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”.

Geneva ex-Mayor Reveals – “I was a Pirate Radio Operator!”

As you may know, Geneva in Switzerland is known internationally for its famous fountain, its lake and it’s the place people often go for peace conferences.

Pirate radio is not usually on the menu of this small European city of less than 1/2 million people, a city almost totally surrounded by France. Geneva’s mayor is elected each year and from June 2007 to May 2008 the mayor was journalist and politician, Patrice Mugny, who now admits that he, with some friends, operated a pirate radio station in neighbouring France back in the 1970s.

In Patrice Mugny’s article in yesterday’s edition of Geneva’s local newspaper “Tribune de Genève”, he reveals some of his secret pirate radio exploits of yesteryear and raises the question of whether today’s abundance of free radio stations and the proliferation of social networks are really a positive step forward for democracy or not?

His article in French is here.
And for those who don’t understand French, here is a rough translation:

Before Social Networks: Pirate Radio!
We live in a frenzy of social networks, sometimes sending journalists back to the ropes. In the not-too-distant past, shortly after May ’68, in the early seventies, citizens were trying to have their voices heard over the airwaves. Which made them criminals. Geneva experienced such an episode.
We are in the 70s, free radio stations don’t exist. The airwaves are a state monopoly. We claimed the right to broadcast our own programs. One day, six of us created a pirate radio station.
We travel to Italy to find black-market transmitters. We meet people at the edge of the red line. Find ourselves in anonymous apartments, trade money for equipment, then dismantle the car to create caches for transmitters and return to Geneva.
Associations, especially feminists, have recorded tapes containing more or less subversive words. Our little group goes up the Salève (a mountain in France, extremely close to Geneva) and spreads the good news to Geneva from these heights. It becomes the event of the moment.
At 18.00 hours, radios are connected everywhere to listen to half an hour of the pirates. The newspapers talk about it. Swiss and French police are mobilized with the help of the PTT (the Swiss post office), which supplies the detection equipment. Helicopters and motorcycle police are engaged.
Our system is simple. We have, in advance, buried car batteries in a dozen sites to power the transmitters. Then the recorders, also scattered here and there. We go up and down the Salève on foot or hitchhiking, empty-handed. Once there, each time in a different location, the equipment is installed and the show begins. It should not exceed thirty minutes, so as not to give the police the time to find us and catch us by air. Then we bury everything, which we move later, and put our hands in our pockets.
Once or twice, it’s a close thing. A helicopter spots us as we return to a marked path. Remembering a chase in the forests of the Salève … We nearly got arrested twice.
In the end, not a single arrest. The adventure lasted a few months. Once I fell asleep at the side of the road. My friend left me and went on his way. The police passed by me several times along this road but did not see me.
We also tried and managed to hack television by disrupting a show. But we did not continue. Then France liberalized the radio space. One question among others: Is the plethora of the independent radio stations that exist today and the proliferation of Internet social networks a step forward for democracy?

More about Patrice Mugny here.