Friday, April 10, 2015

April 10 In Radio HIstory

In 1922...WBT Charlotte, NC began broadcasting.

The station actually dates back  to December 1920, when Fred Laxton, Earle Gluck and Frank Bunker set up an amateur radio station in Laxton's home. Four months later, the station received an experimental license as 4XD. The trio decided to go commercial in 1922, and incorporated as the Southern Radio Corporation.

On April 10, the station signed on as the first fully licensed radio station south of Washington, D.C. WSB in Atlanta was the first station in the Southeast to actually broadcast, a month before WBT. However, the Commerce Department only authorized WSB to broadcast weather reports until it received its license a few months after WBT.

In 1925, the original owners sold WBT to Charlotte Buick dealer C.C. Coddington, who promoted both the radio station and his auto dealership with the slogan "Watch Buicks Travel." Coddington built a transmitter at a farm property he owned on Nations Ford Road in south Charlotte, where it remains today. He sold WBT to the two-year-old CBS network in 1929; CBS wanted to make WBBM in Chicago full time on 780 AM, which was a shared frequency with KFAB in Omaha, Nebraska and in order to do that they moved KFAB to 1110 AM. That was accomplished by directionalizing the signal of WBT. A series of power increases brought WBT to its current 50,000 watts.

New Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations forced CBS to sell the station to Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company, forerunner of Jefferson-Pilot, in 1945, though it remained a CBS affiliate.

For much of its history, WBT aired a variety of programming including news, sports, soap operas, and musical programs such as "Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks." Smith, best known for writing the song that became the Deliverance theme "Dueling Banjos", went to work at WBT at age 20 at the invitation of station manager Charles Crutchfield. He played guitar and fiddle for musical programs on WBT before getting his own show. Crutchfield believed that Charlotte, not Nashville, could have ended up being the country music capital because of the station's early "Briarhoppers" and "Carolina Hayride" shows, which may have inspired The Grand Ole Opry.

WBT's Grady Cole
Grady Cole was WBT morning host for 32 years, replaced in 1961 by Ty Boyd, who hosted the morning show until 1973, playing such artists as Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee and Petula Clark. Then he moved to WBTV. He returned to WBT in 2008 to co-host the morning show while its regular hosts took time off.

WBT was the number one station in Charlotte for many years; among its employees were Charles Kuralt and Nelson Benton. But by 1970, WBT was down to number nine, and national advertising representative Blair Radio Network wanted ratings to improve. Jefferson Standard did not like the idea of change, but Blair enlisted Mel Goldberg to research what programming Charlotte needed. Even Crutchfield gave in, and WBT let go 28 staffers and spent $200,000 on changes that included new studios. It also canceled many programs that advertisers supported but which didn't attract enough listeners.

WBT's H.A. Thompson
Henry Boggan
On March 15, 1971, WBT switched to adult contemporary music during the day; Rob Hunter and H. A. Thompson were new DJs. Bob Lacey started at WBT in 1972 with a nighttime talk show "Lacey Listens". Two years later, WBT had reached number one again, reaching the highest Arbitron numbers on record to this day. Around the same time, the station dropped its longtime affiliation with CBS Radio and joined ABC. WBT won Billboard adult contemporary station of the year in 1976 and 1978. In 1979, "Hello Henry" Boggan began his nighttime talk show.

WBT made changes to its format on December 10, 1990, hoping to attract more women. The station dropped James K. Flynn, Thompson and Tom Desio, generating numerous protests.

John Hancock
Don Russell had hosted "Russell & Flynn" in the morning; the show was renamed "Russell & Friends." John Hancock became midday host, and WBTV personalities Mike and Barbara McKay began an afternoon program. Boggan, whose show had run in the afternoon, returned to his evening slot, replacing Desio, but was sometimes pre-empted by sports programs.

Lincoln Financial Group bought Jefferson-Pilot in 2006. The merged company retained Jefferson-Pilot's broadcasting division, renaming it Lincoln Financial Media. In January 2008, Lincoln Financial sold WBT-AM-FM and WLNK to Greater Media of Braintree, Massachusetts. It sold its three television stations, including WBTV, to Raycom Media--thus breaking up Charlotte's last heritage radio/television cluster. Greater Media had long wanted to expand into the fast-growing Charlotte market; its owner had wanted to buy WBT after hearing its signal at night on Cape Cod.

In 1967…The 13-day strike by the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists (AFTRA) ended, less than two hours before the 39th Academy Awards presentation was to go on the air.

In 1978...NYC Radio personality Long John Nebel WNBC died.

Long John Nebel
In the mid-1950s, radio throughout the United States was floundering and trying to redefine itself after the explosive popularity of television. Over several years, Nebel had become friends with many people at various New York radio stations when he bought commercial time to advertise his auction house. WOR, one of New York's leading stations, faced poor ratings in 1954 when Nebel proposed an interview show. The format "would be devoted to discussing strange and unexplained topics".

WOR's management was not especially impressed by Nebel's idea. However, deciding they had little to lose, WOR offered him a midnight to 5:30 am time slot, the poorest-rated hours. Building on the modest fame of his auction house (and also hoping to generate more business), he used the same name, Long John, when he went on radio.

To the surprise of WOR's management, Nebel's show was a quick success among New York's night-owls and early risers. Unidentified flying objects were discussed almost daily, alongside topics such as voodoo, witchcraft, parapsychology, hypnotism, conspiracy theories, and ghosts. Perhaps fittingly for an overnight show, one of Nebel's sponsors was No-Doz caffeine pills.

Within a few months Nebel was getting not only high ratings, but press attention from throughout the United States for his distinctive and in many ways unprecedented program (WOR's powerful signal assured that Nebel's show was broadcast to over half of the United States' population).

WOR was worried about some of Nebel's guests or callers uttering a swear word on the air. Nebel used one of the first tape delay systems in radio, giving engineers a chance to edit unacceptable language before it was broadcast. In 1956, engineer Russell Tinklepaugh invented the system Nebel used. He built a modified Ampex 300 tape deck with an additional set of heads. The deck was able to record on a loop of 1/4" tape, and carry the tape around the perimeter of the deck to be played on the second set of heads. This resulted in a delay of several seconds, enough time to hit the "stop" button to avoid airing foul language.

In 1970…Paul McCartney made public the Beatles' secret breakup by issuing a press release to announce that he had left the group.

It was done in the form of a fake interview: "Q: Is your break with the Beatles temporary or permanent, due to personal differences or musical ones? PAUL: Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family. Temporary or permanent? I don't really know." John Lennon was furious, especially since the breakup was announced a week prior to the UK release of McCartney's first solo album. When a reporter tracked down Lennon for his thoughts, he replied, "Paul hasn't left. I sacked him."

In 1987...Newsman Dick Smythe ended an 18-year run at CHUM-FM and walked across the street to CFTR-FM.  Earlier in his career, Smythe was news director at The Big 8 CKLW.

In 1998...NYC Radio Personality Eddie O’Jay, WLIB, WWRL died.

Eddie O'Jay
O'Jay was from the old fast-talking school, and the signature phrase most cited Tuesday was the famous "Don't lose your head. You need your head. Your brain is in it. You hear?

His career began in 1951 as a Disc Jockey at WOKY in Milwaukee. From there, he went to WABQ in Cleveland, and WUFO in Buffalo, finally working my way to the "Soul at Sunrise" show on WWRL, WBLS and WLIB in New York City. After a distinguished 27 year career in radio in the United States, he expanded to include an internationally syndicated radio program on "Swazi Music Radio," in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1980.

He's been inducted into the Black Radio Hall of Fame.

While at WABQ, O'Jay discovered a group of five young beginners in the business called The Mascots from Canton and Masilon, Ohio.  O'Jay was asked to manage and direct the group which took hi name, The O'Jays. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 2013…Radio programmer (WOKY and WRIT-Milwaukee)/manager (WDRQ-Detroit)/broadcasting executive (Bartell executive VP) George Wilson died of complications from an earlier heart attack at age 83.

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