Friday, January 25, 2013

WLAC Radio - Nashville

Back in the 1950s, when white teenagers were just beginning to discover that Pat Boone's version of "Ain't That A Shame" was not the original, a radio station in Nashville, Tennessee, was beaming rhythm and blues and gospel music to millions of young listeners, each discretely tuning his dial to 1510 on the AM dial late into the evening hours.

It was 10:00 pm in the East, bed time for many a schoolkid. But, if the weather was cooperative and the tuner sensitive enough, wonderful sounds soon began to issue forth. Not Perry Como, not the Chordettes, certainly not Pat Boone. No, here streaming directly into our bedrooms were the strange, new, and wonderful tones of Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Fats Domino, Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Little Junior Parker, The Spaniels, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howling Wolf, and Etta James.

Jimmy Reed-"Baby What You Want Me To Do?"

Here was something special, something to be shared only with your very best friends, not with those jerks at school who didn't know about it and couldn't understand it if they did. Here was something that made you wish you could soundproof the door to your room or, perhaps, buy a pair of headphones, all to insure that listening bliss might continue into the wee hours when your mother assumed that you had long been asleep.

Gene Nobles was on WLAC for Randy's Record Shop. Nothing characterized the WLAC listening experience more than the nightly program sponsored by "The World's Largest Mail Order Phonograph Record Shop" -- Randy's Record Shop in Gallatin, Tennessee. They must have done a heck of a business. No street address, no post office box ... just "Gallatin, Tennessee."

During the mid-'50s, Randy's sponsored what may have been the most listened to disc jockey show in the country. Introduced by the nostalgic tones of "Suwannee River Boogie" by Albert Ammons, "Randy's Record Hi-Lights" was broadcast on clear-channel WLAC at 10:15 pm Central Time, six nights a week--and at 11:00 pm on Sunday. And 50,000 watts of power insured that it could be heard all over the East, South, and Mid-West, probably in Canada and Mexico as well.

Gene Nobles has as much claim as anyone to being the first to play rhythm and blues records for a racially mixed audience and developing a distinctive deejay "patter." Gene called it "Slanguage" and it included such phrases as "from the heart of my bottom." Mr. Nobles passed away in 1989.

Commercials by regular sponsors: Click on to listen.

Live Baby Chicks
Royal Crown Hair Dressing
Ernie's Record Mart
Randy's Record Shop
"Randy" was Randy Wood, a successful entrepreneur whose catalog boasted that his shop was "The Home of the World's Largest Stock of Recorded Music. Randy was patriotic too, offering a "10% discount to all men and women now serving in the Armed Forces." Lest we forget, these records were "also available in 45 r.p.m."

Giving Randy's show a run for the money was the program sponsored by the venerable Ernie's Record Mart, at 179 3rd Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee. "Ernie's Record Parade" could also be heard every night. It was a one-hour show broadcast Monday through Friday at 9:00 pm Central Time and on Saturday from 8:00 until 9:45 pm. On Sunday night the "all spiritual" show began at 8:30.

The host on Ernie's show was the steadfast "John R." His full name was John Richbourg and he began working at WLAC in 1942. His distinct, deep, and sometimes gravelly voice, together with his "hep-cat" patter combined to confuse many listeners into believing that he was a black man. Actually, he was a white man who had come to WLAC following stints at other stations and a youthful attempt to pursue a career on the musical stage. John R. signed off for the last time on June 28, 1973. As late as the 1980s, Mr. Richbourg was answering letters from his fans, sending out autographed photos, and selling tapes of his programs.

Herman Grizzard

Youthful insomniacs and dedicated listener's could stay up past midnight in the East and listen to the third in the nightly series of record-shop-sponsored shows, this one brought to us courtesy of Buckley's Record Shop. Buckley's show, entitled "After Hours," was introduced by the theme song "After Hours" by Erskine Hawkins. The host disc jockey was a gentleman who seemed to be older than Gene Nobles or John R (and was). That gentleman was Herman Grizzard, who had been with the station since the '30s. Each of these record shops offered "special" packages of records available by mail order at a group price. As I recall, each 5-record special from Ernie's was offered for a period of a couple months and was called something like Ernie's "Bullseye" Special or some similar name that would distinguish it from, say, Ernie's "Blue Ribbon" Special. Five records for three dollars or so was a great deal too, as long as you didn't mind having a ringer or two in the group--some title that you probably wouldn't have otherwise purchased. I mean ... did someone really want a copy of "Gumbo Mombo" by Guitar Gable?

Bill "Hoss" Allen
was yet another popular dee-jay at WLAC. After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1948, Allen began his radio career at WHIN in his hometown of Gallatin, Tennessee, hosting "Harlem Hop." Allen soon moved to WLAC, initially filling in where needed, ultimately taking over the 10:15 to midnight spot, when Gene Nobles retired.

The "Hossman" also hosted many gospel programs. Indeed, in 1981, Savoy Records released an LP (SL 14627) entitled: Bill "Hoss" Allen Presents "Let's Go To The Program." Subtitled "Twelve of America's Greatest Gospel Groups," the record includes recordings by such groups as The Swan Silvertones, The Soul Stirrers, and The Original Blind Boys of Alabama, introduced by Allen and altered to include applause, as though the performances were actually live, in concert.

Atttribution: Jim Lowe's recollections (edited for length)

I have awfully fond memories of lying in bed late at night with that faint, tiny red light glow on my radio, turned down low... just listening away to WLAC.

1 comment:

David said...

Thanks David!!! Great memories and times we all had!!