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”.

BBC Trashing 13 UK Medium Wave Transmitters

So the BBC has decided to turn off 13 of its Medium Wave radio transmitters.

The BBC is meant to be a public service, so in principle, saving money is good, but not if listeners are deprived from services. However, as MW use in Britain is probably pretty low now, the BBC will likely get away with it this time.

But some of the BBC local stations do occasionally split services to cover things like local sports events on MW only, leaving regular programs on FM. BBC Gloucestershire does this now and then, but I see they are not on the current list to lose MW yet.

I’m not sure how the BBC would get on removing national MW services, e.g. Virgin Radio possibly still has some audience on MW.

The Beeb’s decision is, of course, all to do with cutting transmitter running costs and the smaller but important costs of line-links and transmitter and mast maintenance.

Of course, the longer term issue is what is going to happen to the MW band? The obvious answer I wish for is to see the reworking of these frequencies using digital DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), which would give all sorts of possibilities … e.g. multiplexing of channels, an emergency alert system for the whole country and some small video content alongside radio.

But, so far, I don’t see any appetite for doing this. The BBC would probably say they could not accept the necessary capital costs and it would need the usual long-term blessing from OFCOM – and we know only too well that they are driven by political people at Westminster, who either don’t really know about the situation, or are driven by thoughts of avoiding expense … especially now when the Government faces huge capital spends reworking hundreds of high rise buildings, etc..

Is there an appetite from entrepreneurs to apply for use of some MW frequencies and start DRM? Somehow I don’t think so. Its not the same situation as in the 1960’s when there was a wide-open opportunity with a huge number of listeners equipped and ready-to-go with conventional MW sets.

It’s unlike India where the government has made the political decision and converted All India Radio to DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) without a huge number of receivers out in the population. They clearly live in hopes of building new receiver business in the country.