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(Click to read a brief history of the first broadcasts of WGM. (Courtesy of Pete Konenkamp)
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1940: WGST covers world premiere of "Gone with the Wind" at the Loew's Grand
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Comic Arnold Stang doing beer commercial (1953)
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Mid 1950s WGST billboard
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DJ Bill Lowery (later music producer and publisher) with WGST contest winners 1949
Al Ciraldo, longtime radio voice for Georgia Tech football and basketball 
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DJ Tony "The Tiger" Taylor (Later a WQXI DJ) in the control room 
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The Story of WGST Newsradio
For 20 years, an Atlanta news and information powerhouse

By Eric Seidel

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AJC article on the launch

of WGST Newsradio  | 1/25/78

(Click to enlarge)

January 1, 1975, my first day as news director of WGST Radio, at 920 AM. It was just over a month since then-governor Jimmy Carter, about to embark on his unlikely campaign for the presidency, sold the state-owned station that was run by Georgia Tech, to Meredith Broadcasting.

WGST was modeled after Metromedia stations WNEW, New York, and WIP, Philadelphia. Full service with high-profile DJs and an active and vibrant news department.

WSB-AM Radio was the big dog then, even more so than today, commanding huge ratings, especially in morning drive, and owning the service elements of news, traffic and weather.

WGST’s General Manager was Dick Carr, who also was VP of Radio for Meredith. Dick came from the Metromedia family, having programmed WNEW and managed WIP.

After a false start with a two-man morning drive team, Atlanta radio icon Skinny Bobby Harper was moved into the morning from afternoon drive. Another well-known name, Tony the Tiger Taylor, handled middays.

The news department had many needs. First, it needed more bodies. Also, an infusion of energy and a greater presence in the community. We needed to create a brand and knew this would be a long, hard climb, especially with an inferior signal that even at full power failed to cover complete metro listening area.

In 1976, the station moved from the Tech campus to the heart of Buckhead. The new digs and modern equipment helped energize the station. But, that signal at 920 AM still weighted us down like an Albatross. It was especially problematic in the late fall, winter, and early spring months when we were restricted from powering up to our full 5kw until 7:45AM.

Despite that, in August  1977, GM Carr decided to take WGST from full service to all-news. The news and sports staff ballooned from six to about 35. Looking through the rear-view mirror, while a money-losing decision, converting to the all-news format set the stage for an important and successful rebranding of WGST.

We added a state network to enhance our news footprint. Richard Warner was hired from WSB to anchor morning drive. He eventually became the network manager. Known originally as the Georgia Radio News Service (or, affectionately as GRINS), the network put the original Georgia Network out of business and adopted its name.

I left WGST in August, 1980, moving to my hometown of Washington, DC. I had been at WGST for six years and six years later, had the great opportunity to return as station manager and working, once again, with GM John Lauer.

WGST, meantime had been morphing. Recognizing that Atlanta lacked the population size, and WGST lacked a signal to support an all-news station, tweaks were required. The station needed more cume and especially increased time spent listening. As a result, while all-news remained staples of the station’s two drive times, talk programming was installed in the middle of the day and maintained at night.

Over the years, a number of talk hosts were employed. Jane Simons at night, eventually replaced by Tom Houck who later moved to midday and was paired with Dick Williams. Neal Boortz was the featured name for a number of years, at 9-11 AM, and later 9-Noon. In the late 1980s, a new name came on the scene in syndication. Rush Limbaugh. Eventually, the Noon news block was supplanted by Rush to carry his live show Noon-3 PM.

Our all-news morning drive, anchored by Tom Hughes, had a loyal following. We learned that our aggressiveness in news had caught the attention of Atlanta’s TV news departments and their assignment editors. We were regularly monitored by TV and, we learned, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other radio stations.

Meanwhile, new corporate owners at Jacor saw an opportunity to move the station from 920 AM to 640 AM.

Afternoon drive, however, was a rollercoaster daypart, up at times, down at other times. It was clear the listener’s appetite for all-news as they headed home was limited. They wanted to be entertained. After a couple of false starts with Brian Wilson and Freddie Mertz, our third choice was the charm: Enter Kim Peterson, a/k/a The Kimmer.

The idea of LMAs, Limited Marketing Agreements, was starting to spread across the radio industry. WGST soon partnered with 105.7 FM for a simulcast with our AM, and suddenly we had a much greater footprint, especially on the north side, and more specifically into our hot zips in the counties of Cobb, Cherokee, and parts of Fulton.

In 1991, during the baseball season, WSB chose to give up its hold on the rights after many years. WGST got them starting with the 1992 season just as the Braves were beginning their unprecedented 14-year string of division pennants. The Braves and our AM/FM simulcast provided a huge infusion of cume, TSL, and increased our P-1 audience.

WSB retaliated by making an obscene financial offer to Neal Boortz in the summer of 1992, which he grabbed. His contract non-compete agreement WGST required him to sit on the sidelines for six months, until March, 1993.

As the saying goes, one door closes and another door opens. A listener called me about a young talk host he had heard often when traveling through Huntsville, Alabama. His name: Sean Hannity. I checked my box of audition tapes (no CDs yet), and there was a cassette from Sean. I listened to an hour, called in my Senior Talk Producer, Nancy Zintak, had her listen and told her to bring him in for an on-air two day audition.

Sean was young, still green. Indeed, I had referred to him as a “diamond in the rough” in a trade article, a statement he continually reminds me of today. Our first research suggested replacing him because he was tough on callers. Sean, you see, grew up on Long Island, and had been getting a regular diet of New York City hardcore talk radio. But it was clear he was right for our audience and that his future was bright.

Sean started on WGST in October, 1992. Nearly four years later, he came to my home to tell me some guy named Roger Ailes had contacted him, met with him, and offered him an evening primetime talk show on the yet-to-air Fox News Channel. Sean still had a contract with us. But, this was an incredible opportunity.

 

He left for NYC and served out his contract by doing his show on satellite from the ABC Radio Network studios in Manhattan. The rest is history, and at the time of this writing, Sean Hannity has become the longest-running talk host ever on cable TV, eclipsing the late Larry King. He also has been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, as has Boortz, for that matter.

And one other talk host who started his career at WGST, consumer expert Clark Howard, also is an inductee. Clark started doing a travel show on Sundays for us and when I told him I needed a good consumer show, he told me that was his specialty.

 

Again, in Clark’s case, the rest is history and like Sean, his career has flourished on both radio and TV locally and in syndication. Clark also has a very successful Web site. He’s quite open about saying he makes more of his income on that Web site than he has in broadcast!

WGST was named the Official Olympic Radio Station for the 1996 Centennial Games in Atlanta. Planning our programming and coverage took a couple of years. Our news and talk staff excelled. Even in the face of the deadly bombing, it was a very special time for WGST. Little did we know it would be our last hoorah of any significance.

I chose to leave the station at the very beginning of 1997 to start my own business. Sometime later, station management made a major format change to the short-lived, yet long remembered “Planet Radio”.

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Broadcasting Magazine ad 1977

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GM John Lauer with sales manager Rob Jackson in the background

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Falcons voice Brad Nessler

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Longtime engineer Mike Lawing

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Commentator Tom Houck and Nancy Johnson

Beloved producer Mary Hylback

GRNS news director Kirk Dorn

Photos by Richard Warner using the spiffy Kodak "Disc" camera

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News director Lou Giserman 1981

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Program Director Eric Seidel brought Sean Hannity to WGST from Huntsville, Alabama, was among the first in the country to begin airing Rush Limbaugh, and hired Clark Howard, who had no prior broadcast experience. Listen here to a 2002 WABE interview about changes in Atlanta radio.

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At the GRNS uplink/WGST transmitter: l-to-r Mike Lawing, Margaret Barker, Richard Warner, Bill Edge, Lenka Croom, Julian Clarke, Kirk Dorn, Kathy Dunn, Paul Stone | 1985 

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WGST print ad circa 1982 
Courtesy of Jeff Walker

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Pictured: Ted Vigodsky, Mimi Mees, Tom Houck, Steve Goss, Robert Owen, Tom Hughes, Don Dornberg, Lou Giserman. (1993)

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Reunion of Newsradio staff: Margaret Barker, Doug Nodine, Maureen McDaniel, Wade Medlock, Bob Coxe, Bob McCann, Ted Vigodsky

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Jacor announces purchase of WGST | WPCH | GRNS (March 28, 1995)

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Automation showing final :03 seconds before WGST switches to ESPN Desportes | September 28, 2012 | photo by Matt Cook

Interview with Atlanta Hawks voice Steve Holman. As Reporter Newspapers put it, "the longtime Atlanta Hawks radio play-by-play announcer hasn’t missed a game since early 1989, the year of the Berlin Wall’s fall, Nintendo Gameboy and the first-ever episode of The Simpsons.” 

Interview with SEC on CBS play-by-play man Brad Nessler, who served as a voice of Georgia Tech and Atlanta Falcons broadcasts, as well as WGST Newsradio and Georgia Radio News Service in the 1980s. 

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Wake Uo to the World-EQ-2_01WGST Newsradio 92
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WGST Newsradio 5th AnniversaryWGST Newsradio 92
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9/11 CoverageWGST Newsradio
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WGST Murrow AwardsWGST Newsradio courtesy Jim Cook
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WGST 1988 news promos courtesy Jim CookWGST Newsradio courtesy Jim Cook
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What a Time - The GST Olympic StoryWGST Newsradio courtesy Jim Cook
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Tom Hughes signs offWGST Newsradio
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The Kimmer (Kim Peterson) Feb 1997
1992 Neal Boortz "Flush the Lines"
WGST "News Monster" Top of the Hour 1993
ID by John B. Wells
June 1992 Ralph from Ben Hill
Sean Hannity on WGST | Nov 1994
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WGST's Clark Howard | The moment that changed his life (Saporta Report)
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6/3/2020 Switch to WBIN Black Information Network 

History of 920 AM Atlanta 
(Edited from Wikipedia)

WBBF 1110 AM

The station was first licensed by the U.S. Department of Commerce on 1110 kilocycles, on January 7, 1924; owned by the Georgia Institute of Technology, then known as the "Georgia School of Technology", it got the sequentially issued call sign of WBBF. Much of the initial station equipment had been donated by the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, which had closed its station, WGM, the previous July. This donation to the electrical engineering students was made to help familiarize them with the new technology used for radio broadcasting.

WBBF's debut broadcast was made on the evening of January 14, 1924, beginning at 7:30 p.m. with a ten-minute address by President M. L. Brittain. He lauded "the generosity of Editor Clark Howell and The Constitution". The Atlanta Constitution reported that he also "expressed the gratitude of the institution to The Constitution for presenting without cost to Tech the powerful broadcasting equipment." The program finished at 8:30 with fifty band students playing the college's fight song, "Ramblin' Wreck." The station's initial schedule was limited to a single one-hour program on Monday evenings. WBBF suspended operations in early June for summer vacation, before resuming in September.

 

WGST

On January 12, 1925, WBBF's call letters were changed to WGST (Georgia School of Technology). In 1928, as part of the implementation of the Federal Radio Commission's General Order 40, the station moved to 890 kHz. In April 1930, the school made an agreement with the Southern Broadcasting Stations, Inc. to operate WGST as a commercial station, while still under the oversight of Georgia Tech. WGST was a CBS Radio Network affiliate, carrying its dramas, comedies, news, sports, game shows, soap operas, and big band broadcasts during the "Golden Age of Radio."

In March 1941, under the provisions of the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA), stations transmitting on 890 kHz were moved to 920 kHz, where WGST and its successors have been ever since. During the 1940s, the studios and offices were located in the Forsyth Building in Downtown Atlanta. For many years the antenna was old-fashioned design using multi-strand horizontal wires, strung between two supporting towers on the Forsyth Building, across from Georgia Tech's campus.

In the late 1940s, WGST lost its CBS affiliation to WAGA (590 AM);[6] WGST joined the Mutual Broadcasting System and later became an ABC Radio affiliate in the 1950s.

WGST was the first station to play rock 'n roll in Atlanta in the 1950s. Radio personality Paul Drew made his debut on WGST with a weekend show "The Big Record."  Ray Charles' song "I Got a Woman" was recorded at WGST in the early 1950s.  In 1956, WGST moved next to the Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus. The station's facilities were built on top of the Coliseum's locker rooms, featuring two large studios for live performances, complete with grand pianos. They remained in use by WGST into the 1970s; starting in 1977, Georgia Tech's FM radio station, WREK, occupied most of the original studios, including one of the two big rooms, until 2004 when WREK moved to the current studios in the Georgia Tech Student Center.

 

Through most of the 1960s, WGST ran a Top 40 radio format, but by the late 1960s it changed to middle-of-the-road music, in an attempt to cut into WSB's audience. In 1971, WGST switched back to Top 40, and was billed simply as "92". By 1972, the station had changed to a Solid Gold Oldies format. In 1973, it adopted a mix of oldies and adult contemporary music. The station did fairly well in the Arbitron ratings (now Nielsen Audio), but it was stronger at night, particularly in the male 25-49 demographic, boosted in part when WGST became the flagship station for the Atlanta Flames hockey broadcasts. The station continued with its long-running Georgia Tech Football Network and Georgia Tech Basketball broadcasts.

As the city kept growing, it was difficult to hear the station in some of Atlanta's suburbs. That made it hard to achieve numbers comparable to ratings king WSB, which is powered at 50,000 watts around the clock. WGST ran at 5,000 watts by day, but dropped to 1,000 watts at night, to protect other stations on the frequency. In 1968, Georgia Tech put an FM station, WREK, on the air.  

 

In 1973, the Georgia Board of Regents decided WGST was "surplus property." In 1974, it was sold for five million dollars to the Meredith Corporation, despite opposition from alumni groups, members of the Georgia General Assembly, and even the Governor of Georgia. However, profits from the sale were used to upgrade Georgia Tech's student-run WREK, which in 1978 moved to the Coliseum studios vacated by WGST in 1975.

Under the Meredith Corporation, WGST tried to compete with WSB by becoming a full-service Top 40 station and hiring big-name DJs such as Chuck Daugherty, Sam Holman from WABC in New York City, Tony Taylor from WNBC, also in New York, and Skinny Bobby Harper, who came from Kansas City. But WGST's ratings languished, despite the high-priced talent Meredith had assembled. By October 1977, WGST switched to an all-news format. But it began adding some talk shows by 1980 and in 1983, hired Neal Boortz who already had experience hosting on Atlanta talk station WRNG (now WCNN). Boortz became the cornerstone for the WGST talk line-up.

In 1985, WGST was bought by Jacor Communications, which already owned easy listening FM station WPCH (94.9 FM).

History of 640 AM Atlanta

(Edited from Wikipedia)

640 AM signed on April 7, 1988, as WPBD, programming R&B oldies, and soul. The original owner was the Phoenix City Broadcasting company, headed by Michael Hollins, who, immediately after signing on, began making arrangements to sell the station. A proposed purchase by Jefferson-Pilot Communications, owners of WQXI and WQXI-FM, fell through. However, in October 1988, it was announced that Jacor Communications, Inc. would buy the station.

At this time, Jacor was operating WGST at 920 AM. However, WPBD had a better signal (50,000 watts during the daytime and 1,000 watts at night), a substantial increase in daytime power and signal coverage area compared to WGST's 920 AM facilities. Effective June 30, 1989, WPBD's call sign was changed to WGST and the talk radio programming on 920 AM was transferred to 640 AM., including talker Neil Bortz.

In 1992, Boortz asked WGST management for a raise but was turned down, and talk radio rival WSB hired Boortz. WGST then hired Sean Hannity, brought in from Huntsville, Alabama, to replace Boortz. He stayed at WGST until Roger Ailes offered Hannity a position on the soon-to-debut Fox News Channel in 1996.

WGST was also the home for Atlanta Braves baseball broadcasts, from 1992-1994, but in 1994, the station was outbid for Braves broadcast rights by WSB. WGST was also the home of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team until 1995, after which the Hawks followed the Braves to WSB. WGST was the home of Atlanta Falcons football in 1998 when the team made its first Super Bowl appearance.

From 1993 until 2000, WGST programming was simulcast on WGST-FM (now WBZY). In 1999, Clear Channel Communications bought out Jacor, including WGST, and as part of a Clear Channel corporate change, WGST switched to Fox News Radio in 2005.

On March 20, 2006, WGST's moniker became "Atlanta. Talk. Radio."

On September 28, 2012, at 3 p.m., WGST switched to a Spanish-language sports radio format, carrying the syndicated ESPN Deportes Radio Network.

Less than eight months after switching to Spanish-language sports, WGST announced it would return to an English-language talk format beginning June 3, 2013, featuring a lineup consisting entirely of syndicated programs.

On August 30, 2019, WGST flipped to conservative talk as 640 Fox News Radio with a revised lineup.

On June 30, 2020, the station flipped to all-news radio as Atlanta's BIN 640, one of the charter stations of iHeartMedia's Black Information Network — a multi-platform radio network serving the African-American community.  On July 6, the station changed its calls to WBIN to match the new branding.