Remembering WDXB Radio

Monday, May 17, 2004 - by Harmon Jolley

The Fourth of July, 1948 entertainment choices were numerous for Chattanoogans.

There were patriotic events and fireworks at Warner Park. Lake Winnepesaukah was sponsoring a jitterbug contest. Ace Lillard’s automobile “circus of death” was scheduled for Engel Stadium. The Skyway Drive-in Theater in Brainerd was showing “Lost Weekend.” For those who wanted to stay home, Hub Furniture was selling a Zenith Consoltone long-distance table radio for $26.95. A new radio station hit the airwaves that same day. An advertisement in local newspapers proclaimed: “Independence Day… an independent station. WDXB now on the air. News on the hour – music – sports. 18 hours daily. 1490 on every dial.” For forty-two years, WDXB (“Dix-Bee”) was offered for Chattanooga’s listening pleasure.

WDXB was started by local attorney Joe V. Williams, and had studios at 539 Vine Street in the former home of the Hahn family. The Village Apartments of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are on the property today. WDXB’s signal was broadcast from a 180-foot tower on Riverside Drive near the City Water Company. Station manager Charles Gullickson assembled a staff of announcers who became familiar voices on the air: Lloyd Payne, Red Brown, William Palmer, Peyton Brian, and Hillard Brown. Luke Wilson, who was known for his civic endeavors in later years, was also associated with WDXB.

The first day of programming at WDXB included hour-long segments featuring the records of Gershwin, Ray Bloch, Les Brown, Jimmy Dorsey, and Guy Lombardo. Since July 4, 1948 was a Sunday, WDXB carried the services of Happy Valley and Highland Park Baptist.

In its early years, WDXB broadcast country music and the Hayride program. In the 1950’s, the first of several format changes was made. WDXB switched to rock-and-roll, the new music with the beat that was loved by teens and hated by many of their parents. The station published a weekly Top 40 Survey that ranked the latest tunes. The edition of June 7, 1958 showed “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters in the top spot, with Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” right behind it. The top album in Chattanooga that week was “Nearer the Cross” by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

In addition to changes in format, WDXB went through several changes of ownership and studio locations over the years. In 1950, the station was sold to Joe Bloom and Dave Cohen of New York City. The Dome Building became the home of WDXB in 1953. Carlin French acquired the radio business in 1956, followed by Chicago investment broker Josephus Corbus in 1968. The station also moved to the Read House in 1968. During the 1960’s, WDXB changed from rock-and-roll to what would now be called adult contemporary, and featured the hits of vocalists such as Bobby Goldsboro, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, and Nancy Sinatra. News, weather, and sports were as prominent as the music that was played. WDXB broadcast the Atlanta Braves, and the station frequently carried programming where local issues were discussed.

Several of WDXB’s on-air personalities became well-known in the Chattanooga market as well as in other cities:

* Larry (The Legend) Johnson joined WDXB in 1955, and remained with the station for fifteen years. He became well-known for making long-distance, on-air calls to celebrities. In 1970, he left his position as vice president and sales manager of WDXB to join WIND in Chicago, and became well-known there and in other large radio markets.

* Lloyd Payne had joined WDXB in 1948 after a friend had turned down the job. He stayed with WDXB for over twenty years before moving to WDOD.

* Gus Chamberlain, well-known voice of Lookouts baseball, was the station’s sports director.

* “Chickamauga Charlie” moved from WGOW to WDXB in 1971, and continued his popular morning program of satire and commentary on local politicians and national issues. WDXB was again a rock-and-roll station by that time. Unlike other stations that played the edited 45 RPM versions of songs, WDXB played the full cuts from the albums.

* “Johnny Walker” and “Dude Walker” were also part of the 1970’s radio programming at WDXB. Johnny Walker hosted a late-night request show, and I believe that he featured the top twelve songs as the “Dirty Dozen.” I recall that Chickamauga Charlie and Johnny Walker appeared at a Hixson High School pep rally to deliver the school spirit award, and that the event was pictured in the 1973 annual.

* Alan Gold joined WDXB in 1976 after spending ten years with the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 1978, he broadcast his morning show from a booth in a restaurant at the Read House.

* Garry Mac, who went on to become one of Those Guys in the Morning at WGOW, was a disk jockey and newsman for WDXB.

* Jerry Pond was hired away from WDOD when WDXB switched back to country music in 1979. Jerry was stadium announcer for the Lookouts, and WDXB carried their games.

* Bobby Q. Day hosted a soul-oriented weeknight program after the station changed its format to rock-and-roll oldies in 1983.

During the years of numerous ownership, studio, and music format changes, there was one change occurring in the radio industry that ultimately resulted in the end of WDXB-AM 1490. In the 1960’s, changes in technology allowed FM to be broadcast in stereo. New radios with both AM and FM bands were introduced, and provided clearer reception and sound than the small transistor radios of the day. Can we imagine listening to a radio today with a single earpiece? FM Radio, with its clearer reception and sound, lured listeners away from AM stations. In 1990, after ratings indicated that less then two percent of Chattanooga was listening to WDXB, its owners signed it off the air. Today, WJOC (Joy of Christ) is located at 1490 AM in Chattanooga.

If you have memories of WDXB, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@signaldata.net.




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