ray Mackey was the General Manager of KWHK AM.

“I grew up in the radio business and in a radio household,” Mackey said.

Mackey’s family moved to Hutchinson when he was four years old and as a child, he would often go to the radio station and hangout there.

In particular, Mackey was taken by the news teletype machine at the station and would watch it type stories for hours.

“It had me at hello,” Mackey said.

It was one of the things that inspired him to pursue news many years later, along with his dad. David Mackey earned awards for his nightly editorials, and Mackey remembers at least one plaque at home from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

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David R. Mackey (on the left) being given a plaque for one of his editorials from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters in the early 60s (Courtesy Photo).

“I’m sure he won more awards than I ever knew,” Mackey said. “He was very intelligent and a great dad.”

David Mackey had a PhD, which he got through the Montgomery G.I. Bill and previously taught at two colleges prior to his management of the radio station. At Pennsylvania State University, he had served as faculty adviser for WDFM 91.1, the college radio station.

Mackey said his dad had a two-way radio in his car so that anytime an emergency arose, he would be on the scene and they had it worked out so that someone at the station could just put him on-the-air when he needed to be.

“I grew up in that kind of environment,” Mackey said.

They also lived one block from the fire station in Hutchinson when it was at 20th and Main. If his dad happened to be taking a nap and the fire alarms would go off, he would get up and follow the fire trucks.

One big story Mackey remembers was the Wiley Building fire on Jan. 24, 1971 that killed two people. 

Mackey’s father not only worked long hours at the radio station, but was also a founder of the Hutchinson Theatre Guild and Hutchinson Symphony.

“He was also in the Navy, and flew airplanes, but he never really talked about his military service,” Mackey said.

David Mackey was elected commissioner and became Mayor of Hutchinson from 1971 to 1972. He was known for his work with the Human Relations Commission.

“He was always wanting to improve life for others,” Mackey said.

When Mackey was a teenager, he took a class to learn more about radio even though he already knew a lot because of how he grew up. There was a Boy Scout Explorers class for older scouts that offered a training opportunity at a radio station across town, where you learn about operations and study for the test.

To be on the radio back then, you had to have a license, so Mackey went with about 30 other people to Salina to take the test and he was one out of two or three who passed it. He got his 3rd Class radiotelephone license with broadcast endorsements, which allowed him to be on the radio.

“As soon as I passed that test and got my license, my father instantly got interested in me,” Mackey said.

Mackey officially started at KWHK AM in June of 1974 when he was 17. He worked there for over a year running controls and covering the Royals baseball games. 

“On Sunday evenings, Dad put on programs where he had me play classical music. All I did was put on records, and had to make sure they matched,” Mackey said. “The host would call occasionally and say I was playing the wrong one.”

Mackey’s dad called him and told him to go live on the air late one night.

“I called Shirley. We were dating at the time and I told her I was going to be on the air,” Mackey said. “And the rest was history.” 

The title back then was Disc Jockey and has since changed to On-Air Personality.

Mackey was given the nickname “Big Mac” sometime in high school because he was also working at McDonalds (where he met his wife Shirley). Mackey graduated from Hutchinson High School in 1975 and his father became ill due to a brain tumor and died in September of 1975.

“I lost him when I was 18,” Mackey said. “It was very hard. He gave me a chance at radio. I owe him a great debt I can never repay.”

Mackey said his dad would sit down with him and critique him on things like names he mispronounced on-air and even though they were tough critiques, Mackey respected his father very much.

“He had the most gorgeous voice,” Mackey said. “He could speak so well.”

After his first year at the station, Mackey went to Kansas State University and studied Radio and Television Broadcasting. He had a job working at KJCK in Junction City while he was in college.

Mackey and his wife, Shirley moved and he ended up working at Pratt for a time at KWNS. Then, in March of 1977, Mackey got a job covering the Kansas Legislature (KEWI). At the age of 20, he was covering stories on the Kansas House and Senate. 

He got to ask former President Gerald R. Ford a question after he had just lost the General Election in 1977 or 1978.  

“That was an exciting opportunity,” Mackey said.

When Gerald Ford passed away, Mackey, his wife Shirley, and their daughter Lacey went to visit his casket in D.C. 

Another time, when he was at Topeka, Mackey was with a pack of reporters at the Governor’s Mansion when Virginia Senator John W. Warner was visiting Kansas with Elizabeth Taylor, who he was married to then. They all sat on the porch outside and they were there to celebrate Alf Landon’s 90th Birthday. One picture was taken and Mackey was there looking at them. The Topeka Capital Journal published a photo from the back of the porch.

“I still have the picture with Elizabeth Taylor,” Mackey said. “I was in a pack of reporters. They were reminiscing and talking openly with us.” 

When Mackey moved down to Wichita to work for KLEO Radio, he was a news reporter/news anchor covering Sedgwick County and it was a thrilling time to cover news because BTK was still unsolved at the time.

Rob Mackey prepping to leave KWHK for the second time in the early to mid – eighties in the production room (Courtesy Photo).

When Ronald Reagan was running for president and coming through Kansas, Mackey was covering the event, but he stood in the back and didn’t hear the previous questions.

“I got to ask a question that unfortunately he already answered,” Mackey said.

There was a picture in the Wichita Eagle that was taken at the airport of Reagan trying on a cowboy hat and Mackey was standing about 6 or 7 feet away. 

Mackey returned to KWHK AM in May of 1980 as News Director and he and his sister Martha worked together for about a year before she left to pursue her own video production business. 

The big news story dominating the time was Mount St. Helens (Wash.) Ashes from the volcano eruption even reached Hutchinson. 

“The radio had become a 24-hour station,” Mackey said.

He often got tips from Channel 12 when things were going on and one time Muhammad Ali’s plane stopped to refuel at the Hutchinson Airport. Mackey was among the pack of reporters who interviewed him that day.

Mackey said Ali might have been showing early signs of Parkinson’s Disease but they didn’t know it at the time.

“I remember his sentences not being real clear when pulling his sound bites,” Mackey said.

Mackey left KWHK in 1986 and started at Radio Kansas in June of that year, where he worked until 1988 covering a lot of local news and feature reporting. In 1988, Mackey went back to KWHK for a third time and was there through 1990 as News Director, Operations Director and Disc Jockey. 

Staff at KWHK giving Rob Mackey (middle) a proper sendoff after he leaves for the third time (Courtesy Photo).

After that, Mackey decided to get out of radio for a while and worked for a business college, where he had what he called a “misguided adventure” trying to recruit students.

“I gained a lot of speaking experience from it,” Mackey said.

In May of 1991, United Way came along and Mackey said he felt like it was God’s plans that the business college didn’t work out and United Way was his next opportunity.

“Sometimes it takes years to see the gift,” Mackey said.

Mackey spent 25 years with United Way overall. He started in Reno County, then worked as the United Way Director of Small Cities at the Worldwide office in Alexandria, Virg., for five years. They lived there for 12 years in all. Mackey later worked for United Way in Lawrence for 8 months in 2017, then took over in McPherson County on Sept. 11, 2017. He  retired in Feb. of 2022.

“I loved the work, loved the people and loved the mission,” Mackey said. 

Mackey didn’t think he would have the opportunity to come back to radio again, but now he gets to play the music he loves. His favorite genre is the 70’s. Mackey also enjoys a lot of 80s music and a little bit of 90s as well.

“For the most part, I’m interested in hearing music from when I grew up,” Mackey said.

One of Mackey’s favorite bands of all time is The Beatles (particularly their music from 60s-1970)

“I’ve seen Paul McCartney three times with every member of my family,” Mackey said. “I’ve seen several artists I’ve loved.”

Mackey and his wife Shirley have two children; Ryan Mackey (married to Allison) and Lacey Scully (married to Jeff) who have two daughters; a five-year-old Dorathy Jean (DJ) and a two-year-old Ella.