Lloyd Payne left his indelible mark on Chattanooga radio - fulfilling his dream of becoming a broadcaster despite his disabilities from polio.
Lloyd didn’t like to talk about his being born in San Francisco, California, he just wanted to be known as a “Southern gentleman”.
Lloyd had a strong voice and participated in high school drama programs that sparked his interest in radio. He landed a radio job in Arlington, Va., doing station breaks that paid $10 a week. It was short lived and he relocated to Knoxville.
Lloyd learned about WDXB going on the air in Chattanooga so he applied. Lloyd got that job and started to work on July 4, 1948, the day the station went on the air. Lloyd said he was able to play the music he liked - country and western. His programs, “The Dinner Bell” and “Hayride” became favorites with Chattanooga radio listeners. Lloyd would travel to Nashville and interview country singers like Hank Williams, Chet Atkins and Red Foley.
The popular announcer’s career was interrupted in 1952. At the age of 24, Lloyd contracted polio. The rest of his life would be spent in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop him from broadcasting.
Lloyd was impressed with President Roosevelt’s therapy treatments at Warm Springs, Georgia. With the help of some friends, he went through several months of therapy but he couldn’t wait to return to the microphone in Chattanooga. Retired broadcaster Jerry Lingerfelt said Lloyd learned to drive with his hands and a special parking place was reserved for him on Eighth Street. With the assistance of other employees, Lloyd made his way to the WDXB studios in the Dome Building. Jerry Lingerfelt said the listeners never knew that Lloyd was doing his radio programs from a wheelchair.
In 1959 Lloyd Payne was presented the most outstanding handicapped employee award in the state of Tennessee. His close friend, Rev. Marshall Roberson, brought Governor Frank Clement to Chattanooga for the presentation.
The veteran radio announcer never forgot his trip to Cuba a year before Fidel Castro came to power. The station gave him the trip for having the highest rated afternoon program. Lloyd continued with WDXB but when they changed their music to top 40 he wasn’t really happy. Lloyd was a well-respected and sought after talent. In 1971 long time radio friend Bill Nash offered Lloyd a job at the country station, WDOD. Lloyd said he quickly accepted the offer to return to his roots. The late Luke Wilson, who was WDXB manager at the time, said it was the worst mistake of his managerial career letting Lloyd Payne leave the station.
Lloyd’s friend, automobile dealer Wayne Brock, built the broadcaster a car that he could drive with his hands. He would pull into the WDOD parking lot, honk the horn several times and fellow employees would help him into his wheelchair, then Lloyd would do the rest. He was able to go anywhere in the building from the AP machine to the business office. Nash and other WDOD employees Darrell Patterson, Parks Hall, Ben Cagle, Howard Huddleston and Jerry Pond said when Lloyd came to work the fun began. The listeners never knew of his disability unless they were a close friend.
His handicap didn’t get the way of Lloyd doing his job. With a grease pencil, razor blade, splicing tape and bar, he created the WDOD station break, “On the banks of the beautiful Tennessee, WDOD, Chattanooga.” That signature ID was used for years at the top of every hour.
Lloyd became a 32nd degree Scottish rite mason in 1970. The Chattanooga Advertising Club gave him “the Silver Medal Award” in 1973 for his lifetime of radio achievements. .
Lloyd had an extensive background in news. When I returned from the army and was named WDOD News Director in 1974, I would go to Lloyd for advice. He taught me to always have two good news sources when breaking a story. He didn’t like those anonymous items. He said write your story like you are talking “one on one” to an individual and avoid words your listener might not understand.
Lloyd had a twin brother Wallace, who lived in Chicago. They would talk some on the telephone. He said Wallace wasn’t interested much in radio.
One of the announcers nicknamed Lloyd “Oney” after the Johnny Cash song. “Oney” is the story of a hard-working man with the superintendent always breathing down his back. A sign with the name “Oney” was inscribed on Lloyd’s file cabinet.
In May, 1976, Lloyd Payne died unexpectedly while visiting a relative in Knoxville. He was only 48. During his “Celebration of life”, his close friend and Chattanooga pastor Dr. J. Fred Johnson said, “Polio didn’t stop Lloyd Payne from achieving his dream. His life was his work and hobby.” Dr. Johnson said Lloyd never gave into polio and was successful because of his determination.
As I remember Lloyd Payne he was sitting in the WDOD control room, smoking his pipe and playing his favorite music - country and western. He would leave the air with one of his favorite songs - “Smile” by Eddy Arnold. The words sorta sum up the life of my friend Lloyd Payne.
Smile though your heart is aching smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you.
Light up your face with gladness hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying smile what's the use of crying
You'll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.
Smile though your heart is aching
Light up your face with gladness.
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(Earl Freudenberg can be reached at HeyEarl1971@comcast.net)