WGNS' Bart Walker to be inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame

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On Wednesday's (11/25/2015) morning's radio broadcast, Doug Combs and Skip Woolwine surprised Walker with news that he would be inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame at their annual awards ceremony in May, 2016.

Everybody at WGNS seemed to be aware of what was going-on except Bart. Even Rutherford County Trustee Teb Batey knew of the surprise appearance. Without notice, Doug Combs walked-in and made the surprise announcement...

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Voting for Career Inductees for the Class of 2016 was held in October of this year . Walker was the only inductee to receive unanimous votes from every Hall of Fame Board Member. He will officially be inducted at their annual banquet in May, 2016.

Making the announcement to Bart Walker were Doug Combs and Skip Woolwine, both longtime radio personalities in the Nashville market.

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About Bart Walker (BIO):

Bart Walker (born July 15, 1944 in Knoxville, TN) says, "Radio broadcasting is like a disease, once exposed to it--you have it for life."

In 1957 Walker built a low-power AM radio station when he was in the seventh grade. Belle Meade Theater Manager E. J. Jordan invited the youngster to interview greats like Fess Parker, Pat Boone, Diane Baker, Guy Lombardo and others who would come to the theater and sign the "Wall of Fame" in Nashville, TN.

That same year, popular top 40 Nashville WKDA DJ Ronn Terrell (Terrell Metheny, now retired in Arkansas) encouraged Walker by allowing him to pull news from the teletype on Friday nights, write news stories, and occasionally cover a story that was in the downtown area.

During the summer of 1958 (just before Walker's freshman high school year), Bill Barry gave him his first break with a Saturday night job on WFMB (105.9 MHz in Nashville). He played show tunes and dance music during the five-hour shift.

FM was so new that the Nashville Public Library would check-out Granco table radios, just like books, Granco radios so the public could hear its classical music broadcasts on the station. WFMB was the only FM station on-the-air in Nashville at that time.

Life and Casualty Insurance Company purchased the radio station from Barry in 1962, and 105.9 MHz became WLAC-FM and increased power to 100,000 watts. Program Director Mark Prichard hired Walker to do mornings (6AM-noon) on the powerful station. The studios were in the glass enclosed observation deck of the L&C Tower, 31 stories above Nashville.

Walker commented, "What a dream job, working sometimes in the clouds and watching the sun rise daily over the Cumberland River."

Prior to each morning's radio show on the FM, Walker would stop by WLAC-AM and get the news and weather from the teletype. Nashville broadcast legends Herman Grizzard and Roland Wolfe ending their broadcasts, and talked with Walker over coffee. This was on-the-job training at its finest. Later, longtime personality Ernie Keller joined WLAC-FM and he too shared his knowledge.

In the fall of 1965, Walker realized the importance of a college education. He left WLAC-FM to study journalism and English at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. While there, he worked at Murfreesboro's WMTS and WGNS, which he now owns. Much time was also spent at WBJF in Woodbury, where he was program director until graduating from MTSU in 1968 (now WBRY). WBFJ

After receiving his BS degree, Walker returned to Nashville where for the next three-years, he was in public relations with the Tennessee Department of Education as well as a local advertising agency.

By 1971, Walker was more than ready to return to radio. His first boss, and mentor, Bill Barry hired him to operate a new big band format station that he had built. WAMB came on the air that February with 250 watts. Barry was able to jump it to 5,000 watts, 10,000 and eventually the maximum AM power of 50,000 watts.

He continued to learn from broadcast legends, because WAMB's "blow torch" signal attracted Snooky Lanson, Bob Sticht, Buzz Benson, Ken Bramming, Bill Britain, Jack Gallo and other well known personalities. Over the next fourteen years, Walker's on-the-job training was priceless.

In 1984, Walker took the plunge into ownership. He and Weight Watcher's head Ray Kalil purchased WGNS in Murfreesboro. He later purchased Kalil's share in the station.

Walker built WGNS on the theory established by its first owner, Cecil Elrod. The callsign (GNS) stood for Good Neighbor Station, and the news content, programming, and the way advertisers and listeners were treated, was as if it was done by a "Good Neighbor".

WGNS continues to focus on local news, high school and college sports, local government meetings, plus leaders like the mayor, police chief, judges--all have their own talk radio shows on WGNS.

During natural disasters (tornadoes, floods, ice storms, etc.) along with other emergencies, WGNS stops regular programming and devotes 100 per cent of its on-air time to informing the public. This has earned the station the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency's "Station of the Year Award" several times, along with acclaims from the National Association of Broadcasters and recognition by the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters.

Walker strongly believes that a station, its management and personnel must be heavily involved in the local community. This is evidenced in Walker having been Chairman of the Board for Rutherford County CrimeStoppers, the Heart of Tennessee Red Cross Chapter, Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, President of the Murfreesboro Rotary Club, and Elder with Murfreesboro's First Presbyterian Church. He has also served on the boards of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, St. Clair Street Senior Center, Leadership Rutherford, and Committee On Ministry with the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.

Walker has been honored with the highest award given by the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, its Distinguished Service Award, and Leadership Rutherford's Pinnacle Award.

He noted that his wife, Lee Ann, has encouraged him from when they were married in 1967, including helping with advertising sales and promotions at WGNS. Their daughter Kristin helped with on-air duties for many years, and son Scott has learned all facets of broadcasting and is now President and General Manager of WGNS.

Walker's love for radio and persistence, has not only helped WGNS, but other AM broadcasters across the United States. He commented, "It made sense for AM licensees to be allowed to put their programming on FM translators."

In 2004 he applied for an FM translator and received the license. However, the Commission did not approve his request to place WGNS' programming on that FM translator. Regular trips to Washington, visits with our legislative leaders--all proved unsuccessful."

It wasn't until December, 2005 when the U.S. Senate approved President George W. Bush's nominee, Deborah Taylor Tate, of Tennessee to serve an unexpired term as Commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission that things began to change. Not only was Mrs. Tate from Tennessee, but she grew-up in Murfreesboro.

In January, 2006, she was a guest on WGNS and shared how growing-up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and attending public schools, prepared her for one of the most powerful positions in the nation.

After the broadcast, Bart talked with her about the issues facing AM broadcasters. He told her that noise and interference on AM signals was running listeners away. The static was being generated by fluorescent lights, power line hum and other sources of interference. Walker noted that FM broadcasters had long been allowed to use FM translators to fill-in weak signal areas, and he hoped the FCC would allow AM licensees to do the same.

Within a few months, Commissioner Tate had the rule-making procedure moving forward. The National Association of Broadcasters supported the idea, and WGNS received Special Temporary Authority (STA) to use an FM translator. On March 1, 2007, WGNS began translating its AM signal on two translators, making it the first AM station in America to utilize this new service.

Commissioner Tate's work has enabled many AM broadcasters to better serve their communities with local news, high school sports, weather, natural disaster information and more. The FM translators have been a life saver for AM broadcasters, who had been suffering from dramatically increased interference on the medium wave band. And all of this began with a cup of coffee at the Good Neighbor Station.

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