Turning the dial: Seasoned radio man compiling history of one of Charleston's oldest radio stations
By Sully Witte
It was a historic moment when WCSC's first competitor signed on the air in 1939. No one knew just how important that day would be back then, but now, 65 years later, WTMA NewsTalk 1250 is still going strong and leading the market in local news coverage.
WTMA is Charleston's second-oldest AM radio station - and the only one that still has its original call letters. Through the years, very little on-air material was archived. As the "unofficial radio historian," seasoned radio personality John Quincy has had a difficult job. Because of his love for radio and his dedication to WTMA, Quincy, a former program director for the station, has volunteered to record the station's history through interviews, photos and recordings of station checks, jingles and news clips.
Quincy said that after the 60th anniversary, he realized that very little of the station's history had been preserved. He explained that in radio, a station's lucky to have saved something from the week before, much less the last decade.
It's been a long road, but he's managed to compile enough information to create a Web site, www.wtmamemories.com, which features memories from listeners, former employees and old recordings.
With his friend, station engineer Bruce Roberts, he made numerous contacts and found various bits of material.
He said the more information he got, the more he wanted.
His vision is to share these historic accounts of WTMA's early days so that radio listeners will learn that WTMA was never "just an AM radio station."
"We've been entertaining people and keeping them informed since 1939. No other Charleston station can say that nor can they boast the rich heritage that WTMA has. That's very important in a town like Charleston. WTMA has been here and done well for a very long time."
He's also produced 60-second vignettes with old WTMA jingles and on-air clips of old news coverage. These spots are currently being broadcast. Listeners have mistaken them for current news and called the station, concerned about what they were hearing.
In realty, those were clips from the 1960s.
Quincy has also produced promotions announcing the station's 65th anniversary, as well as the need for additional materials and historical recollections.
"I've heard over and over that 'it was lost in the fire, my wife made me throw it out or it was lost in the divorce,'" Quincy joked. "Even the John Rivers Communications Museum (at the College of Charleston) didn't have anything on WTMA." He says this is what intrigued him to begin the challenging task of finding everything and everyone ever affiliated with WTMA.
Through daunting research,
he's come across some interesting facts. For example, Ted Turner
owned the station at one time, and local celebrities such as Mike Hiott,
Frank O. Hunt, Bill Sharpe and Keith Nichols all took
a turn on the mic. The Rev. John Burwell of Holy Cross Episcopal
Church on Sullivan's Island was also a famed disc jockey at WTMA. Even
Alicia Rhett, who played India Wilkes in "Gone With The Wind," worked
as an announcer.
Live remotes will be done from Citadel Mall by radio personalities Richard Todd and Rocky D.
In addition a memorable
display will be set up featuring the timeline of the station and WTMA
memorabilia. There will be a cruise giveaway, and for those who donšt win
the trip, you'll have the chance to sign up to go anyway. Part of the cost
of that trip will be donated to a local charity. In addition, station
prizes will be given out.
WTMA was an NBC affiliate and thus carried NBC's slate of network programming.
WTMA's studio was located at Wagner Terrace and later in the Dock Street Theatre. The station relocated to the Orange Grove Road transmitter site around 1970. WTMA finally moved its studios and offices to the current Faber Place location in North Charleston in the Fall of 2001.
WTMA continued its Top 40 approach to radio until around 1981 when, like many AM Top 40 stations around the country at that time, it morphed into an Adult Contemporary format. It had some success with that for a few years but found major competition with WCSC-AM during that time.
In 1985 WCSC's FM station (WXTC) switched from beautiful music to become the market's first AC on FM. This move, along with Charleston listeners embracing the FM dial for their music fix, pretty much marked the end of AC on AM.
WTMA then experimented with a heavy R & B-flavored oldies mix and called themselves "Classic Rock, Roll & Soul." That low-rated format ran its course and WTMA became country around 1987 using a satellite feed from Transtar. All the DJs and newspeople were let go.
Dan Moon, who had
worked in Charleston radio in the 1960s and 70s, was lured out of radio
retirement and hired to be WTMA's Program Director and morning host.
WTMA's switch to a talk format in June of 1989 was the responsibility of
then owner Hugh Jett. He brought on national hosts that included
Rush Limbaugh, Bruce Williams and Dr. Joy Browne. Thanks
to Hurricane Hugo in September of 1989 and WTMA's extensive live and local
emergency programming anchored by Dan Moon following the disaster,
Charlestonians rediscovered WTMA and the station enjoyed success once
again. The station is celebrating 15 years as a talk radio station.
The station is owned by Citadel Communications.
Traditionally the target market for the station has been males age 35 to 64. Herold said the station is seeing more and more women and young people tuning in.
Hosts like Richard Todd, Rocky D and Charlie Thompson have successfully begun to draw in more females and even the younger generations.
"We're pleased with where we
are in the market," Herold said, "but we're busting out of the mold
because our current lineup is appealing to younger people who care about
the issues facing them today. I'd encourage anyone who hasn't listened to
tune over and see what we have. WTMA just might surprise you. Everyone at
WTMA is proud to have been a part of Charleston as long as we have."
For information on the schedule of events for the anniversary celebration, call Judy Herold at 277-1263.
Our thanks to Sully Witte and the Moultrie News for their permission to post the article. (This article also appeared in the James Island Journal the same week.)
By the way, Sully's grandfather Franz Witte worked at WTMA as an announcer, program director and salesman between 1940 and 1948.