Remembering WDOD Radio As It Turns 96

Tuesday, April 13, 2021 - by Earl Freudenberg

 At one time WDOD AM was known as Chattanooga’s Pioneer Station going on the air on April 13, 1925.  If the station was still on the air it would have turned 96 this week.

WDOD has a rich heritage. It was Chattanooga’s first radio station and Tennessee’s second.  There were many live programs including the Radio Playhouse on Market Street.  It was broadcast for several years live at noon over CBS radio.  Personalities like George Gobel, Archie Campbell, and Homer and Jethro had early careers in Chattanooga. 

Chuck Simpson was very popular in the 30’s and 40’s.  Luther Masingill said he listened to Chuck growing up. When WDOD moved from the Hotel Patten to the Hamilton National Bank Building, Simpson would string a mic cable out the studio window to Market Street and do the “man on the street”.      

The pioneer station's slogan was especially true in 1964 when WDOD changed to country music.  The city had several country music shows - Peanut Faircloth on WAPO and Ray Hobbs hosting the “hayride” at night on WDXB.  I’m sure there were other programs which featured country music.  Chattanooga did not have a station that played country songs in all their music segments during the day. 

Station Manager Ernie Feagans related this story to me about the format change.  Ernie said in early 1964 he received a call from station owner Cy N. Bahakel.  (Mr. Bahakel bought the station from Interstate Insurance in 1963.)  The station programmed mostly adult standards.  Mr. Bahakel had hired Charles “Jolly Cholly” Krause from Kentucky to program WDOD.  Krause left WDOD about 14 months later for WDEF to host the Roadshow).  Feagans said the owner asked him how much business the station had at night.  Feagans said he was a little embarrassed but responded, “none”.  Mr. B, as Ernie called him, said he was sending him a check for $200 to purchase the top country songs at the Ernest Tubb Music Shop in Nashville.  When Ernie got back from Nashville the station immediately changed music at night from classical to country launching the WDOD country playhouse with Lee Cooper as host.   Ernie said advertisers started calling the station wanting to buy commercials.  Host Cooper said “the phone rang constantly with listeners asking for requests.”   

Feagans said a few months later he got another call from Mr. B wanting to know how the country music was doing at night.  When Feagans told the owner “excellent” Mr. B said another check will be in the mail, you go back to Nashville and get some more country hits.  Mr. Bahakel told Ernie he had been reading about the success of WENO Radio in Nashville and suggested Ernie go see their management.  Ernie did and got record company phone numbers and addresses.  Country music from the major labels began to arrive at WDOD thanks to the help of the nice folks at WENO. 

Although WDOD was still under contract with CBS for some long form programs, when WDOD was playing music it was country.  It was almost an instant success.  Ernie Feagans probably never got the credit he deserved for the transition.  Ernie left in December, 1965 for WAPO, which had been purchased by Martin Theaters. WAPO was programming adult standards.   Mr. Bahakel then hired Bill Nash as general manager.  Nash was a seasoned broadcaster who had been in the market for nearly 15 years.  Nash was one of the best at football and basketball play by play.  That added another dimension to WDOD’s schedule with UC (later UTC) sports.  Nash was with WDOD for 15 years and his vision took the station to new heights in the ratings. 

I spent nearly 40 years at WDOD watching the area’s first station again become one of Chattanooga’s radio leaders.  It was the employees at WDOD who made the station great and a big success.  Nash had hired Tommy Jett, Lloyd Payne and Jerry Pond, veterans in country music.  They were also known to radio listeners in Chattanooga and pulled high ratings.  Like many other broadcasting properties around the country, WDOD AM went off the air on May 31, 2011. The main reasons were declining revenue and listenership.   

The station certainly has its place in Chattanooga radio history.  If WDOD AM was on the air today they would celebrate their 96th birthday today (April 13) as the second oldest station in Tennessee. 

To read more about WDOD AM, go to Chattanooga history.com/the WDOD AM Story.  This website is a great documentation of Chattanooga’s pioneer radio station compiled by longtime chief engineer S. Parks Hall and his son Sam.  

WDOD is still to me the Wonderful Dynamo of Dixie. 

https://chattanoogahistory.com/wdod_memories.php

* * *

Contact Earl Freudenberg at HeyEarl1971@comcast.net


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