Evolution of ‘radio’

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We’ve been talking about radio. Time to get off that. By slashing out a whole lot, I’ll try to hit just a high point or two.

After “The War” (WWII), radio stations popped up all over the place, like bitterweeds on a poor hillside pasture.

There were a few super stations, like WVOK in Birmingham and its sister station, WBAM, in Montgomery. They covered the state in the daytime.

But most of them were little 250-watters, daytime only – sunup to sundown.

It didn’t take a lot, relatively speaking, to put one up. You had to get permission from the FCC, show a “need,” etc. Then a tower was needed. The building could be a little cement block structure out by a goat farm or near a lumberyard. Didn’t matter.

It needed a few essentials– a studio with two turntables and a tape machine and a microphone or two. Another room on the other side of the glass was nice, for preachers and singers who would come in on weekends.

You needed an office, and a news machine, AP or UP (later UPI). You needed lots of shelf space for the records all the companies would start sending.

A recording studio, just a little room where you could record commercials, was almost a necessity.

Most of the little newcomers were not affiliated with a network. Just records and weather and news and scores. Most of them would tape the hometown football games and play them back the next day.

This area was a little different.

Fella Chandler the other day was remembering when he was in college. His little radio was always on WAUD or WJHO. WJHO came on the air in 1940, WAUD in 1947, both full-timers. WAUD was hooked up with ABC and still carried Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club through the ’50s. The Lone Ranger was there almost to 1960.

WJHO had Queen For A Day from Mutual. Each station broadcast its town’s football games. They both carried API football, too.

Because they were heard so much, each station’s announcers became minor celebrities. WJHO had Peck Rowell and Spec Wright and Jack  Smollon. WAUD had Marion Hyatt and Tony Carter and others.

Editor’s note: Bob Sanders is too modest to mention that he is/was one of those “minor celebrities.”

When I was a college student, I kept our old house full of boys supplied with Cokes. Jack Smollon had a program in which he’d give a six-pack to anyone who could identify a singer or song. I won so much that it got to be embarrassing, so I’d feed the information to somebody else each night.

Of course, other stations could be heard, especially out of Columbus and Montgomery. One of my favorite radio characters was  a guy out of Columbus. I don’t even know his real name, but his radio personna was Cousin Al.

I’d listen to him on the way to work in the early, I mean pre-early, hours as he read the comics and mangled his sponsors’ ads and occasionally played some really classic country music.

Somewhere in there, things changed. From being limited to two local stations and five or seven stations in all – I think it was – a person or company could buy all the stations he or they wanted. My goodness.

FM came along, too. From two stations in our area, we now have … must be 15.

And with automation, owners learned they could get on some kind of network, get the computer fixed so it would stick in commercials at the right time, turn ‘er on and leave.

You can have a whole weekend without anybody even being at the station.

Just let the sports guys gnaw and gnaw away at the current news-making star or team … or hook up with one of the hate networks, where success is apparently measured by how hateful and disrespectful toward public officials the “host” can be.

Quite a change.  Remember how simple it was to just play records (78s, 45s, 33s, transcriptions, and CDs) and rip-and-read the news?

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.

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