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   WKDA was the first radio station in Nashville after the "big three" of WSM, WLAC and WSIX. It went on the air in 1947, and within ten years had assumed the role of being the city's most popular station among 18-49 year old adults and teenagers. By the late 1950's it was playing popular music, which by then was rock and roll. It had the area's top air personalities, the most exciting contests, innovative station promotions and jingle packages that listeners enjoyed hearing almost as much as the music the deejay's played. The station frequently fronted concerts featuring the singers and groups whose records they played, and put out a weekly survey of the area's top-selling records. And despite the station's lower power and lack of history compared to the "big three," was tops in ratings every year from 1957-1967. Hudson Alexander, who worked at WKDA in the early 1970's, offers the following memories of growing up listening to the station.

Remembering WKDA

by Hudson Alexander

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WKDA "Good Guys" w/the Shangri-Las 1965

    It would be hard to exaggerate the popularity of Nashville radio, and particularly the Top 40 stations, to my generation of teenagers growing up in Middle Tennessee. Somehow we just knew we were a special generation: we were being raised on the best music ever recorded with rock and roll; we got to listen to that music over radio stations that seemed almost magical; and the result was radio stations and disc jockeys who were just as popular- if not more so- than the records, themselves!

     In looking back, it seems that WKDA really ruled the Nashville airwaves as far back as I can remember, even to the earliest days of rock and roll- even back in the late 1950's. WKDA had signed on the air as only the fourth station in Nashville on January 5, 1947. The only other stations on the air at that time were: WSM; WLAC; and WSIX.

     The original owners who put the station on the air were: Thomas B. Baker, who had been serving as Advertising Manager for 11 years at WLAC radio; and Alvin G. Beaman, well-known Nashville businessman, whose family was involved in several successful business ventures. Among them were: the Seven-Up Bottling Company (later to add Pepsi Cola to the fold) and the Beaman Motor Company (forerunner to all the Beaman Automotive Group of dealerships). The station’s 340-foot transmitting tower was located atop Rutledge Hill on Second Avenue South and Peabody Street.

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   Just a few of those early DJ’s- the talented people who shared the microphone at WKDA- included: Bob Irvin; Hal Smith; Hugh Cherry; Sam Hale; Ronn Terrell (Terrell L. Metheny, Jr.); Hairl Hensley; Quin Ivey; Bill Randall; Wayne Moss; Dick Buckley; Rally Stanton; Audie Ashworth; Bill Hudson; and legendary sports announcer Larry Munson. Munson came to Nashville from Cheyenne, Wyoming in the early part of 1947 as WKDA’s first Sports Director. He told me, personally, about his infamous on-the-air miscue, which is still talked about to this very day.

     “Hell, I was doing a baseball game back in 1948 between the Nashville Vols and New Orleans.,” Munson told me back in 1974. “I thought I had switched back to the station, but back at the studio, they had left my mic open. I turned to one of the guys in the booth there at the ballpark and I say...’ain’t this a helluva way to make a G-- D-mn living!’ Now, just as you might expect, that didn’t go over too well with the management people, and I was suspended from the air pretty fast after that little deal.”

     But Munson’s on-the-air miscue at WKDA didn’t slow his career down too much. He wound up at WSM radio doing, among many other things, the play-by-play for the Vanderbilt Commodores for many years in the 1960's. Later, he was on WSB in Atlanta and was a mainstay as the voice of the Georgia Bulldogs at Athens, Georgia for many years even after that.

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Larry Munson

      Back in the old days, the WKDA announcers were looked upon as stars around Nashville. One veteran WKDA announcer, Sam Hale, told me that was certainly the case when he was there in 1958-1959. According to Hale, there were very large portraits of all the WKDA announcers hanging in the main lobby of the old First American Bank Building on Union Street. The top floor of that building served as the home of the WKDA studios from 1947 until the move was made to the top floor of the Stahlman Building in 1966.

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   In 1959, the air staff at WKDA included:

        6 - 9 AM:  Bob Irvin

        9 AM - 12 Noon:  Dick Buckley (Richard C. Huckaba, Jr.)

        Noon - 3 PM:  Hal Smith

        3 - 7 PM:  Sam Hale

        7 PM-12 Midnight:  Ron Terrell (Terrell Metheny, Jr.)

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   In the latter part of 1959, Sam Hale left WKDA to accept a position at WYDE in Birmingham, Alabama. Shortly after Hale left, Audie Ashworth came to WKDA. He remained at WKDA for many years. Both Hale and Ashworth had worked together previously at WBMC in McMinnville, Tennessee.

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     Another well-known WKDA announcer from this era was Hal Smith, who came to the station in March of 1957. Hal has reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten: WKDA was once the CONELRAD radio station serving Middle Tennessee. Remember those little Civil Defense-looking icons that were affixed to the AM radio dials at 640 AM and 1240 AM? They denoted the CONELRAD stations. CONELRAD was the abbreviation for “Control of Electromagnetic Radiation.” This was back in the days of the Cold War, and the Federal Government had set aside these radio frequencies to broadcast instructions, in the event of a nuclear attack.

     Hal has this interesting little story, since we’ve touched on this subject: “We once had a dj meeting in Jack Stapp’s office. Dick Buckley arrived late. He said, ‘did I miss anything?’ Jack said, ‘Yes. Since we are a CONELRAD station, and in case of an attack, someone would have to stay behind and operate the station. We’ve elected YOU!"

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   Hal Smith also related this interesting story from back during the late-50's era at KDA: “We did weekly ‘hops’ with some well-known recording artists of that time...Gene Vincent, Link Wray (“The Rumble”), Dicky Doo and the Don’ts, (who didn’t....show up, that is), Carl Perkins, Patsy Cline, among others. The ‘hops’ were held mostly at the old Hippodrome Roller Rink. We also booked Jerry Lee Lewis and rented Sulpher Dell baseball stadium. Just after the deal was signed, it was announced that Jerry Lee had married his 13-year old cousin. He was in Europe and ours was the first show after he returned. About 600 people showed up. Jerry Lee got a percentage of the gate, no guarantee, 10-percent went to the baseball stadium. We then had expenses of cops, a sound system and a piano. When all were paid, we had $20-dollars left. The guy we rented the piano from came in and said that Jerry Lee had broken the piano stool and he wanted to be paid for it. I’m sitting there with $20-dollars in my hand and said, ‘how much?’ He looked at me and said “$20-dollars!”

     Hal Smith left WKDA in October of 1959 to take a job at WAKY in Louisville. From there, he moved on to the west coast, where he enjoyed a very successful career in radio. He is now (2006) retired from radio and is living in Lincoln, California- about an hour north of San Francisco.

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Brief History of WKDA

January 5, 1947-
WKDA takes to the airwaves as Nashville’s fourth radio station (behind WSM, WLAC, and WSIX). The station is owned by veteran broadcaster Thomas B. Baker and Nashville businessman Alvin G. Beaman. The station signs on the air with only 250 watts at the FCC assignment at 1240 kilocycles. The studios are located at Fourth Avenue North and Union Street in downtown Nashville. The station occupies the top floor of the old American National Bank Building (later First American Bank). The station’s 340-foot tower is located at Second Avenue South and Peabody Street. The first staff is announced as: Larry Munson, Sports Director; Jim Reppert; Jim McKinney; Frank Seifert; and Glenn Walker.

1948-
Alfred G. Kenngott, Jr. Comes to WKDA as staff announcer from WDEF in Chattanooga. Sports Director Larry Munson has infamous miscue while doing play-by-play of Nashville Vols baseball game with New Orleans. He is suspended from the local airwaves indefinitely.

1951-
Kenngott was named WKDA Program Director by General Manager Thomas B. Baker, Jr.

May 3, 1954-
WKDA was sold by Baker and Beaman to John Kluge and Associates of Washington, D.C. for $312,500. Baker and Beaman sold the station so they could become stockholders in WLAC TV. The sale resulted from an FCC ruling against cross ownership at that time. It is also announced that Harvey Glascock of station WWDC in Washington, D.C. will come to Nashville to serve as the station’s general manager.

1958-
Jack Stapp comes to WKDA after several years at WSM. Stapp becomes Vice President and General Manager at WKDA. Stapp , along with Buddy Killen, had also established Tree Music in 1953.

June 16, 1958-
Radio station rivals WKDA and WMAK tie up Nashville traffic for 20 minutes on Church Street at Fourth Avenue. The traffic jam brings angry response from Police Chief D.E. Hosse, who told officials at both stations “never to pull a trick” like that again. Reportedly, WKDA had a costumed Purple People Eater (named for the popular song), who was tossing money and balloons to the crowd gathered below the Noel Hotel. The Purple People Eater was perched some 400 feet above the street level at the base of the large “Noel Hotel” sign atop the structure. WMAK tried to top the WKDA stunt with a banner waving airplane, which reportedly flew just above the tops of downtown buildings bearing gifts of candy and records. Officials at both stations pledged to never repeat such an incident.

March 21, 1959-
WKDA changes hands again. This time John Kluge, Chairman of Metropolitan Broadcasting in New York sells to a group consisting of: Singing Star Pat Boone; Jack Stapp; and Townsend Investment Company of New York. The sale price was announced at approximately $1 million.

1960-
A major renovation is completed at the First American Bank Building. Another floor was added to the structure, and WKDA studios were relocated from the 7th floor to the 8th floor.

April 17, 1964-
WKDA DJ Charlie Brown is forced to halt a publicity promotion to set a new world record for staying awake and on-the-air. When he was placed on a hospital stretcher and taken to St. Thomas Hospital, he had been awake and broadcasting over WKDA for more than 124 straight hours. Brown missed the world record, which was set at 227 hours and 44 minutes. WKDA patrons said they began to notice Brown’s fatugue, including slurred speach, as he got into his final hours of the promotion.

1965-
WKDA quietly purchases WNFO-FM, an unsuccessful station broadcasting at 103.3 on the FM dial. The station had FCC approval for 20,000 watts. New owners begin a project of progam planning and major equipment purchases. The station is silenced while the unpublicized project is in progress. WNFO-FM had been the third FM station in Nashville (behind WSM-FM and WLAC-FM). Meanwhile, the WKDA “Good Guys” continue to dominate the Nashville radio scene. The air-staff consists of: Doc Holliday; Dick Buckley (Richard B. Huckaba); Bill Berlin; Bill Craig; Ray Lynn; and the infamous Captain Midnight (Roger Schutt).

March 20, 1965-
Jack Stapp announces that he is resigning as president and general manager at WKDA to devote fulltime to his other business ventures: Tree Publishing and Dial Records. Stapp, who colleagues called a genius in the areas of sales and marketing, was credited with taking WKDA to new heights of success during his tenure.

May 6, 1965-
Charles F. (Smokey) Walker is named new President and General Manager at WKDA-AM and WNFO-FM. Walker has been at WKDA since 1950. Moving into Walker’s previous position as Program Director is Dick Buckley (Richard B. Huckaba), who had hosted the Dick Buckley Show on WKDA since 1958.

May 1966-
WKDA and WNFO are sold to the Chatham Corporation out of Chicago. The terms of the sale are not known. Chatham Corp. reportedly has some 4700 stockholders and owns another radio station in the Dallas- Fort Worth area of Texas.

June 1966-
WKDA studios are moved from the First American Bank Building, where they have been located since the station took to the airwaves back in 1947, to the top floor, the 12th floor, of the Stahlman Building at Third Avenue and Union Street in downtown Nashville. The historic Stahlman Building had been built in 1906 and opened to the public in 1907. It was one of the city’s first skyscrapers. The historic 12th floor of the Stahlman Building had previously housed the Nashville office of the National Weather Service from March 25, 1909 until July 6, 1948. After that, the local weather service office relocated to their airport headquarters at Berry Field.

December 1966-
WNFO-FM returns to the Nashville airwaves as WKDA-FM. It broadcasts 20,000 watts in stereo at 103.3 on the dial. The station’s transmitter is located atop the Stahlman Building, new home to the WKDA AM-FM studios. Everett Larson is the Chief Engineer at WKDA AM-FM. The station spent $50,000 on new equipment to automate broadcasting on the FM station. This new equipment consists of: seven tape machines for music; two machines for the time; and two machines for commercials and public service announcements. The first Program Director of WKDA-FM is Dick Buckley (Richard B. Huckaba).

April 20, 1967-
Chatham Corporation, owners of WKDA AM-FM, purchase the Stahlman Building from a New York business syndicate for $1.6 million. Immediately, plans are announced for renovation work at the historic building. It was during the implementation phase of this improvement plan that the large neon lights were placed atop the Stahlman Building. These lights featured the station call letters: “WKDA.” Then, when lights blinked at intervals, they revealed: “AM-FM.” This sign became a fixture of the Nashville skyline- and was quite a grand sight from the east side of the city looking into the downtown area.

September 6, 1967-
Sadly, it was announced that WKDA AM-FM President and General Manager, Charles F. (Smokey) Walker, had been killed in a motorcycle accident. According to press reports, Walker was taking his 10-year old daughter, Michelle, for a ride when the motorcycle left the roadway and struck a tree. Walker was killed instantly as a result of a broken neck. His daughter escaped without injury. Walker had first came to WKDA as an engineer in 1950. He had headed up the station’s operations since May of 1965.

October 18, 1967-
It was announced that Richard B. Huckaba (Dick Buckley) would succeed the late Smokey Walker as WKDA General Manager. It was also announced that Doc Holliday would serve as the new Program Director at WKDA; Bill Craig was named Music Director.

1968-
WKDA-AM is named Station Of The Year in Nashville for the second straight year. This award was presented by the Radio and TV Council of Middle Tennessee. The top TV station award went to WSM-TV.

March 24, 1968-
Bob Cole, 27-year old native of Brooklyn, New York, is featured in a special newspaper piece in The Nashville Tennessean as the newest WKDA Good Guy. Cole worked the shift from noon until 4 pm.Cole’s career in broadcasting began as a messenger boy for an Italian language radio station in his hometown of Brooklyn. He had also worked at stations in New Mexico, Florida, and Missouri.

January 1, 1970-
Bob Cole becomes the first underground rock jock in Nashville as he begins a regular progressive rock show on WKDA-FM. The show was featured nightly from 10 pm to 5 am. Cole’s show was a stark contrast to the automated elevator-type music that had been featured on the station since it went on the air in December of 1966. However, a huge fan base developed quickly for this underground format- and it became an instant hit! It also became an instant hit with advertisers trying to reach the teen market. One of the first to commit was Coca-Cola.

February 23, 1970-
Shock waves are sent flying through the Nashville radio community when it was announced that WKDA-AM, which had dominated Top 40 radio in Nashville for many years, was switching its format to country music. In making the announcement, WKDA General Manager Al Greenfield stressed the need for a 24-hour station to play the “very modern Nashville sound.” Up until this time, WSM was not committed to a full-time country format; and WENO radio, the only other country station in town, signed off every night at midnight. It was also announced that WKDA-FM would be formatting the station with the recently-introduced underground rock music. These major changes were set to take effect by late March.

[Timeline courtesy of Hudson Alexander and Aroundtheblock.us]

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WKDA "Good Guys" Survey from 1964

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   Hudson Alexander remembers Nashville radio on his own website. To read more about his recollections, click here!