Thursday, June 9, 2011

6.9.11 Hero of the Day: WTAB

Name: WTAB 1370
Age: 57
Occupation: country music station
Last Seen: Tabor City, NC
Awarded For: doing something they should have done eons ago


In the world of corporate radio run by computers and digital-quality materials, it's nice to find that diamond in the rough that breaks from tradition.

I'll admit, modern country music sucks. It's too-watered down and I feel that it reaches an audience whose IQ is below room temperature. Then again, that's me. But in the world of terrestrial radio, those aforementioned diamonds in the rough do play that twangy Nashville sound.

Years ago here in Michigan in the town of Harrison sat The King of Kountry Music, The Mighty 92 WKKM. The station never broadcasted in stereo and the majority of the station's music was on scratchy old vinyl. The station did broadcast 24 hours per day, but it simulcasted Saginaw's 98.1 WKCQ overnight. However, the station was sold to Xavier University in Cincinnati and became a public radio station, only to be sold again, flipping back to country as WTWS 92.1 The Twister. Thing is, they now broadcast in stereo and their playlist is mostly newer music.

Here in Grand Rapids, local radio is defined by stations owned by formerly-bankrupt Citadel and Townsquare, and yes, Clear Channel. Out in Ionia sits WION "I-1430", which is automated adult hits most of the time, but it's locally owned and programmed. The station even pays tribute to its legacy by airing some of its old jingles from the 1960's (the one with the galloping fiddle's my personal fave). WION only produces a fair signal to the Grand Rapids region, but it's a fun listen from time to time.

But in the world of broadcasting, I think I've found another diamond, and it took a few prank calls and Casey Kasem to find that station.

That station is 1370 WTAB in tiny Tabor City, NC, pop. 2,500. Tabor City is borderlined to Loris, SC, pop. 2,000. WTAB signed on for the first time in 1954 and is owned by 75-year-old Jack Miller and his family. His son, Richard is the station's morning man.

The first time I've heard of WTAB, it was during an old 1970's episode of American Top 40 on Sirius/XM's 70's on 7 during his usual "heard on great stations" segment. I wondered if they were still in business, and yessir, they are and streaming on the web at

However, a few prank phone calls changed everything.

Miller - known to his fans as "The Colonel" - is the host of the station's Swap Shop program, which airs 8-10 a.m. daily. On the program, listeners call in to buy, sell, trade or give away their items. One day in 2009, Miller started getting weird calls. In the beginning, things were hunky-dory to him, but the calls started getting more and more annoying for his tastes.

One call was from a man posing as a woman thanking God for everything, even to move her bowels. Another was a caller listening to the show with the volume all the way up, creating a delayed feedback, another was from another man posing as a woman running from the mailbox and one involved exploding barbecue grills.
Of course, Jack got smart and got caller ID.

Suddenly, one of Jack's listeners did her research and found out that it was none other than Sal Governale and Richard Christy from the Howard Stern Show. As a youngster growing up in Kansas, Christy made many prank calls to his local station airing Tradio, and now that they're on satellite radio, there's no limit to what they can do. But, poor 'ol Jack had his revenge, and even celebrated.
Thanks to the popularity of Sal and Richard's prank calls to the Swap Shop, Jack Miller is a celebrity in his own right. Even his catch phrase, "IDIOT!" is in rotation in Fred Norris' sound machine. I've even done my research on WTAB and listen to it time-to-time, especially their Sunday morning Gospel show hosted by local motorcycle dealer Rodney Inman. On his show, the slow Inman plays staticky old records from old Gospel choirs.

Other WTAB staffers include program director Bob Pait, who hosts a midday country and gospel music show and the rustic-voiced Lloyd Gore, who has been at WTAB since 1969.

So, what makes WTAB heroic? Simple. They just recently did something that most other country stations have done for years. For the first time ever, starting Memorial Day weekend, they started broadcasting 24 hours per day. Despite being licensed with 5,000 watts day and 109 watts at night to cover both Tabor City and Loris, the station had been broadcasting only 1/2 of their licensed hours, from 6 a.m. in the morning to 6 at night. It's not totally known why they shut off at night, despite the fact that they also stream online, plus smartphones having internet capabilities in these modern times so a man in Grand Rapids can listen to the Twin Cities' Favorite at any time.

But, it's nice that The Colonel has finally allowed his station's lights to be on, even if nobody's home. After all. there's another station in the area that they're fighting against: Loris oldies outlet WLSC 1240. Oddly enough, WLSC is owned by a man who also had his run-in with Stern (kinda): Banana Jack Murphy, who replaced Howard's show in Myrtle Beach many years ago. WLSC has a similar schedule to WTAB's, albeit with oldies.

Even if around-the-clock broadcasts have always been around, it's nice that this station has finally found it important to broadcast 24/7/365. Plus, they even play the Dixie Chicks, years after many other country outlets dumped their music because of Natalie Maines' anti-Bush outbursts. Oh, and the Millers are (surprise!) Democrats.

Maybe not all country music fans - or station owners - are idiots after all.


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