Thursday, January 14, 2021

AM in the AM

Radio station WEAG-AM 1470 (founded in 1957) was an important part of my life as a kid - my dad had it on in the car every morning when he drove us to school (AM radio only, speaker in the center of the dash) listening to the Jerry Collins Show. In between big band tunes, Jerry (not even sure if I've spelled his name correctly) would stand on the sidewalk in front of the JCPenney in Midland Center and interview folks as they strolled by doing their shopping. [As a kid I was thrilled when, while shopping at JCPenney one day, I discovered on the front wall the mic jack that Jerry used. Yes, I was a weird kid.] By 1985 Walker Johnson had purchased the station, changed the calls to WMDR ("The Music Doctor") and gone Top-40. By the time that I was involved in the station (early '90's) the format was easy listening. Now its calls have again changed (WBCR) and it's a mostly satellite-fed far-right religious format. One of the more interesting programs during my brief tenure at the station was a Sunday morning time slot that was sold (very cheaply) to a local preacher - "Sounds of the Holiness, with the Reverend Charles T. Wilson". Rev. Wilson (of Louisville, TN) would show up in the studio accompanied by various and sundry members of his extended family - wife, children, mother, mother-in-law, infants - and he would preach and they would (in various combinations) sing a cappella. Occasionally Rev. Wilson would add his rather pitch-erratic basso to the vocal mix as the spirit struck him. I believe that musicologists would call these various vocal performances, er, "folk" or "primitive art." Rev. Wilson's preaching leaned towards the old-timey fire and brimstone - what I can interpret of it, that is. Between his accent, his, er, dental care issues, and his specific religious jargon, I can get about every second word, on average. What does slip through are an occasional gem that I've endlessly sampled for mix tapes over the last two decades - "A woman's place is to stay home and take care of the children, praise galeah" (sp?), "Charlie G-G-Goddard", "I praise God that my shoes fit", "I'm glad to be the husband of one wife/don't need two wives", "my Muver", and a dozen various verbal tics, Glossolalia, and random made-up words. When I was younger my friends and I found these tapes (I have several) endlessly amusing.* As an older (and in some ways more mellow) person I can listen and feel some more compassion for Rev. Wilson and his family and their sincerity (despite his atrocious religious beliefs). The family looked pretty much as you will probably imagine when listening - typical East Tennesee rural poor. Despite the low cost of the two half-hour time slots each Sunday (7:30 and 10:30) paying for the time was constantly a struggle - in this program you can hear him ask, as he often did, that cans and papers be left in front of his trailer in Louisville so that he can recycle them to pay for his airtime. With a name as common as Charles Wilson, you can expect that the internet doesn't turn up anything useful. I'll bet that he's still alive, though getting up there. If you know any more about him, please drop me a line in the comments.

 *OK, I admit, I'm still amused.