A few nights ago I happened upon an old friend…WKRP in Cincinnati. Sadly, there is no Youtube video of the original opening, or I would link to it.
WKRP was a half hour sitcom about a hapless radio station. In the premiere episode, the station changes formats from easy listening to rock…changes brought about by the new program director, a hot shot from out west. Other characters include the sleazy ad salesman, Herb Tarlick; the owner, Mr. Carlson; and the blonde bombshell receptionist played by Loni Anderson.
One reason this show always resonated with me is that I first saw it right before I started a summer internship at Franklin’s local AM station, WAGG. In a move that paralled that on WKRP, I started the day after a format change from hard-core country to pop. It was not a move that the locals took lightly.
Let me set the stage. WAGG was a throwback to the 50s. In fact, everything there was so old that this scene from Coal Miner’s daughter was shot there–because the equipment in the control room was authentic to the time Loretta Lynn was roaming the countryside, pitching her singles.
My job was answering the phone, greeting visitors, writing public service announcements and creating the daily log which showed the schedule of ads. I wrongly assumed on my first day that all the comercials for banks should be run back-to-back. Ditto clothing stores and car dealerships. Oops. But I’m a fast learner and soon got the hang of scheduling. And if a store I particularly liked got better placement, no one was the wiser.
We had one owner, an ad saleswoman, 3 DJs, a news/weatherman and me. Our “accuweather” consisted of him standing on the front steps and watching the clouds. Once we had dead air because he was out front chatting with me when he should’ve been broadcasting. On my first day, a man walked in (he had ridden a bus down from Nashville) and handed me a 45 he had just recorded…it was called “The Day the Buffalo Jumped Off the Nickel.”
Like I said, I started the day after the station changed formats and I fielded some pretty nasty phone calls. A few people were downright ugly and I did the best I could to placate them. However, there was one feature that the new owner didn’t change: Trade Time.
Trade Time was a daily feature, from noon to 1, as I recall. All morning long, I would take down requests that were phoned in for the midday DJ to read. A few samples:
“Earl on Carter’s Creek Pike has two tires and a goat he’d like to trade for riding lawn mower. If anyone out there needs a goat in exchange for a riding lawn mower, please call _________.”
“LuAnn in the Little Texas community has an almost brand new set of towels she’d like to trade for a color tv.”
“Buck from Nolensville has an outboard motor he’ d like to trade for a goat and two tires.”
It was the most popular hour on our station and today, nearly 30 years later, it’s still going strong.
It sounds like I’m making fun of WAGG, and I guess that in a way, I am. It was an amusing summer, to be sure, but I did get to write a lot of PSAs that actually got produced–and that meant that my intership was more productive than many.
Local small town radio stations are few and far between now. This one is still on the air, though with different call letters. I wish I could say I listened, but I don’t. I just don’t need a goat.