Radio History

Nashville Broadcasting "The Book"
Early Radio History
WCBQ Radio
WSM Radio
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WSIX Radio
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Television History
Nashville's Radio and TV Personalities
Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame
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Nashville's Early Radio Stations

   Nashville's very first radio station went on the air in May, 1922, when then 16-year old John "Jack" DeWitt, Jr., a high school student, installed a twenty-watt transmitter at Ward-Belmont School (now Belmont University). WDAA was born as a result of Doctor C. E. Crosland, Associate President of Ward-Belmont, realizing the potential advertising value of a radio station to the school. The station broadcast on an irregular basis for a year before the college decided it could not afford to continue financing its operation.

   In November, 1922, a 150-watt transmitter was installed at the Vaughn Conservatory of Music in Lawrenceburg, and was licensed as WOAN. A year later it increased its power with a new transmitter, selling its old one to a group of men who would found WDAD in 1925. But before that happened, there would be one more serious attempt to start a new station, as well as two amateur "club stations"[WABV in 1923 and WEBX in 1924].

   The first "serious" attempt to start a new station was WCBQ by the First Baptist Church. It operated at 1270 on the dial, and its call letters stood for a church slogan referring to the congregation's approach to church services: We Can't Be Quiet. The station was the  idea of W. A. Marks, a member of the Business Men's Sunday School class at the church. He looked on it as a means of expanding the outreach of the church through a radio ministry. Marks, who operated an auto repair shop, contributed more than $1500 to the project, and on March 18, 1924, a test program was broadcast. On Sunday, April 6th, during the morning service, the class presented the station to the church and moments later WCBQ made its official debut.

   Two years and a day later, on April 7, 1926, ownership of the station was transferred to a business partnership between Braid Electric Company and Waldrum Drug Company. WBAW (utilizing the initials of the new partnership---Braid And Waldrum) set up studios in the Capitol Theatre at the corner of Sixth and Church in downtown Nashville, and all it paid the First Baptist Church was $1.00 and an agreement to broadcast all of its services absolutely free. In 1927 the station increased its power to 5000 watts, and in 1929 the station was sold to Colonel Luke Lea, publisher of the the Nashville Tennessean, and the call letters were changed to WTNT.

   Nashville's second station of note was WDAD, which first took to the air in September, 1925 (one month before WSM). It was owned by Dad's Auto Accessories of Nashville, and broadcast on 1330 with 150 watts. Dad's owner, Lovell Smith, started the station because he thought it would help him sell automobile and radio accessories by advertising them over the air.

   The first station to stay on the air more than a few months or a few years was WSM, begun in 1925 by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. Its history is long and full of many interesting stories. The Grand Ole Opry, signing on with the NBC network, starting the recording industry that would lead to Nashville earning the nickname "Music City, USA" as well as launching the careers of Dinah Shore, Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, Francis Craig, Pat Sajak, Eddy Arnold and many more.


WLAC "Official Listener" Certificate


Allen Dennis was one of WMAK's most popular personalities.


   In the 1950's and 60's, rock radio reached new heights of popularity. Nashville teenagers had two radio stations to listen to, and they were often forced to pick one or the other to be their 'favorite.' The "radio wars" between WKDA, at 1240 on the (AM) dial and the "Home of the Good Guys" and WMAK, at 1300 and the "Home of the All-Americans," were in constant and on-going competition with one another. They constantly tried to outdo each other with their contests, prizes, station promotions, popular air personalities and even their on-air jingle packages. Their battles between 1957-1967 were legendary as both battled for the top spot in the ratings among Nashville radio stations.

Allen Dennis was one of the author's best friends in their early years in radio. Lee and Allen both worked in Birmingham in 1963, but at different stations.

WKDA "Good Guys" Survey from 1964

In 1964-65, the author was a "Good Guy" at WKDA, and can be seen at the bottom of this "Good Guys Survey."