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”.

Ending UK Radio Monopoly – 1970 – The Crucial Year

Over the last few weeks we’ve been busy scanning and uploading National Commercial Radio Movement (NCRM) surviving documents and recordings covering the years 1967 to 1969. You can now view any of these items on our Archive page.

Now in the coming days we’ll be focusing on uploading documents for the crucial year of 1970. So why was 1970 crucial in the fight for the end of monopoly radio broadcasting in the UK?

Well, looking back, radio broadcasting in the UK started in 1922 with station 2LO initially using a small 100 watt transmitter on the top floor of Marconi House in London’s Strand. Later the same year the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) was created and although broadcasts during 1923-1926 included some sponsorship – for Harrods department store and newspapers such as the Evening Standard, News Of The World and Daily Herald – all advertising ceased in January 1927 when the BBC’s (Corporation) monopoly license was granted which prohibited all forms of sponsorship or advertising.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s the only way advertisers could reach the UK’s growing radio audience was via the popular English language broadcasts of offshore commercial radio stations such as Radio Paris, Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg (RTL), all of which broadcast from continental Europe. Many of these broadcasts were organised by the International Broadcasting Company (IBC) which was formed by Conservative MP and commercial radio pioneer, Captain L.F. Plugge.

But when the 2nd World War started in 1939, all these stations ceased broadcasting and when war ended none restarted in English except RTL which was heard for many years in the evenings only on 208 metres (1439kcs.).

So from 1945 onwards, the BBC’s monopoly was largely restored and so it was to remain until 1964, when Ronan O’Rahilly‘s Radio Caroline first came on the air, to be followed by Radio London, Radio 390, Radio Scotland and many others. By 1966 the UK was ringed by up to 10 unlicensed stations broadcasting from ships or ex-military anti-aircraft forts located around the Thames estuary which had gained a substantial listenership of people who clearly preferred the pirates’ programmes to those of the BBC.

It was over three years later, in August 1967 that the British government finally passed a law forbidding UK citizens from advertising or supplying services to the pirate stations and by March 1968 they had all gone.

To replace the very popular offshore pirate radio stations the then Labour government, instead of introducing alternative radio services to the BBC, a decision which would likely have received some popular approval, decided instead to dogmatically uphold the radio monopoly by requesting the BBC to introduce a new music service called “Radio One” which started in September 1967.

The Labour government also asked the BBC to start a series of local radio stations up and down the country to be paid for out of the radio listeners’ license fee. This was clearly unfair and wasteful because listeners in areas without any local station still had to pay. Also, for much of the time, these BBC local stations simply duplicated existing programmes which listeners could already hear by tuning to Radios 2 or 4! An obvious waste of taxpayers’ money as well as a waste of frequencies.

On the other hand the Conservative party had in March 1969 promised to introduce independent commercial radio and so end the BBC’s radio monopoly if it was returned to power at the next General Election.

This then was the prevailing situation at the beginning of 1970 with the Labour government, on one side, dogmatically opposed to any form of commercial radio and the Opposition Conservatives on the other side, promising its early introduction.

Then in 1970 two events took place…

First, on 24 March 1970 a powerful new offshore pirate radio ship called Radio Northsea International (RNI) started broadcasting from mv. Mebo II anchored in international waters, 5 miles from Frinton/Clacton-on-Sea, Essex.

Second, Prime Minister, Harold Wilson announced a General Election for the 18th June 1970.

The Labour Government, thinking they had finally “seen off” the radio pirates with their 1967 legislation, must have been – to say the least – annoyed at the appearance of RNI. On 15th April 1970 the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, overseen by the Minister responsible, Mr John Stonehouse, started unprecedented jamming of RNI’s broadcasts using a transmitter located at Beacon Hill near Rochester, Kent and later with an additional high power transmitter at Canewdon, near Southend Airport.

RNI changed their medium wave frequency several times in the coming weeks but each time they found the Ministry’s jamming transmitters following them. Eventually, on or about 13th May 1970, RNI settled on 1232 kHz (244 metres), a frequency allocated and used by Czechoslovakia. This improved RNI’s reception but was adjacent to the BBC’s pop music station Radio One on 1214 kHz (247 metres).

The proximity of the two stations resulted in the Ministry’s jamming causing interference to BBC Radio as well as to RNI, especially in Kent and elsewhere in south-east England resulting in many listener complaints. Apart from difficulties listening to Radio One, they were naturally annoyed about the cost because, as taxpayers, they were paying first to listen to Radio One and were paying again for the cost of the jamming transmitters! Not surprisingly, the Labour controlled Ministry brushed off this accusation in a letter to CIB dated 18th June 1970 (Election day) by saying that RNI “… proved to be the principal source of the interference“.

RNI responded to the jamming with pro-Conservative party political messages for the general election and during the week starting 13th June 1970 changed its name to “Radio Caroline International”.

Labour lost the General Election on 18th June 1970, the first in which the 18-21 age group were allowed to vote. Was RNI the cause of Harold Wilson’s 1970 General Election defeat? That’s a difficult question to answer which the BBC’s 2011 programme, “The Radio Election 1970” tries to answer. Analysing the election results shows that in the constituencies nearest to RNI the swing against Labour was greatest. Several constituencies in London and the South East were marginals and a swing of just 1% was needed to change the result. But elsewhere in Britain RNI’s broadcasts probably had little or no effect on the result.

The new Conservative government appointed Chris Chataway the new Minister of Posts & Telecommunications but to many people’s disappointment, the jamming did not stop until RNI returned to the Dutch coast on 23rd July.

Unlike his Labour predecessor, Chris Chataway, in a written reply to Conservative MP for Rochester and Chatham, Peggy Fenner, did concede that there had indeed been at least “a few genuine cases of interference to Radio One…“. Chataway also hinted at the true reason for the jamming of RNI when he said that: “My action in ‘jamming’ is the only way in which we can prevent the station establishing itself and incidentally prevent a spate of pirate broadcasting.”

At the opening of Parliament on 2nd July 1970, the Queen’s Speech confirmed that legislation for UK mainland commercial radio was to be introduced and the first stations, LBC and Capital Radio finally came on air in October 1973.