WAGC Radio - Winning a Greater Chattanooga

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Advertisement for the new WAGC radio station
Advertisement for the new WAGC radio station

In 1945, Chattanoogans had a choice of three AM radio stations for coverage of news of the final year of World War II.   There was WDOD, the area’s first radio station, which had been broadcasting since 1925.  WAPO hit the airwaves in 1936, and WDEF signed on in 1940.  Was the local radio market able to support a fourth station?  Some local investors thought that it could.

Insurance agent Gordon Gambill, Baylor School business agent Humphrey B. Heywood, Martin-Thompson sporting goods co-owner Hubert M. Martin, and Hamilton National Bank vice-president Rice Russell formed the Tennessee Valley Broadcasting Company.  The December 12, 1945 edition of The Chattanooga Times announced that a new station would begin broadcasting in January, 1946.  Call letters WAGC – “Winning a Greater Chattanooga” – were assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, along with the broadcast frequency of 1450 kilocycles. 

Owners of WAGC promised that the station would have a considerable amount of time devoted to local programs.  Baseball games of the Chattanooga Lookouts were to be covered by WAGC and announcer Gus Chamberlain.  Joseph L. Leland, who had been teaching music lessons from a small downtown studio, was hired as a staff musician.  Harry Thornton was "The Milk Man" in a morning program.  Roy Morris was another WAGC personality.

Augmenting that air time were the programs of the Mutual Broadcast System that included the new “Queen for a Day” as well as the established program, “The Shadow.”  Granny Clampett's favorite cowboy actor Tom Mix was another network celebrity.

The new station’s studios were on the tenth floor of the Hotel Patten.  WDOD had left the hotel five years earlier for new headquarters on the second floor of the Hamilton National Bank building.   Over the years, the Hotel Patten had sold postcards showing its stately building and call letters “WDOD” or “WAGC” symbolically streaming from the transmitter tower on the roof.

The first broadcast for WAGC was on Sunday, January 21, 1946 at 6:55 AM, when a five-minute news cast was made.  The previous day, a dedication ceremony was held.  Humphrey Haywood read a congratulatory telegram from President Harry S. Truman.  The message read, “For yourself and your associates, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on the opening of your new radio station WAGC, and my best wishes for its success.”

The station’s 250-watt transmitter was located off Rossville Boulevard.  Later, the power was increased to 1,000 watts via a new tower at Hickory Street and Citico Avenue.

WAGC continued to compete for radio advertising against the other stations.  Television came to Chattanooga in 1954, when WDEF began broadcasting on channel 12.  On May 17, 1955, the Times reported a complex financial transaction between owners of WAGC and rival WAPO.  In the deal, the original WAGC investors acquired eighty per cent of Ramon G. Patterson’s stock in WAPO.  At the same time, the ownership of WAGC passed to local businessmen Prentiss Furlow and W.O. Waites, and to Memphis investor Cecil Beavor.

The Chattanooga Times announced on November 29, 1959 that station WOGA would begin broadcasting on the frequency formerly occupied by WAGC.   New ownership was the Middle South Broadcasting Company.   Studios remained in the Hotel Patten.

The station was sold again in 1961 to brothers Al and James A. Dick.  The October 5, 1961 Times said that the call letters would change to WMOC, honoring both Moccasin Bend and the University of Chattanooga Moccasins athletic teams.  WMOC competed with WDOD in the 1960’s and early 1970’s for the country music audience. 

Whatever happened to those frequencies on the AM dial where Chattanooga’s first four radio stations once delivered programming?

WDOD-AM signed off a last time on May 31, 2011.  Its transmitter site was sold to Baylor School, and the 1310 frequency was returned to the Federal Communications Commission.  As it neared the end of its broadcast era, WDOD was playing music of the big band era. 

WAPO became WGOW on January 1, 1969.  WGOW competed with WFLI (“Jet Fli”) for the rock-and-roll audience before joining the national trend of news-talk radio.

WDEF-AM is now Fox Sports Radio.

The 1450 frequency used by WAGC/WOGA/WMOC is now used by WLMR, a religious broadcaster.

If you have memories of WAGC, WOGA, or WMOC, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll update this article with some of your feedback.  Also, does anyone know the origin of the WOGA call letters? 

Thanks to David Carroll of WRCB for the lead for this article.  David continues to do great work in documenting the rich history of Chattanooga radio and television.

Reader Feedback

I read your article on local radio with much interest. I had always been fascinated by radio from the time I had a "Rocket Radio" (crystal radio) and could only listen to WRIP, as a kid in Tyner. I was attending UC when they wanted some students to work part-time at WMOC.  I jumped at the chance to see inside an actual radio station. What they wanted was someone to program a fully automated broadcast station that operated 24 hours a day with no live person present. The were running a "modern country"  music format with DJ's announcing the songs, ABC news, live weather, Paul Harvey with no board operators at all.  It was room full of tape machines with flashing lights controlled by hundreds of knobs.  In the dark, it looked like Christmas and was a sight to behold. This was 1968, before digital computers so all the programing was done by preset knobs that had to be reset every eight hours to schedule the correct commercials and more importantly the proper songs to be played with the proper  recorded DJ intro. DJ show were never repeated!! No one seemed to know that it was not a live DJ operation and commanded good rating in the market.  The only employees were a program director who recorded commercials and music, the engineer, a receptionist, salesmen and manager, Al Dick. The UC students set the presets at night and weekends and would run the Sunday morning religious programs and Nascar in the afternoon. I continued to work at WMOC and later became engineer/ program manager and worked full time after I graduated.

 WMOC was one a a very few unattended fully automated stations in the whole country. Some stations used taped programming for parts of the day but none were so ambitious to try to imitate live flawless tight programing good enough to compete with live stations in the market. Dead air was not an option in 1968 like it is now days. I later moved to another automated station with similar equipment (Shafer) in Michigan. Now in the days of digital computers, programming a radio station can be contained in an Ipad. Sadly the use of automation today can usually be detected by the average listener with in a short time due to the lack of quality on the air.

 If I remember correctly it (WOGA) was the heart of Chattanooga. Their remote van had a heart with the W on the outside and OGA inside the heart. I believe they also had a slogan “oga in Chattanooga”.

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