Radio Days

He’d sit up in that huge, triangle-shaped fishbowl every afternoon, watching the traffic go by.

Every few minutes he’d flip a switch, lean forward slightly, and speak to the masses.

I must have been five or six when I heard his voice the first time. I’d wave through the rear open window of my dad’s car as we passed that red-and-yellow A-frame building on Highway 78. I still remember the thrill I felt when I heard his voice on the air, “Toodle-oo to the blue Chevy!” In my young eyes, he was king. His scepter was the microphone, his throne sat inside that second floor studio in the Sherer building, and his loyal subjects were the throngs of local listeners of WWWB-AM 1360.

In those days, John McPoland ruled the airwaves of Walker County, yes sir. “Johny Mac” did rule.

I became infatuated with “Johny Mac” and the concept of radio. I’d sit in an easy chair at home, wearing my sister’s headband for headphones, pretend I was a radio announcer.

In the early-mid seventies, I began listening to WVOK “The Mighty 690.” My favorite announcer was Don Keith. That guy just had the perfect voice. About two years ago I was privileged to interview Don, who is now a prolific writer. His voice was as clear and distinctive as I remember from those early days, and he was a rather nice fellow.

By the late seventies, all my school friends listened to WKXX “Kicks 106” FM. I knew by then that a radio career was my reason for existence. I listened to Kicks 106 constantly, learning how the disc jockeys introduced records, etc.

I was about 15 when I walked into the door of WARF-AM 1240 in Jasper and told them I wanted to be a disc jockey. Joe Cooke, then the program director, had me record an air check. I sat in a studio as a reel-to-reel tape recorded my young voice reading news copy into a mike. When Joe played it back, I was mortified. I hadn’t noticed as I was recording, but I spoke so fast my words all ran together. I had no idea how fluent in jibberish I was. Fortunately, that didn’t eliminate my chances. They invited me to come sit with announcers like Tim “T.J.” Edgil and Jerry Waid in the evenings and observe them. I took notes, I sketched crude charts of the control board and equipment, and I listened to the funny behind the scenes stories they told.

I was home.

Finally, they hired me to work weekends; 7 pm-midnight on Saturdays and 9 am-1 pm Sundays. I was 16 by then but didn’t have a car. My dad would drive me to the 3rd Avenue studio and sit in the car until my shift was over. On Sundays he’d drop me off that morning and pick me up after I was done. When I’d sit down at the beginning of a board shift, I was so nervous I’d be sweating buckets, but an hour or two later, I settled down and had fun with it.

In 1985, I worked for WKIJ, a small AM station in Parrish. By 1986, the studio moved from a cinder block building to the Sherer building on Highway 78 in Jasper. I sat in that goldfish bowl of a booth many times, playing records and peering through the same glass window as “Johny Mack” himself had done so many years before. It was absolutely surreal, and I loved every minute of it.

I left the radio business several times, but I always seemed to find my way back. I’ve worked at WWWB, (which later became WZBQ/WZPQ) two different times, and more recently at WJLX Oldies 101. 5 FM. I loved being in radio. I loved being behind that mike. For me, it was an incredible experience and I wouldn’t change it if I could.

That said, I have no interest in doing it again. Radio isn’t the same today as it once was. Even so, I am thankful because it was a stepping stone for me. My radio experiences are what eventually helped me make the connections to eventually become a writer. That’s where my place is in this world. That’s what I was born to do.

Thank you, “Johny Mack,” for the spark. 78

 

 

 

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