Santa Monica, CA — Little known fact: When I was 16 years old, my first job was working as the Weekend DJ at the local radio station in my hometown of Hodgenville, KY (pop. 2,500). As it turns out, my first job was an important one in my career path.
I am sure I was just terrible: Squeaky teenage voice. Southern accent. Not much personality.
And yet, I know for a fact that I had a lot of fun. What a great first job!
Radio Days, indeed.
The year was 1979, and back then, the station, WLCB Radio 1430 AM, was located on the town square, and the DJ booth had windows that faced both the square and the major thoroughfare, Lincoln Boulevard. You had a birds-eye view of the town in two directions (and vice versa).
Rural Americana was personified on Lincoln Square back then: Burba’s Hardware Store, Middleton & Marcum’s Clothing Store, the Five & Dime Store, My Dad’s Insurance Agency, The Local Eye Doctor’s Office, The Bank, The Car Dealership — Donohue Ferrill Motor Co., The Pool Hall, A Gas Station, Western Auto Bike Shop … and WLCB Radio, aka, Lincoln Broadcasting Co.
(Note: My hometown, Hodgenville, is the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, so many businesses adopt his name for their own.)
As teenagers were wont to do back then, my friends would be out riding around and would inevitably swing by the square and honk their car horns as they passed by the station, seeing me in the window, headphones on, microphone suspended in air, turntables spinning.
The Request Line was always open, so they’d call in and request their favorite songs. I recall Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album was very popular, and Rock With You was everyone’s favorite anthem. Also, I played a lot of Journey, Styxx, Kansas, KC & the Sunshine Band, etc. The format was most definitely Top 40. I loved it.
The station manager, Ed Cundiff, was a bit hard of hearing, so he spoke very loudly. It was not uncommon for Ed to call in on the spur of the moment from wherever he was to let me know he was listening and to yell at me for playing a song two times in a row!
You could do that back then: Play a song you loved so much that you just had to listen to it again (and again). So, I did.
Why Ed hired me, I do not know. It was the less important weekend shift, which meant afternoons on Saturday and all day on Sunday. I was a junior in high school. Maybe, it was a marketing ploy on Ed’s part: Hire a high-schooler in order to get everyone in high school to listen.
It wasn’t just my friends that listened to WLCB though. All the local businesses who ran ads dutifully played the station throughout the town. The Friday night football games were broadcast live as were a few local church services on Sunday morning.
On Sundays, I would ride my bike from home to the station at seven in the morning, about a mile, open up, fire up the generator, turn on the news teletype machines (yes, I know how old this makes me sound, but that was the technology back then), and brew some Folgers in the Mr. Coffee.
Church services and gospel music gave way to Top 40, and I remember Sunday afternoons were just the best. Even my mother, God Bless Her, listened from home in our Sitting Room, where she was probably crocheting something. She loved Lou Rawl’s You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine).
The highlight of my radio career was a very sad day for my town: A beloved state trooper had been shot and killed, and his funeral procession was a very big deal and came right through town. I filed a news report that was picked up by radio stations all across the state:
Reporting live from the square in Hodgenville, this is Steve La Rue for WLCB Radio.
It was my first hit of Broadcast Journalism, and I was hooked. Again, I am sure I was terrible. Squeaky teenage voice. Southern accent. Very very little training.
Whatever is the opposite of Gravitas, well I had that.
Today, I came across a Music Video which took me back to those fun-filled days at WLCB Radio 1430 AM. It’s ON HOLD by The xx, a tune favored by KCRW, my local radio station here in Santa Monica.
The story within the video is a snapshot of small-town life for teenagers in Marfa, Texas: Hanging out. Football Practice. Cheerleaders. Crushes. Just timeless. Marfa represents Any Town in America, including my own hometown of Hodgenville.
So on this Saturday afternoon, this one goes out to all my friends in Hodgenville and Parts Elsewhere. Thanks for listening!
With On Hold, Here’s The XX…
The radio station, WLCB, is no longer a local radio station nor is it on the town square along with Burba’s Hardware, Western Auto, Donohue Ferrill Motor Co., Dr. Sawyer’s Optometry, Middleton & Marcum, the gas station, all of which closed at one point or another when a by-pass was built, so traffic no longer flowed through town.
Kind of a bummer. Yet, I recall these Radio Days oh so fondly. (WLCB would not be my last job in Radio, though.) Good Music sure can take ya back.
N E X T U P:
Reporting Live from Script Fest in beautiful downtown Burbank!