Earl Freudenberg: Remembering WDOD And Its Premier Downtown Studio

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - by Earl Freudenberg

I spent almost 40 years working for WDOD, known to many as the Wonderful Dynamo of Dixie.  The station signed on the air April 13, 1925. WDOD was Chattanoogas first radio station. 

Sam and Parks Hall have written extensively about WDOD on the website deepzoomchattanooga.com.  I have fond memories of the station when it was in the Hamilton National Bank building.  Founders Earl Winger and Norman Thomas moved WDOD up Market Street after broadcasting from the Hotel Patten. It was known then as the “attic station.” 

Mr. Winger told me he went to a CBS affiliates meeting in New York and was impressed with their studio.  He said to his partner, "Why can’t we have something that nice in Chattanooga? The men went to Hamilton National Bank officials with a studio proposal.  The downtown bank liked the idea so much they built a mezzanine right above the first floor. Going up the elevator you pressed the M and the door opened right into the station.   

WDOD would give their ID "With studios in the Hamilton National Bank Building, This is WDOD, Chattanooga.  It was a free ad for the bank every 30 minutes.

These studios were special to me. Our church had a broadcast every Sunday known as the “Nazarene Hour”.  We would leave morning worship and rush downtown. My mother, Norma Freudenberg, was one of the musicians on the program who played the piano.  I still have some 16" records of her playing. Those records were made on a special player. I have a picture of the player with several engineers standing around including Ernie Feagans. While the Nazarene hour was on the air I would sneak around to the station control room and watch the engineer. One of them told me one day, “You can watch all you want to, but if you touch you’ll have to leave.” I never touched.  I knew from those visits I wanted to be in radio - never dreaming I would spend a big part of my career at the station where my mother once played the piano.

My mother, Norma Ruffner Freudenberg, even played for several of the station live programs. Those studios were a real broadcast showplace. They had three big studios, newsroom, control room, two baby grand pianos and an organ. Roy Morris did an audience participation show every day in one of the big studios. 

Times changed and Mr. Winger and Mr. Thomas sold WDOD to Interstate. They moved the station to 428 McCallie Ave. It was a nice studio layout but nothing to compare to the studios downtown in one of Chattanooga's skycrapers.   

Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles remembers working at the soda fountain located next to the elevators. Mr. Knowles said he got to know some of the employees and famous people who visited the station right above where he made milk shakes.

I have saved some pictures from various sources that hold many memories not only for me but for those old enough to remember the state-of-the-art studio of that day. Chuck Simpson, Tom Nobles, Bob Bobsworth, Gaylord McPherson, Ernie Feagans  John Gray, Larry Johnson and so many more graced these studio halls. The late Helen Thornton told me her husband  Harry would ride the bus from school to the studio. He’d hang around until sign off and one of the employees would take him home. Mrs. Thornton said one night they let Harry do some station breaks and shortly thereafter he was hired. She said Mr. Winger liked his bass voice. Mr. Winger also told me he tried to hire Luther several times from WDEF but he wasn’t interested.  

Cy N. Bahakel acquired WDOD in 1963 moving the station to the transmitter site next to Baylor School. The last air date was May 31, 2011. The property was sold to Baylor School. It was a real honor be on the air at WDOD.  So much of our city's broadcast history was written there.  


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