Georgia Radio Stories
First Shift: How I Got into Radio
By Lisa Nicholas
Some people fall into radio because of relatives, some are in the right place at the right time, and some come out of the rain and hear the siren call of radio, but everyone’s story is different.
In college, Keith Connors heard a drunk guy banging on his door at midnight, begging for help. He didn’t even know there was a radio station at West Georgia College at the time. He was working at school as a Resident Assistant (RA) and also working two weekend jobs in Atlanta. The Pritchard Hall Dorm job required that he stay on the floor one weekend a month to help residents.
The inebriated midnight visitor needed help to find his way to the radio station on time for his 2-to-4 AM radio shift. Connors helped him walk to WWGC, a cool studio, he says, with its wall of albums and a microphone. He was told “any” student could get on a list for an on-air shift. Connors says when he got his chance, he just impersonated Gary McKee, Mark McCain, Night Train Lane, Jeff McCartney, and Dale O’Brien, all popular Atlanta deejays at the time. He says he didn’t know “crap about radio” but loved the music, played anything he wanted, and “had some fun making stupid comments and playing silly sound effects.” The station program director gave him the morning shift two days a week.
Connors says, “Forty-plus years later, still at it.” He says he got to work with some of those radio legends he grew up listening to and more along the way. Connors can be heard on the air at WQYK in Tampa.
Carmen Burns got her start in radio after she met the program director at V-103 (WVEE) in Atlanta through her ex-husband who was in media at the time. After her divorce, she called that PD, Scotty Andrews, who referred her to the sales manager who was looking for a secretary. Burns applied and was hired. Andrews had told her he would not let a “newbie” on the air, although she says she did have some part-time experience on WIGO-AM and had worked as a student at Georgia State University’s WRAS-FM. She eventually did some freebie work on weekends, creating entertainment reports for V-103, where she spent four years.
She then went on to work the early years of CNN Radio, then to CNN Headline News, and then to WXIA-TV.
Burns says, “I still did radio throughout...working as a host for PowerPoint Radio at WCLK, a national talk show that focused on issues primarily affecting African Americans, and I was a business reporter/anchor for the Atlanta Business Chronicle with reports on various local stations.”
These days, Burns lives in Los Angeles, working as a community outreach consultant for the L.A. County Office of Education’s Head Start and Early Learning Division.
Harry Beadle’s first job in radio was at WCLD in Cleveland, Mississippi, in the middle of the Mississippi Delta. He says, “Most folks who’ve been in the radio profession for a decade or two can tell stories about people they’ve met or things they’ve experienced that were so unexpected or out of place that they’re still as fresh in their memory as if they had just happened.” Beadle remembers this story just that way.
“Like many small-town radio stations in the late 60s, WCLD had an ‘all over the road’ format. Of course, we broadcast religious messages and church services on Sunday mornings, but we also had special live programming for a few hours on Saturday mornings. So did the country station on the other end of town, which featured local country bands trying to drum up ticket sales for wherever they were playing that night. If you have ever heard the Statler Brothers’ “Saturday Morning Radio Show,” you know how most of those groups sounded.
“On WCLD, ministers from local African American churches would come by to give short previews of their Sunday morning sermons. The programs were thirty minutes, so rather than deliver their entire sermon they would also feature church musicians and singers from their choirs. The musicians would bring their own instruments because no one still living could remember when the piano in our studio had actually been tuned.
“One Saturday morning, a minister arrived to do his program, but without anyone I recognized as a church musician or choir member. Instead, there were three men with him I’d never seen before. I asked if he planned to have any music and reminded him about the studio piano. He said they wouldn’t need it, that the men with him would be singing “a cappella” and he introduced them to me.
“When it was his time to go on, I did a live station ID and read the same introduction I read for him every week. And, as I always did, I turned the studio speaker down to ‘background noise’ level, because while a few of the local church singers and musicians were very good, and many were decent, more than a few were ‘fingernails on the blackboard.’
“The minister previewed his upcoming sermon for a few minutes, then, without introducing them, invited his guests to sing. They hadn’t sung two bars until I came up out of my chair, cranked up the speaker, and stared open-mouthed through the glass window that separated the studios. The minister saw me and broke into a big grin.
“After their first song, he did introduce them, and I instantly realized why they were so impressive. Turns out, a couple of the singers had grown up with the minister. They had remained close over the years, and he said when they performed anywhere near his church, they would make it a point to come by and sing. The rest of the half hour was taken up by these men singing. That level of talent live and up close was something to experience.
“I wish I could remember the names of the men the minister introduced me to, just to be able to say I met them and shook their hands. But I’m sure there was a huge crowd at his church the next morning to hear three of the original members of The Mighty Clouds of Joy.”
Today, Harry Beadle is retired and says he spends his time trying to keep up with his teenaged grandsons.
First Shift: How I Got into Radio
By Lisa Nicholas
All radio people started somewhere, whether it was a thriving metropolis or a tiny town. While still a teenager, I began at a small station in Morrow, Georgia, outside my hometown of Atlanta. My big brother misunderstood the call letters of WSSA, probably on purpose, and responded to my big news with “ASS Radio?” making fun of me, not the station he’d never heard of. He and my siblings even made a fake aircheck in my “honor” that included a singing recipe that listeners weren’t allowed to use unless they sent in money. Their slogan was WSSA: We Sound So Awful. We sounded just fine, although I called in a news report one day that had serious interference. The man on duty apologized for the “poor quality of Lisa’s report.” My young ego did think he could have worded it differently. Always a writer, I entered radio because a friend of mine worked at the station, and I was hired on trust. The humble beginnings of others in the world of radio were quite different.
Harold (Hal) Lamar plainly explains that the rain, not in Spain, is the main reason he entered the radio world. In 1969, he was looking for a summer job after high school and happened to seek shelter from a downpour at the Georgian Terrace Hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. After wandering around, he found himself in front of radio station WIGO. The deejay on duty that Saturday afternoon was John Persons, known as the “Jivemaster.” He looked up from the control board and waved at Lamar, who was excited to see someone he listened to working in his element. After a few trips back to WIGO to observe, Lamar changed his mind about a career in architecture and focused on radio. Lamar says,” I learned how to operate a control board, cue records, and the like. About a year later, I transferred from Morehouse college to Georgia State University when I learned the college had a radio station (WPLO). They were also in the throes of building a new station (WRAS) and going FM.” Lamar became part of the staff in 1970, and in 1971, WRAS-FM signed on the air. He became the second person to start a show, a short-lived shift, as he soon had to report for military duty.
He went to Vietnam as a public information specialist, hoping for a job in Armed Forces Radio but didn't get it. “While listening from my bunk in Danang, I sent one of my airchecks on a whim to the announcer doing the late-night soul train radio show. I thought the man who called himself the 'Nighthawk’ could put in a word. As it turned out, the Saigon station, flagship of AFVN needed a replacement--fast. I was hustled 400 miles from Danang to Saigon and wound up doing my first show the same night!” Lamar spent ten of his twelve months tour there in the Saigon studios.
After working in a number of cities across the country, Lamar returned to Atlanta, landed a job at WIGO, and was news anchor to Jivemaster, the man who taught him the radio game. Then came jobs at WAOK, WABE, V103, and KIS 104.7 “I spent some time writing copy for the Atlanta Daily World, The Atlanta Voice, and The Atlanta Inquirer.” Lamar currently freelances for The Inquirer and enjoys family time. “In January, I celebrated my 72nd birthday….and a fifty-plus year media career. Life’s been good.”
Macon’s Kenny Burgamy knew he loved radio but did not know anything about farming when he started his first job at WULF in Alma, Georgia. As a child, he was intrigued by WMAZ Radio’s morning show host, Bill Powell. “Hearing him and just the magic of what it was, to me as a kid, that’s what inspired me. I wanted to do that.” After high school, Burgamy attended the Columbia School of Broadcasting, getting an assist from the school in securing his first job. The rural part of the state made for an interesting experience. “I’d never been around a lot of agriculture, so I learned a lot about blueberries and tobacco.” He found himself covering the warehouse sales of tobacco and following the blueberry festival. After that job, he spent most of his radio career back in Macon, but he says that now, his life has come full circle. Burgamy is currently the Public Relations Director for the Georgia Farm Bureau. “I guess that first radio job prepared me for this.”
Her father prepared Pat St. Claire for her radio start. Dad had a jazz show on WKNR in Battle Creek, Michigan. The station needed a news announcer, so she became a daily fixture there at the tender age of sixteen. The staff was welcoming. “I just felt right at home. It was like what I was supposed to be doing.” Her friends thought it was cool. “They thought I was a local celebrity.” St. Claire credits a professor at Olivet College for her move south. “He told me to go to Atlanta. I interviewed at WBIE on my way to a vacation in Florida. I got the job and two weeks later I moved to Atlanta.” One strange yet standout moment from the early days, she says, was having to cover a nude, transsexual wedding. She even won a radio award for it. Although she has veered into public relations at times in her career, St. Clare says she’s spent most of her life in radio. She is now working on a podcast.
Sam Church also caught the radio bug early. For his tenth birthday, he took a trip to WQXI in Atlanta to meet Tony “The Tiger” Taylor and Patrick Aloysius Hughes. He was hooked. Eight years later he got his first job in Gainesville at WFOX, manning a giant automation system. Church says he owes his childhood friend Randy Reeves for that. From there, Church worked in stations from Arizona to Virginia to South Carolina. He is now a senior account executive for Summit Media in Greenville, South Carolina.
Kelly McCoy was planning to be a funeral director. Then a friend of his who was a senior in high school got a job at WKLY radio in their hometown of Hartwell, Georgia.
McCoy, a junior in high school, hung out with his buddy, realizing, “This is cool. You get to play music and talk. It’s kind of fun.” The General Manager asked him if he was interested in working there, so McCoy made a dummy air check which secured his first job in afternoon drive. “I would get out of band practice early and go be on the radio at three o’clock every day.” The strangest moment for McCoy was while driving when he first heard himself do a commercial on the radio. “I had to pull over. It was kind of embarrassing, made me feel kind of shy, and was kind of weird.” He says he did “everything” there, getting his foundation in radio, later moving to stations in Athens and then to Atlanta at WQXI and WSB-FM. McCoy says he’s “happily retired and loving life, working for some charities and doing the occasional radio work from his home.” His career in the funeral industry remains on hold.
Lisa Nicholas began her radio news career at WSSA Radio in Morrow, Georgia. She then worked at WQXI, WSB, CNN Radio, and WGST. While still on the air, she became a high school English, Speech, and Journalism teacher.
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