The summer of ’68 was a busy time for me. While many of my contemporaries were marching in the streets, I was sitting behind a microphone.
It really got started during April. The first week of April, I was was working fill-in shifts for a fellow Vanderbilt student who did the evening news shift at WLAC. WLAC is a 50-kW clear-channel station. Back in 1968, its daytime programming was aimed at middle-class white Nashvillians. At night, when its coverage area included 28 states and a large part of the Caribbean, it programmed R&B music. It was the #1 R&B station in the country. On 4 April, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, and I had the news mike at the country’s #1 R&B station.
After that week, I was happy to go back to working weekends on WLAC-FM.
The next station up the AM dial from WLAC back then was WWGM. It was a daytime-only station, one of only two daytimers in Nashville. It had been severely mismanaged, and the owners had gone bankrupt. The station was being run by the Receiver-in-Bankruptcy who was trying to find a buyer who would pay enough to satisfy the creditors. When some paychecks bounced, most of the staff quit. Another Vanderbilt student who had been working as a part-timer at the station was asked to recruit students from the campus radio station to work at WWGM and keep it on the air. I got hired as Chief Engineer because I had a First Class RadioTelephone Operator License. I also wound up with a 6-hour shift as a DJ on the weekends.
When the spring semester was over, I went full-time. Since I was also taking some morning summer classes at school, I wound up with the afternoon drive time shift, 3 pm to sign off. Something interesting happened to WWGM for the next couple of months. A group of college students had their hands on a real commercial radio station, and Ken Bramming, the Program Director, let us run it our way. We didn’t change the Adult Easy Listening format much, but we began being less stuffy and having fun on the radio. The station smiled at the listeners. We played a lot more jazz.
Unfortunately, no buyer was found for the station. At the end of July, it went dark, and I went back to WLAC-FM. Imagine my surprise when the next ratings book came out and WWGM had pulled a #2 in the afternoons. It may have been a fluke, but it was the best set of numbers I ever had. Back then, an FM station or daytime AM station was doing well to even show in the ratings. I was used to 5th or 6th place in a 14-station market (but #1 on FM).
I learned a great deal that summer. One of the things I learned was that I had been amazingly lucky. In April, I’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time but made it through without screwing up too badly. In June and July, I got to be a part of something special.
Being in the radio business was fun, but I wasn’t sure that it was the career for me. I was studying electrical engineering, and the job prospects looked more profitable in other fields. Also, I was an ROTC cadet with a 2-year active duty obligation looming. So when I graduated, I hung up my headphones and went off the Fort Gordon and Viet Nam.
Afterword—WWGM eventually got back on the air as a gospel station. In the ’90s, it was relicensed to Gallatin, Tennessee. It’s present call sign is WMRO. The WWGM call sign is now used by an FM station in the Nashville area.
So here I am, 45 years later, after a career mostly disconnected from the radio business. I’m getting offers for voice-over work. Who knows …
UPDATE—To save my many fans much Google searching, the list of stations that I worked for (talent and/or technical; full-time, part-time, or contractor) includes WLAC, WLAC-FM, WMAK, WNAH, WPLN, WRVU-FM, WSM, and WWGM. And, yes, I got my start at a carrier-current student station, WRVU. I also did some behind the camera work and announce booth work at WZTV. Maybe one of these days, I’ll write about being snowed/iced in at the WMAK transmitter for a week.