Monday, April 30, 2018

"Soul on the Air" BREAKING NEWS - 1971 WAOK Airchecks Discovered!

Many thanks to GET ON DOWN reader David Hamel, who informed me yesterday that 8 HOURS of airchecks from Atlanta radio station WAOK have been posted on The Campaign for Independent Broadcasting website in the UK! It turns out that the CIB - active from 1968 to 1974 - advocated for commercial radio in the UK (at that time, British radio was controlled by the BBC, which actively went after "pirate" offshore broadcasters). In 1971, the CIB solicited samples from US radio stations to demonstrate how it would work, and WAOK sent a reel-to-reel tape to help with their cause. Last year, the tape was digitized! The story of the WAOK tape, and the links to the airchecks, are on the CIB's commemorative website.

The rediscovery and digitizing of the WAOK tape is a big deal, as (1) to my knowledge, these are the only WAOK airchecks that exist from the station's tenure as Atlanta's top R&B radio station (the station still exists, but its format is urban talk radio); and (2) outside of the discovery of over 24 hours of WVON airchecks a few years ago, it's the closest to a "day in the life" presentation of R&B airchecks that I know of. This is a treasure, to put it mildly!

The CIB's page does a great job of telling the history of WAOK and its colorful owner, Zenas "Daddy" Sears (pictured here), so I won't repeat it here. Instead, I'll talk about the airchecks themselves, or at least to the extent I've heard them so far (I only received news of this last night, and have only listened to two full hours and samples of the rest). These airchecks are spread across the WAOK broadcast days of July 28-29, 1971, from the "Wake Up Atlanta" show to the late-night broadcasts by "The Dream Girl," Zilla Mayes (only the station's early-morning gospel show is omitted). Because of the limitations of the tape, described in some detail on the CIB page, the fidelity is not ideal, and there are some moments where bad tape makes for some rough-sounding music, but the limitations do not overcome the awesomeness of the airchecks.

Despite the limitations of the tape, it's clear from these airchecks that 1971 was certainly a banner year for good soul music: Al Green's "Tired of Being Alone" has returned Green to the hit parade for the first time since 1967 and has launched his super-stardom; "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Spanish Harlem" by Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, respectively, are the newest smashes by those artists; James Brown's "Hot Pants" is the Godfather's new one (and his last #1 for King Records before he moved on to Polydor and further hits in the '70s); The Honey Cone's "Stick Up" is following "Want Ads" to the top of the charts; Rufus Thomas and Wilson Pickett are keeping the dancers grooving with "The Breakdown" and "Get Me Back on Time, Engine Number Nine," respectively; The Undisputed Truth's "Smiling Faces Sometimes" tells the unadulterated truth over a sinister groove; and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" is bringing a new, folky flavor to the R&B landscape. The minor hits and non-hits are great as well: Clarence Carter's "Slipped, Tripped, Fell in Love," Laura Lee's "Women's Love Rights" (which draws some snide comment from one of the DJs), Jerry Butler's "How Did We Lose It Baby," Simtec and Wylie's "Gotta Get Over the Hump," and many other cuts (including local 45s by Eula Cooper and Randolph Walker) fit in well with the better-known sides. The airchecks are unscoped, so in addition to the good music, there's the fabulous DJ patter that makes these classic R&B airchecks so much fun, along with local news and vintage commercials, including a James Brown ad for a health tonic, Coca-Cola spots featuring Aretha Franklin and her sister, Erma, ads for the movie "Shaft," and heavy promotion of the first-ever "Miss Black Teenage America" pageant, which was hosted in Atlanta on July 29. (Spoiler alert: June Kelly, of Irving, Texas, won the pageant.)

At this time, I don't have really any info on the DJs featured here, except that Zilla Mayes was a singer-turned-DJ who was the first black female announcer in Georgia when she stated on WAOK as the sensuous-voiced "Mystery Lady" in 1954. (Her identity was revealed a few years later, after which she was referred to as "The Dream Girl.") She remained on WAOK for nearly 40 years, playing gospel in the later years. I have also learned that Larry Tinsley is still with WAOK and its FM sister WVEE, doing gospel music shows. I will be working on getting more information on the others as time goes on. In the meantime, though, make sure to go check these airchecks out!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Soul of the Air #24 - Bill "Doc" Lee, 1965

"Highway to Heaven" Part One:Free Music - Music podcasts -

"Highway to Heaven" Part Two:Download Music - Free Audio -

"Highway to Heaven" Part Three:Podcast Hosting - Music podcasts -

"The Sunday Gospel Open House" (with Margarite Turner):Music File Hosting - Share Audio -

This Easter weekend is also the 55th anniversary of legendary R&B-turned-talk radio station WVON, which has been featured on this blog on more than a few times. From its debut on April 1, 1963, it became the city's top R&B station and ran second only to WLS in overall popularity at its peak. Though changing times toppled the station in the later '70s, the wise move to change to a talk format has kept the station alive and still on the air, now at 1690 on the AM dial in Chicago and online. Because it is Easter weekend, the station's gospel music programming is the subject of this post.

Perhaps in part because the Chess family owned WVON and recorded gospel music and sermons, the station's format included religious material. Bill "Doc" Lee was hired as the station's Religious Director in 1963 and he stayed with the station for thirty years. Lee hosted "Highway to Heaven" from 4:00 to 6:00 AM every weekday morning during the station's glory days, and also co-hosted the "Sunday Gospel Open House" on Sundays from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. (By the way, according to the Chicago Tribune obituary of Lee from 1998, it is said that Lee picked up the "Doc" nickname because his on-air prayers were credited with healing sick people!) "Highway to Heaven" featured Lee playing gospel music and providing patter, reading commercials and delivering news and weather in the same manner as the other WVON jocks. "Sunday Gospel Open House" was a live show, in which local gospel acts appeared in various locales to perform before a capacity audience: according to the liner notes to the Checker tie-in album for the show, the show was open to the public "but you must come early in order to secure a seat of your choice."

Featured here is most of a "Highway to Heaven" episode from January 29, 1965, followed by a portion of a "Sunday Gospel Open House" show from the following Sunday. "Highway to Heaven" is full of great stuff for discerning gospel fans: after Lee thanks "Deacon Pervis Spann" for his preceding blues show, he gets to work, featuring Chicago's legendary "Singing" Sammy Lewis in song and in prayer and playing The Staple Singers' original "Hammer and Nails," which had more explicitly religious lyrics than the better-known version, The Southwest Michigan State Choir's "Write My Name Above," and The Salem Travelers' "Help Me to Hold Out," among other tunes. On "Sunday Gospel Open House," Lee is joined by his co-host, Margarite Turner, at the Southmoor Hotel - where, as is emphasized by Lee, a brand-new Hammond organ has been installed - to present local gospel groups (it goes without saying there was no shortage of gospel quartets and other groups in Chicago, many of which never made the big-time despite having lots of talent) and to announce various gospel concerts taking place throughout the city.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I apologize for not getting more good stuff on this blog - I've got lots of stuff I want to share, but haven't got around to it. I hope to get new material on here very soon! Thank you for your continued support despite my slow upload schedule!