WKRP in Cincinnati…WAGG in Franklin, Tennessee

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.

14 Comments

Filed under Nostalgia

14 responses to “WKRP in Cincinnati…WAGG in Franklin, Tennessee

  1. Niece Lash

    Oh my gosh! That was hilarious. I never knew about the movie being shot there. As for a goat and two tires, don’t need them but will put the word out in Spring Hill.

  2. mongoliangirl

    Oh how absolutely fabulous. I remember “Double-ewwwww Kaaayyy Arrrrrrr Peeee in Cin-sin-aaa-ah-teeee!” I also love it that WAGG, even under new call letters, sounds awesome. I’m so glad they’re still going strong.

  3. this is the end of an era for sure… great story…

  4. Mr. Carlson was the Maytag repair man. He recently passed away.

    I listen to the Howard Stern Show on Sirius radio and they constantly prank those Trade Times guys. It’s not polite, but it’s pretty funny stuff.

  5. Julie Fisher

    You have just had the greatest lineup of jobs of anybody I’ve ever known. How much fun was that one! Have you ever thought, “I could write a book”? How about it??

  6. Awesome. That sounds like the coolest job ever. I want to have a Trade Time where I live. I could trade a brand new set of sheets for a coffee grinder.

  7. How I loved that show.

    Better than Alice (or Mel’s Diner?)

  8. “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.”

    This cracked me up. I can just imagine the advertisers eyes popping out of their heads.

    I loved WKRP.

  9. Lash–If you find someone in need of a goat, tell ’em to tune in to WAGG.
    MG–I bet you’ve got some WAGGish stations out there Ozarkville.
    DF–Believe it or not, there are still listeners out there.
    UB–Howard Stern???? Ugh–cannot stand him. And I’d forgotten about him being the Maytag Repairman.
    Julie–Someday I’ll write about my job as a bingo caller at a fancy country club in Texas.
    Blue–Truth be told, I wish I still had that job.
    Ellie–Way much better than Alice.
    Dingo–Yes, I quickly learned that bulk advertising is definitely NOT a good thing.

  10. Great story!! And true…I was the newsman in this story! I had actually forgotten about the format change at the time, which was traumatic to this community. But you’ve also gotta remember that the news wouldn’t change, regardless of the music format.
    Let me add one funny little side-note: I recall being at the station one summer afternoon. The air conditioner had gone on the “blink” and we decided to just throw open the front door and let the breeze blow through there. Ditto for the door to the Master Control Room or studio, located just inside the front door.

    All worked well for awhile, until the neighbor’s rooster, from across the street, decided that he wanted to come up into the studio and make sure we were all awake with his loud “crowing.” It was so funny…me chasing this rooster out of the studio and back across the street to the Murdock’s house!!

    It would be hard to imagine this story in this day and time, for that “little street” out front, which hardly carried any traffic back then, is now known far and wide as Mallory Station Road, a major traffic artery to the Cool Springs Galleria Mall.

    And…by the way…I STILL work at this little station to this very day!! I still pull a part-time air shift every Sunday morning from 7 until 11 AM. In fact, I have worked for every owner out there (4 separate owner groups). Our current call letters are WAKM…we’re back to playing good ole country music (some of it on satellite from out on the West Coast)…and we STILL have Trade Time every weekday from 12:15-1:00 PM.

    If you’re in Middle Tennessee, give us a listen at 950 on the AM dial. We call it “radio close to home.”

    Cindy…your story was fabulous!

  11. Oh, how I loved WKRP. Too funny.

  12. I worked for two summers at my local small town newspaper and it was really easy to make fun of – small town Southern politics. I loved the job though. Loved it.

  13. Small town locally owned, or even not corporately owned are a hard thing to find these days. With Clear Channel and Cumulus and a few other conglomerates owning the AM and FM bands, its refreshing to know that a small station is still making it today. We are re-establishing a local station in our town, largely due to the LPFM window that opened. It gives communities the right to have a truly local station. If you travel in the US and listen to your car radio, have you noticed that your home town DJ is also the home town DJ for hundreds of other cities? Do you recognize the same commercials with the same voices? Do you notice how mechanical and computerized radio stations are? It’s a shame. Local stations at one time served local audiences, now they are simply a branch of a large national chain. I grew up in Columbia, and as far as I know, their local show called “Swap Shop” is still on the air. They don’t play country, unless they changed the format, and they seem to be doing what the local people want and need. WAGG was special to me as it was the first 4 letters of my last name. Everyone gave me the nickname “WAGG” because of that radio station. It may be WAKM today, but it will always be WAGG to me. If I remember correctly, they had a really decent signal even in the hills and valleys of nearby Maury and Hickman counties. A real bit of nostalgia here, thanks for the laughs,and memories.

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