Remembering Atlanta Radio (1)
.Remembering Atlanta Radio:  1  2    |   WAKE    |    WPLO    |    WQXI    |    WPLO-FM    |    WFOM   |    WKXI/WQXI-FM

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My first time ever to be in Atlanta (except for passing through on the way to New Orleans as a kid in 1953) was in late Summer 1962.  The occasion was a mini-vacation while getting me set up in my dorm room at Emory University's Oxford College, 35 miles east of the city.  My parents and I stayed at a "motor hotel" next door to the Peachtree Towers Apartments downtown near the intersection of Peachtree, West Peachtree, and Baker Streets.  I lugged my heavy reel-to-reel recorder into the room to tape a top-40 dial-scan late that first night.  It was my first time to hear Atlanta radio (I hadn't listened in the car, because it distracted my Dad from finding directions in the unfamiliar city, and he had become slightly "on edge" with all the traffic).  I was "blown away" when I found The Big 3:  WAKE, WPLO, and WQXI.  What sounds coming from that RCA portable radio!--I hadn't been used to hearing good jingles, news sounders, production elements, and background reverb back home in Greensboro, NC.  The reverb, in particular, made the music sound so full (and the stations so cosmopolitan).  The dj's as a whole were more "big city" than I was accustomed to.  And all three of Atlanta's top-40 stations were on the air 24 hours a day--now that was cool!  At the time, WSB and all the other stations in town meant nothing to me--they didn't play top-40 music.  And while, admittedly, Atlanta was still a bit backward in many respects in 1962, its radio certainly wasn't.  After listening to countless hours of airchecks from this general period of countless top-40 stations from all across the country, I'd rank The Big 3 right up there with the best of the rest of them.  And I don't think pure sentimentality has everything to do with this evaluation:  the South in general was a leader and innovator in the radio arena (dare I say The King?):  One need look no further than Todd Storz and WTIX/WQAM, James Noe and WNOE/KNOE, Henderson Belk/Hugh Holder and WKIX/WPDQ, the Bartells and WAKE/WYDE, Gordon McLendon and KLIF/KILT, Plough Broadcasting and WPLO/WMPS, to mention just a few.  And, of course, there was WQXI which evolved into one of the most memorable of all.  In the late 50's and very early 60's, there were numerous other wonderful stations throughout the South in both larger and smaller markets--each having its own "personality" and each having a very unique on-air approach--their diversity ranged from the "slicker" sounds to the relaxed approach of, for example, the Brennan/Benns stations (WVOK, WBAM, WAPE, WFLI).  Such diversity and excellence in broadcasting assured listeners of delightful surprises and unique experiences just about anywhere they travelled in the Southland.  The huge abundance of air talent native to "these here parts" is staggering in itself!  (Many of these stations and their on-air personalities are discussed within the pages of this website--see Table of Contents page.  I've also provided links which lead to in-depth tribute sites for some of the great Southern stations).  But I digress....

In Atlanta, the Big 3 were fiercely competitive in their top-40 formats.  From my new digs at Oxford, only WPLO had sufficiently oriented signal for decent reception both day and night.  So it is the one I listened to most.  There was only fair reception for WQXI during the day, none at night.  WAKE had such a weak signal that it basically was inaudible outside the Atlanta city limits, even during daytime.  There was one other great top-40 station located in the northwest Atlanta suburbs--WFOM in Marietta.  Unfortunately, I could hear this station only when driving up that way (which was not often).  I remember its heavy-handed use of accent reverb.  WFOM is considered to have been a GREAT station, and I regret I wasn't able to become more familiar with it. 

During the early 60's, many of Atlanta's radio personalities played "musical stations", locally moving from one to another and sometimes back again.  Apparently, this was a somewhat common trait in radio in many locales during this period.  In late 1963/early 1964, WAKE dropped its top-40 format for "middle of the road".  In 1966, WPLO switched to "country".  Why?  In large part because WQXI came on like a giant thrashing machine, mowing down all the competition in its path.  I don't think WAKE changed formats just to be changing; I think it changed because it could no longer compete with its weak signal unable to reach into the rapidly expanding land area that was Metropolitan Atlanta. WPLO (though it had been a decent top-40 station), for whatever reason, apparently decided not to continue to compete in top-40 even after WAKE was no longer in the picture.  At any rate, at a point in 1966, Quixie had the territory all to itself--and reigned supreme in top-40 by default for many years to come; the competition in Atlanta top-40 radio was gone--for a while.  Interestingly, in a market the size of Atlanta, there should have been room for at least 2 competitors, one would think.  (WFOM, from its location in Marietta, did continue on as a successful top-40 station for many years, but it was more local to just the Cobb County area).
Charles McHan recounts his trips to Atlanta:  "I grew up in the early 60's, coming to Atlanta on alternate weekends [from Columbus, GA].  My dad left me at the Cox-Carlton [next door to the Georgian Terrace Hotel] across from the Fox (which started my movie hobby!); I also got to walk to the great stations within range, like WAKE and WIIN and
WPLO
and WSB-- or take the bus to WQXI out behind the drugstore in Buckhead....In September 1963, I bought my first FM at Olson [Olson Electronics, located below the Fox on Peachtree].  It was an "as-is" chassis from an early Japanese set.  I fixed it that Saturday night, and my dad and I listened to Atlanta FM the next Sunday morning.  WKLS was about the only thing on the air.  "Officer" Don Kennedy owned it, and it played Beautiful Music.  WBIE-FM Marietta was on part of the day, and they played a mix.  WPLO was, to our amazement, playing top 40 and simulcasting 590!  I remember hearing Sally Go 'Round the Roses by the Jaynettes and was amazed to hear highs on radio!  This was inside the Cox-Carlton where we always stayed." (Charles ended up in radio, in part because of lasting impressions of hearing Atlanta stations, but it ultimately was the magic of WQAM in Miami which pulled him in.  Though he has been a dj as well as programmer of  several stations, he later made his way to TV and the engineering side of broadcasting.  Today, he builds custom audio equipment). 
I wasn't around Atlanta in 1958 when Fay Fuller, shown here, was doing her thing on WYZE.  The mic looks to have been heavy, but apparently she handled it well.  Talk about innovation in programming!  Not top-40, of course, but still very much in keeping with the social psyche of the times, nonetheless.  Older teenagers and young adults loved to rock 'n roll, but they also loved to be romantic.  Somehow, though, the air-time of early Sunday afternoon is curious; wouldn't it have worked better in the evening?  Perhaps so, but the fact is that WYZE was a daytimer only.  (1)

(In the same era back in Raleigh, NC, Jimmy Capps was doing a somewhat similar show in the evening--"Our Best to You"- over WPTF and later, WKIX--"love song" dedications, interwoven with romantic renderings of poetry in his rich, deep voice,  juxtaposed over lush instrumentals--a "music for lovers only" sort of format.  Interestingly, his show was so popular for so many years that others brought it back in new form after his death in 1967).  Even today, some stations feature nightly "love songs" programs, but I can tell you they in no way compare to these earlier gems).


Robert Read was around Atlanta in 1958.  He writes:

"My two great radio-loves were "Space Patrol" in the late 40's and early '50's and Bartell radio in the late '50's and early '60's.  A couple of months ago I found and purchased an MP3 cd of over 100 "Space Patrol" radio episodes complete with commercials.  And now I'm even finding some VHS tapes from the TV series.  But my greater love was
Bartell
radio.  These were my teenage years.  I was born in 1941 in Portland, Oregon.  These were the "Space Patrol" years until our family moved to Atlanta in 1952.  I was twelve.  Now it was TV (we didn't have it yet in Oregon): 
WSB, WAGA, and WLW-A
.  And, "Space Patrol" made it to TV.  It was Ray Moore, Freddy Miller, Ed Caprel, Ray McKay, "Officer " Don Kennedy.  And the Dumont TV Network.  "Five Star Final News" at 11 PM on
WSB
had "Dixie" as the music intro.  There was "The Music Shop" with Dick van Dyke and Fran Adams.
"I really wasn't tuned to radio from 1952 to early 1958, even though I was well into my teenage years.  But I do remember WGST with all that Georgia Tech stuff.  Every football coach had his own show.  And on WQXI, Hank "the Prank" Morgan was broadcasting Atlanta Cracker baseball.  Hank called an Atlanta homerun with "I'll tell you one thing...........WOW!!!" (see the WQXI pages for more about Hank "the Prank" Morgan). 
"Take Me Out to the Ballgame......"
.Atlanta Cracker Baseball could be heard over WQXI as well as be seen on WLW-A TV.

               (click on image to enlarge)
"But then came the transistor radio and my $75 Zenith Royal 500.  Over those years I had three of them:  white, black, and burgundy.  Now I really started listening to music. 

"Paul Drew on WGST--"The Big Beat".  I believe it was 8-12 Monday-Friday.  "On we go over 9-2-0, this is Paul Drew so happy to have the pleasure of sharing the night-time with you."  Theme was Buddy Morrow's "Night Train".  This remains my all-time favorite radio show and dj.  His mellow voice and the freedom he had to control the show on the non-top 40 station.  He even had the courage to play Edith Piaf's "Milord".  He played a lot of great material that never quite charted.  I bought many of those 45's and still treasure them.  I only knew of them through Paul Drew.

"I went to North Fulton High School and lived north of Buckhead on Roswell Road at Nancy Creek on the old Weinstock Florist property.  After school it was "American Bandstand" and Ed Caprel's "Bandstand Matinee".  After these I learned to orient the radio and pull in the 250 watt, 1340 WAKE-Atlanta.  

"My life went on just about exactly as described in the first chapter of Ben Fong-Torres' book "The Hits Just Keep on Coming" which I've purchased as a result of finding your WakeAtlanta.com site.  I still have and cherish the "WAKE Fabulous 50" surveys.....But no
WAKE
north of Buckhead after sunset, and so no more Paul Drew for me after he came to
WAKE
(1961).  But you know, it really didn't matter 'cause he just wasn't the same on the highly formatted WAKE.  He just lost his personality with the reduced freedom to play HIS record finds.
(
steve sayeth:  While Mr. Drew probably did lose most, if not all, freedom to play what he wanted in making the move from WGST to WAKE, he still no doubt continued to rule the evenings with his nightly phone dedications show in the area of Atlanta proper within reach of WAKE's 250w signal). 

"But, it was still always WAKE for me [whenever I was home in Atlanta].  I graduated from North Fulton High School in 1959...then I went to The University of Georgia.  So I made up self-addressed envelopes, dated them all, and gave them to the lady at Jim Salle's Record Shop.  That's one reason my survey collection is so complete.  But I bought most of my records from the little old lady at Cox Prescription Shop in the Paramount or Loew's Grand Theatre Building. 

"I did listen to other music:  classical music on 1600 WGKA (Baker Audio Associates in The House That Music Built; they also sold high-end audio equipment and classical LP's.  Before new LP's were sealed, I always wondered if they played from their retail inventory or not).  [Also, I remember] listening to Zilla May and Zenas Sears on WAOK."

(Robert left the Atlanta area in late 1964.  Though he was never in the radio business, he has enjoyed pleasing peoples' senses in another way--he is a horticulturalist extraordinaire, worked for many years as a nurseryman in a family business, and has spent the past 20+ years helping to create more beautiful surroundings at one of America's most popular vacation destinations.  He has made significant contributions to this website--surveys, ads, clippings, station collectibles, etc.--all of which are featured within the pages of WAKEATLANTA).
(1)  Alex Bowab writes:  ......where you talk about the romantic show on WYZE hosted by the dame ...
you mused that the show would seem to be more appropriate at night ...but WYZE was and is a DAYTIMER, so that couldn't happen ....  To make matters worse,  they're near the top of the dial (1480) ... and studio, transmitter was on
Boulevard SE, way down in the SE corner of town -with a weak signal in the worst ground conductivity zone in the country, they were not even a factor north of downtown.
--24 April 2003.
Images this page courtesy of
Robert Read
and are from 1958 editions of
The Atlantan
.

Thanks to:
Charles McHan (1999)
and
Robert Read (2002)
for sharing their written memories.
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created 13 August 2000
SF
updated 19 August 2000
modified 28 August 2000
modified 04 September 2000
redesigned 28 February 2001
redesigned/appended 30 March 2003