A Good Neighbor Is Born
As the New Year of 1947 approached, rural Rutherford County had a dramatically different feel than that of today. Approximately 8,000 persons populated the entire county. It was a big thing for the county to get its first radio station! Word is that on the night of December 31, 1946, throughout the county people were tuning their radio dials. At 10:00 o'clock the static suddenly vanished and a strong new signal appeared. WGNS rang in the New Year of 1947. A popular song of the late 40's included the music goes round and round and comes out here. (above photo: one of WGNS first engineers Glenn Snoddy, circa 1947) Here Glenn tweaks the controls that are in racks of equipment along the walls and makes everything come out clearly here! In the early days of radio there were no miniature transistors or solid-state circuits. Large tubes that generated much heat caused all of the equipment to be large and complex. With the innovation of transistors and miniaturization, equipment in today's radio studios is much smaller, more dependable and reproduces sound with perfect life-like fidelity.
WGNS continues to broadcast on AM 1450, but in 1995 expanded to include the Good Neighbor programs on TV channel 11. WETV's antenna is on top of the WGNS' tower in the Murfree Spring Wetlands. This Class A television station broadcast the same sounds you hear on the radio, but you can see the host talking with various community leaders. In March, 2007 WGNS put its hometown focused broadcasts on FM 100.5 and FM 101.9. When you add to that this internet site, there are five places to connect with Murfreesboro through your Good Neighbor Station...that's what the G N S in our callsign stands for.
Sports is a vital part of WGNS...both yesterday and today!
Just like today, local sports was extremely popular on WGNS. This 1947 basketball broadcast is from the gym at Central High School. (L-R above photo: Ray Duffey, Hollis Harris who started "Movies Under The Stars" locally, and his mother) One of WGNS' first play-by-play announcers was Ray Duffey. His thick Boston accent made him really stand out. Ray became so popular that he became the first Director of the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department. Beside him is Hollis Harris and Harris' mother. That same year, Mr. Harris started the free Movies Under The Stars as the first function of this city's parks department. Hollis was the first employee of the parks department. It was several years before Ray Duffey left WGNS to become the first director of Murfreesboro's Parks and Recreation Department. Over the years, WGNS has devoted much of its airtime to sports. We were the only source of Blue Raider sports for many years. Now, since MTSU has grown to have this state's largest undergraduate enrollment, MTSU games are heard on a network of stations in other mid-state cities. WGNS continues to be the Heart of Tennessee's Blue Raider affiliate. Since 1947 WGNS has included live play-by-play of the local high school games. Through the efforts of such greats as Monte Hale, Dick Palmer, Jeff Jordan, that has expanded dramatically to include some elementary and middle school sports. Now, Bryan Barret continues the tradition. And of course, since 1981 WGNS continues to be your Atlanta Braves station.
Sewart Air Force Base was the site of many remote WGNS broadcasts
The Smyrna Air Base was once a major source of employment in Rutherford County. It was created by a War Department order issued on December 22, 1941. That was just a few months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This 3,325 acre air base was mainly used by B-24 bombers. It became the home of the U.S. Air Force's 314th Troop Carrier Wing. In 1949 the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing took over, and then in 1966 the 64th Troop Carrier Wing/Tactical Airlift Wing called the base home. On March 25, 1950, the Smyrna Air Base was renamed to honor fallen native Nashvillian Allan J. Sewart, Jr. On that date the massive air base became known as Sewart Air Force Base. To entertain the troops, some of the most popular musicians did shows there. WGNS broadcast these programs "live" over the Liberty Radio Network. Although that network is not around today, it was the largest network of radio stations in the nation at that time. Here Johnny Long's big band plays their big hit A Shanty In Old Shanty Town (above photo). Other popular bands broadcast live over WGNS included Ray Anthony, Les Elgart, Neal Hefti and others. John Hood served as the emcee of these nationwide broadcasts that were originated by WGNS. Sewart Air Force Base was a vibrant part of this community for almost 3-decades. It was a sad day on May 31, 1971 when Sewart Air Force Base became a memory.
John Hood on WGNS
Hood became one of the better known personalities on the Good Neighbor Station. Above photo: In the WGNS French Shop studios circa 1950 (L-R) Dot Records founder Randy Wood and John Hood. He also emceed broadcasts of Spelling Bees from Central High School and covered the famous General Douglas MacArthur visit to Murfreesboro. MacArthur''s second wife, Jean Marie Faircloth, was from Murfreesboro. By the way, MacArthur's second wife, Jean Marie Faircloth, was from Murfreesboro. After a career in banking, Hood was elected to serve the areas as a state representative for several terms. Sewart Air Force Base was a vibrant part of this community for almost 3-decades. The complex was transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers. It later was run by the Nashville Metro Airport Authority, and then a newly formed Smyrna-Rutherford County Airport Authority took control. An industrial park was developed where the former air base once stood, and firms that needed air transportation moved to Smyrna. This massive airport remains the third largest in Tennessee. Only Nashville and Memphis International Airports are only slightly larger. The huge airport helped to attract the Nissan Motor Manufacturing plant to Rutherford County in 1982. The rest is history...Rutherford County is now the fastest growing county in Tennessee and one of the fastest growing in the nation.
John Hood is a big hit on WGNS
John Hood is remembered for his Man On The Street interviews (above photo L-R: Slick Davidson, Hood, and John Nelson). John would go to the streets of Murfreesboro and ask the public its opinion on various issues that impacted our community. After a career in banking, Hood was elected to serve the areas as a state representative for several terms. By the way, WGNS Talk Radio brought Man On The Street back to the airwaves. It appears to be even more popular these days. In fact, with the addition of the radio station's website (www.WGNSradio.com), the Good Neighbor Station makes it possible for listeners to interact with each other. An open line of communication between the public and community leaders is what WGNS is all about.
WGNS finds a home in the French Shoppe
WGNS came on the air at 10:00 o'clock Tuesday night, December 31, 1946. Initially, offices, studio and transmitter were in a small two-story block building that was near the station's giant self-supporting 328-foot tower. Once on-the-air, engineers focused on constructing the main studio on the Historic Murfreesboro square. Since Cecil Elrod was the station's first owner, the studio was located in the mezzanine of that family's business. Elrod's French Shoppe, an elegant lady's apparel store on the east side of the square, soon became the radio station's home. (above photo) The year was 1947 and Bob Holland is at the control board in the studio above the women's apparel store. He was a student at David Lipscomb in Nashville. We don't know the name of his guest. If you recognize him, let us know. In the 1960's the radio station moved three blocks off the square, to its present location at 306 South Church Street. The new home was built specifically for the radio station. In the years after the move, you could visit the Elrod French Shoppe and still see the glass enclosed studios on the mezzanine. The difference being the rooms now displayed women's fashions.
Listeners fell in love with Monte Hale
Without question, Monte Hale won the hearts of sports enthusiasts. After a long battle with cancer, Hale died. To honor this broadcaster, the arena at MTSU's Murphy Center is named The Monte Hale Arena. In addition, a street that connects with NW Broad Street was named by city leaders as Monte Hale Drive. The Elrod's owned WGNS until 1960. At that time Bill Vogel and Monte Hale became the Good Neighbors. In 1971 a group of investors from Nashville operated AM 1450. In 1984 Bart Walker brought local ownership and operation back to WGNS. It has been a family-run broadcast business since that time. In fact, they have owned and operated WGNS almost as long as the combined ownership of the Elrod's coupled with Vogel and Hale.
What Goes Around
Ironically, the man who gave Bart his first job in radio got his start at WGNS. This picture (above photo) shows Bill Barry when the studios were on the square. The year was 1947, and the Good Neighbor Station was playing Woody Herman, Harry James, and Tommy Dorsey, along with soap operas, and remote broadcasts from businesses around the square. In fact, at that time the majority of businesses in Murfreesboro were located on the square. There are stories of how people would come to town on Saturdays and meet friends, shop and stroll until midnight. Many of the merchants remained open until then to service the customers. During this period of time, the Good Neighbor Station had some well-known persons get a start here. Community leader and retired State Representative John Hood, Carl P. Mayfield who has a nationwide following on satellite radio, Mr. Boots, Boots, Boots Jerry Brown, well-known local musician Carl Tipton, nationally known announcer John Young who still loves WGNS so much that you hear him on various program introductions, sportscaster Monte Hale who has a local street and the basketball arena at MTSU named in his honor, along with an endless list of many other leaders who went on to become well-known lawyers, school superintendents, and other positions. Walker recalls, "When I first took over management of WGNS, people would stop me and say they used to work here. It almost became comical. It seemed like everyone used to work at WGNS." Bob Holland was another popular WGNS DJ during the time when the station was on the square at Cecil Elrod's French Shoppe.
Grand Ole Opry D.J. Of the Month
A stream of famous people walked up the stairs in the French Shoppe and were interviewed on WGNS. The local radio station created numerous local celebrities. Paul Howell (above photo) does his popular DJ show from the French Shoppe. His country music show each weekday afternoon earned him the honor of being named the Grand Ole Opry's D.J. of the Month. Howell was also very technically savvy. He served as one of the engineers at WGNS during this time frame. Paul worked with late Cecil Elrod, Ray Duffey, Hal Christiansen and Carl Tipton. He was also at WGNS when Jerry (Pee Wee) Brown and retired State Representative John Hood were on-the-air. Today the radio station still reports news, obituaries, local civic and church events in a manner to which you would expect a Good Neighbor to operate. Advances in technology have made equipment much smaller. In the old days, you could heat the radio station with the equipment. Today's solid-state designs put out very little heat and are extremely energy efficient. New technology enables WGNS to take listeners to remote locations never possible in the earlier years, plus the sound is so clear--it sounds as if you are still in the studio.
Popular Vocal Groups Grow On WGNS
In the early days, many of the music programs broadcast over the Good Neighbor Station originated in the studios located on the mezzanine of the French Shoppe on the east side of the historic Murfreesboro square. In the late 40's and early 50's, the Gospelaires (above photo) filled the airwaves with music every Sunday night. WGNS still devotes most of Sunday's broadcast schedule to religious programming. From 6:00 each morning until noon and again from 6:00 to 10:00 each evening, local religious programs travel from the station's 328-foot tower that is still in the Murfree Spring wetland on the corner of South Church Street (highway 231-South) and Broad Street (41-south).
Bart's Early Days
Above photos: Bart started in radio at age 14 (above left, WFMB Nashville); and right is 20 year old Bart at WLAC-FM. In 1957 Bill Barry bought the first of many Nashville radio stations that he would own. In the summer of 1958, a kid about to enter high school came by for any kind of job. Bart started playing easy listening music and Broadway shows every Saturday night on WFMB. That was the only FM station on the air in Nashville at that time. It was on the fifth floor of the old Third National Bank Building. The Nashville Public Library had a Sunday classical music program on this station. There were very few FM radios, and the library would check-out small table model FM radios just like they did books. Those were interesting times. Back to the thought of everyone must have worked at WGNS. The radio station must have been like a magnet, because even Bart worked here in 1965 while he was a student at Middle Tennessee State University. Bill Vogel and the legendary Monte Hale ran the station at that time. In those days WGNS was the rock'n roll station that Murfreesboro's baby boomers grew-up listening to. Those were the days of the Fun Land below Jackson Heights Shopping Center, Frost Top Root Beer, the rock'n roll'n canopies at Shoney's where everyone would cruise, Starlite and Marbro Drive-In Theatres, James K. Polk Hotel, Goldstein's Department Store, Don's Kitchen Korner, Ole Taylor's Candy Kitchen, Roscoe's Hot Dogs and so much more. Share your favorite memories of Murfreesboro. E-mail them to memories@WGNSradio.com, and if you have old photographs-please send them too.
WGNS...a part of our community's life for many generations
L-R above photo: WGNS VW mini-van is the station's remote studio on wheels in the 1960's. Here Broadus Davidson, unknown man, Jerry Brown, and Neal Lancaster do a Veteran's Day broadcast. WGNS has a history of doing "live" broadcasts from local businesses and from special events in this community. In those days the equipment used to broadcast away from the studio was large and very heavy. In the 1960's WGNS carried this equipment in a VW van, and you know how popular those vehicles were then. The Good Neighbor Station took listeners everywhere (and still does). Jerry Brown (holding microphone) did mornings on WGNS for almost 40-years. Watching is local radio sales legend and motivational Dale Carnegie instructor, the late Neil Lancaster. Today's technology enables WGNS to do studio quality remotes not only from ballgames, but from moving Rover buses, walking along parade routes, taking the station wireless to do "Man On The Street" opinion poles around the historic square. Now the complete remote studio can be clipped to your belt, and you are wireless using the internet to get your program back to the radio station and have studio quality at the remote location.
In the early days, it was like taking a trip to do a remote broadcast. Engineers would take heavy pieces of equipment that used phone lines to get the program back to the studio. Not only was it difficult, it always sounded like it was from a remote location. The Tennessee Plowboy Eddy Arnold (above photo) does a live radio show on WGNS (circa 1955) from the Music and Hobby Shop. This family business was on the corner of Vine and South Church Streets. To the right of Eddy Arnold is business owner Lomas Moffett (wearing hat). Lomas had the Music and Hobby Shop, while his wife, Martha Ann Moffett, ran her family's Rion Flowers & Gifts. Lomas was a friend of Jim Reeves and was able to get many musicians to visit his store, and WGNS would broadcast from there. It's interesting how things come about. Lomas met Martha Ann while he served the Army at Camp Forrest in nearby Tullahoma. During the World War II maneuvers, soldiers from Camp Forrest would practice in this area, because the terrain is reportedly similar to the European War Theatre. After the military, Lomas received his undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State College (MTSC) and a graduate degree from Peabody. He taught at Smyrna High School and later opened the Music and Hobby Shop. So what happened to that business? Lomas sold the music portion to MTSC music professor Joe VanSickle. Lomas kept the hobby part, which included toys and model airplanes. VanSickle later sold the music (phonograph records, sheet music and instruments) to a business-minded college student who worked there, Margaret Burton. She and her husband Marvin, ran the Music Shop from that location until moving to allow the 15-story City Center to be built in 1989 on the corner of Vine and Church Streets. The Music Shop then moved to the corner of West College and Walnut Streets, and stayed in business for many more years. (Special thanks to Liz Moffett Graves and her husband Spencer for sharing their memories of the Music and Hobby Shop. By the way, Spencer is a local legend too, as he owned and operated the Camera Shop that was located adjacent to the old Batey's Office Supply.)
WGNS has always been known for taking its listeners to places of interest and doing a "live" radio show from those locations. The same is true today. The difference is that the technology enables WGNS to take listeners "live" anywhere in the world with a 3-pound piece of battery operated equipment that you carry in your hand. For example, when Murfreesboro started the Rover Bus service in 2007--WGNS did a one-hour talk show from the moving bus. Plus, listeners were able to phone-in and talk with city leaders who were on the bus. This equipment was really useful when the devastating April 10, 2009 Good Friday tornado plowed a 23-mile path of destruction across Eagleville, Murfreesboro and Lascassas. Bryan Barrett walked along with Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and listeners could instantly hear the governor talking with persons in the impacted area. Unlike remote broadcasts in the 1940's through 1990's, these all had the quality and clarity of being in the studio. By the way, we are not certain about the name of the record shop where the late Eddy Arnold was singing, so if you know please e-mail to news@WGNSradio.com
WGNS Takes Listeners To Where It's Happening
WGNS is "live" all around the Heart of Tennessee. This 1965 photo shows (Above photo L-R: WGNS announcers Phil Stanley and Jerry Pee Wee Brown). They are broadcasting from the Historic Rutherford County Courthouse on the Murfreesboro square.
Swap'n Shop: longest running show in county!
For a radio station to truly serve a community, it must be a mirror of the life and opinions of that area. Since 1947, Swap'n Shop continues to be one of the most popular broadcasts on the station. In addition, political leaders and people known as movers and shakers guest daily on talk shows. The public has the opportunity to call and get answers to questions. We earlier mentioned Man On The Street. Those are still popular. This is another way local residents share their opinions on local issues. This approach allows the radio station to learn about people's concerns. Major topics then have long-form talk radio shows have specialists giving in-depth information. Often a series of programs with several experts give special attention to local issues. Today's broadcasts allow listeners to call-in with questions that concern them. We have had many younger listeners comment on how much they enjoy this new approach with the WGNS Man On The Street.
Carl Tipton and Midstate Playboys
In the forties, fifties and sixties Carl Tipton and the Mid-State Playboys did a "live" radio show on WGNS from a different local business every day. Carl's WGNS radio show is at Buddy Norris and Stanley Leverette's Mobil Oil gas station that was on the corner of Maple and Lytle Streets. (Photo L-R) Floyd Leonard, Carl Tipton, John Hood, George McCormick, Ashby Cotter, and Jerry "Pee Wee" Brown. This was a remote broadcast on WGNS around 1948. As you may remember, Jerry is the one who created the old Hub Store's popular commercial "boots, boots, boots...". Carl Tipton was a "ball of energy". He would take half of the day to visit local businesses and sell them advertising in his daily "live music show". Then he would personally transport the heavy remote broadcast equipment to a different store each day, and set it up. He and his band would do the live WGNS broadcast from a different store each day. Carl's broadcast was one of the big hits on the "Good Neighbor Station". Photo below: Carl Tipton and the Mid State Playboys. Can you identify these people L-R? Let us know at news@WGNSradio.com
Murfreesboro Extra Value Days
WGNS, the Good Neighbor Station, has always focused on promoting the importance of shopping with local businesses. In the 1950's, Murfreesboro Extra Value Days had a parade that went around the square. It was natural that WGNS was in the parade. This photo shows the float, and how popular musician Carl Tipton was a part of the entry. (Photo ID L-R) A very young pistol pack'n cowgirl Karen Elrod, popular WGNS personality and musician Carl Tipton, DJ and guitar picker Jerry Brown, Eugene Leonard on fiddle, and a very young Floyd Leonard on bass fiddle, cowgirl Susan Elrod and radio sales legend Neil Lancaster. Since 1947, WGNS has promoted the importance of patronizing family run businesses. On-the-air comments note that everyone is proud to have new corporate firms locate here, but it is the local "mom and pop" businesses that give our community the feeling we all enjoy.
More 'Boro Memories
The Princess Theatre on College at Maple Streets (where the Pinnacle Bank is now located) was our avenue to adventure. We would ride our bikes to the Princess and park them in the racks out front. Mr. Blue would greet us and also make certain that we all behaved. Can you believe...Cokes were a dime and a Sugar Daddy that lasted the entire show was only a nickel. (Photo Below) This is how the Princess Theatre looked in the 1940's. The front of the Princess Theatre in that era was decorated with colorful orange, green and white tiles. This 1944 photo was made during World War II when there was a shortage of rubber, gasoline, aluminum foil and other items. The car parked in front of the theatre is promoting saving fuel. You guess the gas mileage of the vehicle and win a free ticket to the Princess Theatre.
A Fire Did Much Damage To The Princess Theatre
Princess Theatre on College at Maple before fire
There was a fire at the Princess Theatre in the early 1950's. When the old movie house caught on fire, the projection room was destroyed and there was smoke damage throughout the building. When the building was renovated, the look of the structure totally changed. As you can see from the 1953 photo, the orange, green and white tiles are replaced with a combination look of brick and stucco look.
Princess Theatre after fire
Way Back...The 1913 tornado that hit the 'Boro
The 1913 tornado devastated many areas of Murfreesboro. The above photograph from Shacklett's Photography shows the East side of the town square. Even back then business diversity must have been important. Notice the combination furniture store and undertaker. A block away, it heavily damaged First United Methodist (Church on College and North Church Streets). And another block over, the storm destroyed First Presbyterian Church (corner of College and Spring Streets). The only part of that structure that remained unharmed was the choir loft and giant pipe organ. The congregation squeezed into that small space and worshiped the following week.
More History Below (From the 1950's):
Do You Have Old Photos?
Please share any old photo memories about Murfreesboro and WGNS. Email us your thoughts and pictures today, firstname.lastname@example.org