David Farrow's WTMA Memories
This page was last updated Sunday, July 14, 2013

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Noted Charleston author David Farrow has written about WTMA
in his memories column in Charleston's Post & Courier.
He graciously gave us his permission to post those writings here.

Mike Young of James Island brings up an interesting take on this radio business. While my friends and I listened to radio, we were entertained by its content. Young was entertained by his own agenda. He writes: 

I have reason to believe that I was a participant in the first "chat room". I didn't get my first computer until the late eighties and didn't go online until the early nineties, yet I was communicating electronically with several people simultaneously as early as 1959. It just recently dawned on me that I had ventured into cyberspace over 40 years ago as a teenager in sleepy little Charleston, South Carolina. No, I didn't invent a revolutionary communication device from spare electronics parts. Our family's electronic equipment inventory consisted of an AM radio, a black and white 17" TV, and a hi-fi record player that played only 45 rpm records. It would have taken MacGyver with an assist from Houdini to come up with a new messaging machine using those old vacuum tube powered dinosaurs. Oh yes, we also had a black rotary dial telephone. Only one phone, and it was on a "party line" with two other families. Eavesdropping on someone else's conversation was fun and informative but that wasn't the chat room I alluded to.

A sense of déjà vu kicked in when I recently logged on to a computer chat room for the first time. I felt instantly that I had done this many, many years ago. My stream of consciousness went something like this: name-it-and-claim-it … pick up phone … dial WTMA … get a busy signal … EUREKA!

"Name-it-and-claim-it" was a wildly popular game/contest that was played nightly by the WTMA radio station audience of the nineteen fifties and sixties. Several times each evening the DJ would announce that the next song would be a "name-it-and-claim-it", which would prompt every kid (most TMA listeners were 12 to 18 years of age) in the Charleston area to call the radio station. The first person to get through with the correct name of the song would win a gift certificate good for one free 45 rpm record. For those of you under the age of fifty, the 45 was the small record with the large hole. Some of you may have witnessed your tipsy uncle slipping one over each ear and announcing "Look I'm Mickey Mouse!" The gift certificates could be redeemed at the Fox, McClain, or Seigling music stores. My friends and I won a lot of records but the real fun was the phenomenon we experienced when the line was busy.

What happened was this: because of the large number of calls to the same number at the same time, those receiving a busy signal were somehow connected and could talk through the bomp-bomp-bomp. Some voices sounded like they were very far away while others were as clear as if they were on a direct line. Like today's chat rooms people played games and told fibs about their appearance and age (older not younger), but unlike today they usually got busted by someone they knew who was also "on-the-line". Because of the small size of the city, when you met someone on-the-line you would often find that you had friends in common or in some cases actually knew one another. It was also a much more innocent time so the threat of sex offenders and the like lurking about was unheard of and their adult voices would probably have raised suspicion anyway. Something that I just recently realized is that the folks at WTMA probably had no idea that they were hosting a big party every time they announced a name-it-and-claim-it game. Neither did our parents.

So you tell me. Was I in the first chat room? Were you there? Was this happening all over America? Would it work today? Hey, lets check it out. At eight PM tomorrow lets all call WTMA and see what happens. What do you mean we're too old? We could just lie about our ages again!

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Many may have wondered why I have focused on the media here in Charleston, lo these past few weeks. Ever since the proprietorship (it was not a colony to begin with), newspapers and pamphlets have influenced hearts and minds. Later on, radio took over; then television. These days one might wonder whether the public influences the media or the other way around.

Still, our memories are triggered by songs and commercials that remind us of who and what we were at the time they aired. A perfect example would be, "Hi, I'm Clarance 'Don't Turn Nobody Down' McCants of the Metropolitan Furniture Store…" Another would be Sonny Goldberg crooning (if that's the proper word), "They call me the old King Street singer, 'cause I sing whenever I'm blue." One of my favorite commercials of all time appeared on WPAL, which ran in part, "Right on. Right on, right on right on… Right on down to Leon's Men's wear."

As big an influence as television was to my generation, radio influenced the generation before. J. Douglas Donehue formerly of the Post and Courier wrote a book, "Charleston On The Air: A History of Radio Broadcasting in Charleston, S.C." On December 10, 2000, an article penned by Susan Hill Smith said of Donehue's book, "Who better, then, to record the history of radio in Charleston than someone who lived it, both as on observer and a participant?" Smith goes on to write, "His 124-page book focuses on the on-air personalities who many Charleston listeners came to consider as family.

There's Harry Weaver of WOKE, who signed off each evening with a poetry reading; beloved radio and TV weatherman Charlie Hall; Lona Ann Lacour, one of the city's best-known female DJs; and many others: Jack Gale, Booby Nash, Big Bill Ward, Russ Long, Wayne Poucher, Flo Myers…" In the article, Donehue goes on to say that there were too many to list; that he couldn't include them all. I remember some of the personalities like Booby Nash and the ever-lovely Lona Ann Lacour, but some were before my time.

Some of the more humorous accounts include: "When U.S. Sen. Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith told an unwelcoming crowd during a 1943 debate at College Park that he didn't need their support because thousands of radio listeners were tuning in, and "every one of them is going to vote for me." (Smith lost the election to former Gov. Olin D. Johnston.) The evening in 1947 when one of WCSC's more serious announcers was rendered speechless by a statuesque brunette who walked in during the news and took off her raincoat to reveal that she was wearing only a smile. Long's startling account of a crane barge lifting up a car that had plunged into the Cooper River after a section of the bridge collapsed."

Smith continues, "Donehue traces radio through it's many incarnations from the soap operas and news bulletins of the 1930s, to the Burger Beer "Dance Party" of the '40s and '50s, to the more recent days of segmented music formats and talk radio. In the back of the book, he charts the changes in station frequencies and call letters through the years - information that is not available anywhere else". How many out there remember the Burger Beer "Dance Party"? (Who remembers Burger Beer, for that matter?) In a conversation I had with Sissy Ehrhardt not too long ago, she told me of a radio dance party that took place high atop the Francis Marion Hotel back in the late 40s. I asked my generation who was on television. Now I want to reach back. What do any of you remember about local radio? I'd love to hear from you! Happy New Year!

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Dr. Eddie Collins puts a perspective on radio that I'm sure many of my readers had not thought about. Writes he, "I enjoyed your recent article about the history of local Charleston radio stations very much. Few of your readers will realize that many offshore sport fishermen from Charleston relied on WTMA to bring them in safely from many miles offshore in the '60's' through early '80's - before LORAN and GPS navigational systems were affordable or even existed.

"The WTMA signal tower is located near the Cosgrove Bridge over the Ashley River. A line drawn from the WTMA tower through the harbor and then between the jetties is close to the outgoing course taken by most offshore fishermen (about 120 degrees). If you know anything about handheld (portable) AM radios, you will know that when you turn the radio 90 degrees from an AM signal tower, the signal fades out. Before the advent of affordable LORAN and (now) GPS systems, Hundreds of offshore fishermen used to use this phenomenon to determine a return compass bearing to make the trip back to Charleston. When you were ready to call it a day and were far beyond the sight of land, you'd turn on your portable radio, tune it to WTMA (which was strong back then), and turn the radio until the signal faded out. You would then turn the boat to head along the line of the radio (with signal faded). You would then note the compass bearing and make the trip back on that heading.

Outward bound in the mornings, once at a certain distance from Charleston (we'd go by water depth back then), we fishermen would troll back and forth and would often encounter a significant northerly current. These two variables made making the trip back simply at 180 degrees from the outgoing bearing very unreliable as to the return trip. We simply were rarely in the same position at the end of the day as when we put lines out early in the morning.

Those of us who were good at it (and I was), could tell by the return compass heading and faded signal whether we were north or south of the jetties. If we determined the return bearing was 300 degrees, we were pretty sure to come right between the jetties...depending on about how far out we were. If the return bearing was less than 300 degrees we knew we would be coming in north of the jetties and would have to compensate our course a bit to the south. Same for bearings more than 300 degrees (we'd be coming in south). Simple geometry. Moral of the story: WTMA probably saved lives of many offshore fishermen out of Charleston for years.

Vicki (Hewitt) Causey asks "Do you remember WTMA's "Name it and Claim It" in the early '60s? (I believe at the time their station was downtown next to the Dock St Theater.) I remember "Name it and Claim It" when I was 10 years old. I recognized the song "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In" by the T Bones) I was thrilled to have won the contest and had my mother drive me up to Kooky Dave's Records that day to claim my free record. Boy was I excited! On the way home, we got in a car accident at the intersection of the end of Calhoun and Lockwood, which at the time had no lights and only an Exxon Station and a C & S Bank. I cracked my head open in the accident, but I got a cool ride in a police car and they saved my "Name it and Claim It" record---a 45 rpm!

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Walker Coleman was kind enough to share some of his ill-spent youth with us. Coleman relates, "One day in the spring of '55, I overheard some older schoolmates whispering and snickering about the audacious new "Hound Dog" show on radio station WTMA which played music so raunchy that you had to listen on the sneak. I vicariously tuned in the following Saturday evening at 10:00 pm and was both surprised and delighted to experience the joyous, uplifting Rhythm and Blues music I had heard earlier in my childhood on station WDIA in Memphis, Tennessee. Here it was prominently accompanied by a hoarse voiced disk jockey, Jack Gale, screaming in at the top of his lungs while drums furiously pounded and a hound dog periodically let loose horny howls and moans at the moon. Many of the songs definitely were raunchy-especially the Annie series and almost anything else by the Midnighters as well as "Baby Don't Drop It", "Rocket 69" as well as others. These tunes were interspersed with some of the most outrageous commercials imaginable, many in jive rhymes. One I recall, even today, was for a shoe store where you could get your basic "leopard skin shoes with purple lizard gizzard laces that glowed in the dark".

"Hound Dog exuded an irreverent attitude that every red-blooded wannabe teenage rebel could adopt as their own since it was guaranteed to totally repulse their parental units. The show quickly became mandatory for many of my contemporaries--and, yes, most of us had to keep the radio volume way down or use other subterfuges such as overnights with friends to fake out disapproving parents, many of whom actually forbade offspring from listening to this "crude music". Often we even managed to stay awake all the way until 2:00 am sign off. I later learned that Gale was the overall WTMA Station Manager and experimenting at the time with several different broadcast formats to improve ratings.I can remember Gale telling us one night that the music he played would henceforth be called "Rock and Roll" by him and many of his fellow DJs.

"I joined the official Hound Dog fan club and still have a square bumper sticker with its black border encompassing a bright orange circle in which a crudely rendered white canine with black spots musically howls; "I'm a Rock & Roll Hound Dog". This was secured at Carolina Instrument Service on upper King which sold the records played on the show, and which we called the "Hound Dog Record Shop".

"The Hound Dog show experiment on WTMA was over by year's end, however. Other local stations had started regularly programming the music and I would listen each evening and morning to "A Train" on WUSN and then spend the afternoons and Saturday mornings at WPAL with Big Bob Nichols' "Blues and Boogie Show" as he would sophisticatedly articulate "I can see you out there". In fact, for the next several years the radio at East Bay Playground was tuned to this show every afternoon and Nichols himself often broadcast live on Saturday mornings from the front window of Fox Music House on upper King where one day he was visited by none other than Augusta, Georgia, neighbor James Brown and his Famous Flames who arrived in their equipment saturated, eight-door, stretch white Chevy limousine with bright flames painted all along the sides. By now there was even a local television show playing some R & B, the late evening Talent Parade hosted by eloquent D. Jack Moses.

"Later we expanded our "must-listen" list with station WAPE ("Big Ape") received directly over the Atlantic from Jacksonville, Florida. This list was finally rounded off in the late '50s with pirate Station WXERF beamed illegally from the Mexican boarder side of Del Rio, Texas where Wolfman Jack was just getting started, and had the most outrageous of all the shows ever heard prior to the current day array of crude radio morning personalities."

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In the heyday of the Fork Restaurant you may not yet have been on solid food. The Fork was located at the confluence of the east and west bound lanes of traffic near the foot of the Ashley River Bridge. Just a bit east of the Fork was the Patio Drive In, a traditional car hop tended eatery. It was at the Patio, the site now occupied by Wendy's, where WTMA (Tiger Radio) broadcast from a roof mounted glass booth.

"Ron Brandon, who, lives in Charleston sent me a copy of your article on The Hound Dog Kingdom of January 16, 2003. What a surprise and thrill to find that somebody remembered that from back in 1955. It's been almost 50 years. More amazing is that Mr. Coleman, who wrote you, still has his Hound Dog bumper sticker. Your article brought back so many memories. It is now in my WTMA scrapbook along with many other photos and articles. I had a marvelous 50 years in radio, and now reside in Palm City, Florida where I have a digital studio in my home, and do national radio commercials via an ISDN line all over the country. Have recently done commercials for Stokes Toyota in Charleston and Cumbee Chevrolet in Monck's Corner. I did mornings on WTMA from 1955 through 1957 and had a wonderful time. Also rented The Folly Beach Pier during the summer and had shoes every weekend featuring acts like Pat Boone, Connie Francis, Fats Domino, etc. Thanks again for your article, it was quite a surprise. I correspond with Mel (Boyd) Smith, who said you're a friend. Best, Jack Gale P.S. If you'd like some laughs, check out my web site...JACKGALERADIO.COM"

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