Original record by Norma Jean
Retired WDEF TV Program Director Doris Ellis recently asked me about funny stories during my 55 years on the radio. I told Mrs. Ellis there are a few; most of them I don’t care to repeat but there’s one that’s lasted several years.
Recently I was going through old scratchy records and found a 45 rpm that brought back a radio memory from early 1966. I don’t know why I still have the single stored after nearly 60 years.
I’d been working at WDOD less than a year and the station was doing a lot of remote broadcasts from Rossville Boulevard car lots. The big umbrella comes to mind but there were many others.
One Saturday afternoon, Ray Hobbs was live on the air from Bert Brown Ford (4509 Rossville Blvd.) and this writer was back in the studio playing the records.
Oklahoma native Norma Jean (Beasler) was one of the top country artists of that decade and a regular member of the Porter Wagoner television program seen locally on WRGP TV – Channel 3. Fans were well familiar with her music with more than a dozen country hits including her 1963 number one song, “Let’s go all the way.”
Toward the end of Mr. Hobbs' live show, Norma Jean’s top 10 recording of “I Wouldn’t Buy a Used Car From Him” came up in the rotation; so I played it. After I started the record I realized this wasn’t good and there could be consequences as serious as the station losing Mr. Brown’s advertising, which was a lot.
Being the professional Mr. Hobbs was, when the record was over he never mentioned the song title but went on with the broadcast doing Mr. Brown’s commercial.
(It should be noted that Bert Brown opened his business in 1952 and during his 25 years in business received 12 distinguished achievement awards from Ford Motor Company so he was no fly by night operator. Mr. Brown died in 2002.)
In about an hour Mr. Hobbs returned to the studio and as he opened the door I heard a spirited laugh. I asked, “Ray, what’s so funny?” Mr. Hobbs responded that Mr. Brown got a kick out of the Norma Jean record and, before the broadcast was over, he’d sold two cars from listeners who mentioned hearing what could have been a negative recording.
Mr. Hobbs said the broadcast was very successful and Mr. Brown wanted another remote in about a month.
There’s more to the story. A few months later I was visiting Daytona Heights Baptist Church in Red Bank with friends and they introduced me to Bert Brown. He paused a minute and said, “I know who you are; you’re the radio man. I remember the live remote program from our car lot and the record you played, something about not buying a used car. I told him it was by Norma Jean. In a hearty laugh Mr. Brown said, “Is she still around; we got a lot of mileage out of your mistake. . . (pause) country music is known for unusual and sometimes silly song titles.”
I went on to tell Mr. Brown I should have been paying more attention to the songs in rotation. The award winning car dealer brushed it off with another hearty laugh.
In early 1967, Norma Jean was part of a country music show at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium in Chattanooga; and this writer was very fortunate to interview the popular country singer. My picture was even made with the Grand Ole Opry Star.
During our conversation I found out someone had told Norma Jean about my playing her top ten song during a Chattanooga car dealership remote broadcast. I reminded the entertainer, who recorded 20 albums for RCA, that Bert Brown didn’t mind my error because it brought in customers and sold cars.
Norma Jean jokingly responded, “Don’t you think I should have got a cut from those sales?”
Norma Jean will celebrate her 86th birthday next Tuesday.
Earl Freudenberg chats with Norma Jean at Memorial Auditorium in 1967