Bob Sanders reflects on his career in radio
By Alison James
In the WAUD 1230 AM studio, shelves upon shelves of vinyl records, protected in their worn cardboard sleeves, boast hundreds of thousands of songs from every genre of music.
“My goal is to play every one of them,” said Bob Sanders, morning show host. “We used to have them filed very elaborately, but it got all shuffled up. I just go down the line.”
April 1, Sanders, 83, marked an almost of unheard of milestone: 60 years in one career – not just in radio but at the same station and in the same time slot. His career with WAUD began after his Army service, in 1955.
“When I got out of the Army I was looking for a job and just happened to hear about this and came down,” said Sanders, recalling his hire by the station’s first owner and manager Elmer Salter. “He pulled the greatest April Fool’s joke of anybody – he hired me that day and put me on the air.”
Sanders already had several years of being a radio man under his belt by that point. He worked in radio for a year or so before he was drafted. He was at a daytime-only station in Columbus, Miss., before he shipped out.
“It was about a 30-mile commute back and forth every day, but I really loved it,” Sanders said. “We played anything we wanted to. I loved jazz, and we played a lot of jazz.”
At that time he would work an afternoon and the next morning, and his co-worker would work that afternoon and the following morning. These days, Sanders’s show runs Monday through Saturday from 5:30-10 a.m., a work schedule that has him up at 4 a.m. every day.
On the job, Sanders sits behind a setup that involves two desks having been pushed together to make one L-shaped work station. Amidst dials and microphones, a couple of T.V.’s and, of course, the record turntable, Sanders amuses listeners with humorous stories, his famous “helicopter flyover” of the the town, news and weather and a wide variety of music. He also treats listeners to an array of sound effects, from a chugging steam engine to a crowing morning rooster, using a cart machine.
“Nobody else uses that,” Sanders said. “I thought they were the greatest things in the world – I still do. Alas, progress.”
The turquoise-carpeted walls boasts sports pictures and a bulletin board with important station information and reminders. A rooster clock, that doesn’t keep time, perches atop a shelf, and a stack of records sits handy on the desk. Sanders goes through about 40 of them per show.
“I run a true variety show, everything from blue grass to classical and everything from jazz to … oh, whatever,” Sanders said.
WAUD 1230 AM was first housed in a building on South College Street in Auburn and moved downtown before ending in its current location in Park Place Plaza on South College Street. Sanders’ wife Peggy drives him to work each morning – he lives “13 traffic lights” away from the station. “We make a little game of it – try to see if we can hit them all,” Sanders said.
The Sanders married in 1953, when he had a long weekend break from Army duty at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, Ga. He caught a ride with a buddy from there to Lamar County, all the way on the west Alabama line.
“I got up the next morning and went and bought me a nice coat,” Sanders said. “Daddy cut my hair … and we went to Columbus, Miss., and got our marriage license because you didn’t have to wait about blood tests or anything over there. And we got this preacher I had sort of known because he did a program on the radio there where I worked – we had him to come marry us, and I don’t think he appreciated being called out on Saturday, but he did it. And we got married, and then I went back to Augusta, and a little bit later she came up, and we shared an apartment with another guy and his wife.”
Peggy was a “hometown girl,” Sanders said, and although she was a bit younger, he began to notice her when he would come home on breaks from Auburn University.
“I think I stood her up on our first date; it didn’t go over well at all,” he said with a laugh. “But I managed to get back on her good side.” They dated for about a year before he proposed. “Sometimes we’d go down to the radio station I worked at – it would close at night – and play records and dance.”
At Auburn, in 1949, Sanders set out to get his business administration degree because he “didn’t have the faintest notion what I wanted to do, so I just took something. It looked fairly easy – didn’t have a whole lot of math in it.”
But a career in radio beckoned to him. “I loved radio when I was a kid … that got me interested in it, basically,” he said. “When I came to Auburn, Auburn didn’t have a T.V./radio department then, but it had one or two classes in radio.”
Sanders doesn’t mince words about what he likes about being in radio: “the whole thing, I reckon.”
“Just about everything. I like playing music and talking about music,” he said. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.”
When Sanders isn’t on the radio, he likes to catch a good movie or Gunsmoke rerun. He is also a member of the Order of the Geezers, a local coffee group that meets at the Opelika Hardees, and he writes a twice-monthly column for the “Opelika Observer.” He and his wife have two children and three grandchildren.
When 10 a.m. rolls around, Sanders sends his listeners off heartily until tomorrow, with words of advice like, “Keep those cows out of the bitterweeds if you possibly can, and don’t let your JELL-O get runny, for goodness sakes.”
He switches the show over to a syndicated sports program, and that’s that.