I recently visited the refurbished Farragut Hotel in downtown Knoxville. I wanted to see if the old spot where WGYW/WJBE radio station was located still existed. I was disappointed to see that the plaque on the wall said James Brown bought in 1969 which is incorrect. On the blog post it says the station was purchased in 1967 which is also incorrect.
I was a student at the Fulton High School broadcasting class from 1962-1966 with Joanna Huffman as instructor. My junior year (1965) I was an intern for Bob Baron at night at WKGN when I first met owner George Mooney who was the "Voice of the Vols" at that time. That started my lifelong pursuit of of being a play by play sportscaster (more on that later). I also had the opportunity to do some work with Dr. Al Adams (Johnson).
My senior year in high school was 1966 and if you had enough credits and you had a job working in your chosen field, you could get out of school half a day to work. I was fortunate enough to get the afternoon drive show on WGYW "Countrypolitan Radio" in May of 1966. I replaced Big Jim Hess who was leaving radio to go to the new WTVK television station. Dr. Al also did a show on the new TV station called "Discoteen" which was a takeoff of American Bandstand. Toni Cline who was a classmate of mine at Fulton also got a job at WGYW as the secretary/receptionist at the same time I worked there.
I thought it was a great job because it was in the basement of a fancy hotel and right across Gay Street was Nan Denton's Orange Julius which is where we ate everyday before going on the air at 3pm. All of the other DJs including Cousin George Goins were looking for other jobs. I had only been there for about a month when I found out why everyone was leaving. James Brown was buying the station and changing it to a soul format. James Brown did come to the station with his new General Manager, Don Law, who was from New York. They replaced all of the time slots with black DJs except for my time slot. They told me that the DJ who was replacing me (Daddy O'Lark) was in jail in New Orleans for non payment of child support and alimony and asked me if I could stay and work for 2 weeks.
At the end of the 2 weeks, the new guy was still not there so they asked me to stay for 2 more weeks, which I did. In the meantime I applied for a job with Arthur Wilkerson at WLIL radio in Lenoir City. After working for WJBE for 4 weeks they asked if I could stay for 2 more weeks, which I did. Sure enough at the end of the last 2 weeks (6 weeks in all) I was hired by Wilkerson at WLIL. Meanwhile the WJBE people asked me to stay another 2 weeks but I told them I had another job and could not do it. By the way, since I was leaving WJBE anyway, they asked me if I wanted all of the country music albums at the station because they had no need for them. I took several hundred albums and kept them until 2019 when I started downsizing and sold them to a local record dealer.
When I started at WLIL (July 1966) I figured I would be there about a year. The year turned in to a 54 year career where I went from DJ to Vice President and General Manager of the Wilkerson Broadcast group which owned 5 stations in Tennessee. Counting my 4 years on the Fulton radio station I was involved in the radio business for 58 years. I retired in August of 2019 'cause radio ain't what it used to be. As part of my job I did play by play football/basketball/baseball games for 54 seasons. Here's a twist to the story. In 2012 I had the great privilege of being inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. One of the perks of the induction was that you appear as a guest on The Sports Animal afternoon show with john Wilkerson and Jimmy Hyams. On that show they let people call in and ask questions. The very first call was a gentleman who asked me if I remembered working on WGYW in 1966. In 1966 I was dating a girl who was a senior at Bearden High School and this gentleman was her next door neighbor who also went to Bearden. He said each day she rode with him to and from school and when they were coming home in the afternoon she always made him turn the radio to WGYW so she could listen to me. The gentleman made the comment that he hated country music at the time, but after having to to listen to it every afternoon for a year he had become a lifelong fan of country.
I think where the confusion comes in about the date that James Brown bought the station is that people are confusing the date that he bought the station with the date that he moved it out of the Farragut Hotel to Magnolia Avenue which I think was sometime in 1967. The purchase date was definitely the May-July period of 1966 because I WAS THERE!! I didn't mean to ramble on so long but after all I did work in radio.