Restoring Soul Music Radio WAOK 1971 – A Day In The Life

Back in August 1971, CIB contacted several commercial radio stations in the US and other countries in order to better formulate its proposals to the UK government for the introduction of commercial radio on the UK mainland. CIB received several positive replies, including airchecks from WBZ in Boston Mass., WFIL in Philadelphia, WBAP in Dallas/Fort Worth, Radio Tarawa in the Gilbert & Ellice Islands and 2UE in Sydney Australia, to name a few.

CIB also received an aircheck tape from Ken Goldblatt, the Station Manager at WAOK in Atlanta GA – one of the very first U.S. radio stations to adopt an all R&B/Soul music format in 1956, thanks to DJ and part-owner, Zenus “Daddy” Sears.

This WAOK aircheck tape was a bit special for several reasons…

Zenas "Daddy" Sears

Zenas “Daddy” Sears

Zenas Sears (1914-1988) began his career as a disc jockey following his exposure to black music serving in the US Armed Forces Radio during World War II. When war ended in 1945, he worked at Atlanta GA radio WATL, pioneering African-American popular music broadcasting and in 1948 moved to radio WGST, where his show “The Blues Caravan” aired nightly.

In 1956 he became joint owner of radio WATL, changing the call-letters to WAOK and successfully pioneering the format to African-American popular music – Blues, Rhythm & Blues and Soul music. Zenas Sears also promoted and arranged live performances, featuring artists like Tommy Brown, Billy Wright, Chuck Willis and Little Richard.  Zenas Sears and WAOK were also responsible for the 1959 live recording of the best-selling album “Ray Charles in Person“. Last but not least, Sears was also an important supporter of the American civil rights movement.

In 1985 WAOK radio was sold and today it’s a News & Talk station.

So what about this 8 hour WAOK tape recording? …

Well, compared with other radio stations that sent us studio quality tapes recorded at 15 or 7-1/2 inches per second (ips), the tape from WAOK was recorded at only 1-7/8 ips – a low speed usually used only for speech recordings – on 4 tracks, so the sound quality is very poor … judge for yourself with this short extract

But if this WAOK tape lacks quality, it easily wins out on q-u-a-n-t-i-t-y, because the tape contains 8 complete, unedited hours of programming … all made on just one day …

So this memorable tape is like a day in the life of radio 1380 WAOK Atlanta … all recorded on Wednesday, 28th July 1971 and stretching into the early morning hours of the next day … here is the detailed program list as supplied by WAOK’s Ken Goldblatt.

Remastering & Digitizing …

Not having the know-how myself about how to rescue the recording quality, I asked my sound engineer and DJ friend in England, John Ker, for help. John, better known to many as John Harding from offshore pirate Radio Atlantis, achieved an excellent result – Thanks John :-) … and returned the tape to me, complete with 8 CD discs.
John says: “The tape quality is low, not Scotch brand although it is on a Scotch spool … the recording is at a low level on the tape causing the signal-to-noise ratio to be very low. The noise made the audio sound blurred. Initially I edited out clicks which were at a very high level compared to the programme material. Using Sound Forge I then sampled a fingerprint of what needed to be removed (in this case background hiss) taken from a short (less than a second) gap between commercials. Once the hiss was removed, a boost to the treble and then as they say in France “Voila”.”

I’m now in the process of uploading the contents of all 8 CDs so everyone can enjoy and re-live again the sound of Soul Music 1380 WAOK as it was back in July 1971.

Here are the details of these 8 CDs with links so you can listen online now …

Wednesday, 28th July 1971 …
Disc #1 07.00-08.00 hrs. “Wake Up Atlanta” with Burke Johnson standing in for Bob McKee.
Disc #2   11.00-12.00 hrs. The Jerry Thompson Show.
Disc #3   15.00-16.00 hrs. The Larry Tinsley Show.
Disc #4   16.00-17.00 hrs. The Duane Jones Show.
Disc #5   19.00-20.00 hrs. The Duane Jones Show.
Disc #6   20.00-21.00 hrs. The Doug Steele Show.
Disc #7   21.00-22.00 hrs. The Doug Steele Show.
Thursday, 29th July 1971 …
Disc #8   01.00-02.00 hrs. The Dream Girl (Zilla Mays).

And here is a copy of WAOK’s full programme schedule as it was in July 1971:

And finally, here’s the answer to the question:
How did Zenas Sears gain the “Daddy” nickname?
Well, the story goes that one evening, Sears was on the air at WGST, when a local hospital called to inform him that his wife had gone into labor.
Sears rushed off to the hospital with a disc still playing on the turntable. After it finished, all the listeners heard was the repetitive sound of a needle in an empty record groove for the rest of the night.
When word got around that Zenas Sears had abandoned his show to witness the birth of his twin baby boys, his Atlanta audience began calling him “Big Daddy” – later shortened to just “Daddy”.

How I Joined the Campaign for Independent Broadcasting

Hi, my name is Fred Bunzl, former Hon. General Secretary of the Campaign For Independent Broadcasting (CIB), and as I sit here at my desk in November 2013, I
shudder to think that it’s now nearly 45 years since I joined as a member of a group called the “National Commercial Radio Movement” (NCRM) back in January 1969.

I had often listened to the offshore (“pirate”) radio stations that ringed the UK between 1964 and 1967. Living in the south east of England at the time, I think my favourites were probably 259 Radio Caroline South and 266 Radio London, although I may have tuned in to Radio 390‘s soft music from time to time.

Then on 27th July 1966, the Labour government of Harold Wilson introduced the “Marine, Etc., Broadcasting (Offences) Bill to the House of Commons and on 14th August 1967 the Bill had become law.

Of course, for many years, it had already been illegal to listen to such unlicensed broadcasts but clearly the government felt uncomfortable with the prospect of prosecuting millions of music listeners who preferred the offshore pirate programmes to the BBC’s three alternatives which, at the time, were the “Home Service“, the “Light Programme” and the “Third Programme“.

The new 1967 law made it illegal for UK residents not only to have anything to do with the offshore stations, it also became illegal to write or say anything which might be construed as some sort of advertisement for an offshore station. This not only stopped any UK newspaper or journal from publishing any offshore radio program listings, it also stopped publication of books which did little more than record the history of those stations.

One example is “Pop Went The Pirates” by Keith Skues to whom I had written in 1968 asking where I could buy a copy. True to form, Keith Skues promptly replied (his letter today resides as a souvenir inside the opening cover of my copy of Keith’s book) stating that “…alas, it never got published. Perhaps it will eventually come out when there is either a change of Government, or at the introduction of commercial radio…“.

If Keith Skues’ book had been published in 1968 its author, publisher and printer might well have been prosecuted. But with the passing of time, the same book’s contents now appear to be regarded as “history” rather than “advertising”…

As we know, on 14th August 1967, when the Government outlawed the offshore pirate radio stations, the two Radio Caroline ships, anchored off Frinton, Essex and the Isle of Man, defiantly continued broadcasting. But by March 1968 Caroline’s money had run out and both radio stations were silenced by the Dutch tender company which had regularly supplied them because of unpaid bills.

So why did I join NCRM? The catalyst for me was undoubtedly the silencing of Radio Caroline in March 1968. It represented the end of UK independent radio and I felt the need to take action to remedy the situation, rather than sit back in my comfortable chair and wring my hands.

At that time I had a weekly subscription to a journal called “Record Retailer” and I remember that whilst the offshore stations were broadcasting, Record Retailer had regularly published each station’s “Fab 40” or “Top 50” record charts. They had also published some information about NCRM so I requested they send me address details so that I could contact them. This they did and I promptly received a letter and brochure from NCRM’s Hon. Public Relations Officer, Martin Rosen on which I acted to join.