Jason Walker thought he was heading into the military after high school, but he was hit by a car and everything changed.
While recuperating for a year, he needed to work. A good voice led him to a temporary job at a gospel radio station, and he immediately changed his plans for the future.
"Once I got inside the radio industry, I fell in love with it immediately," he said.
Twenty-two years later, Walker is still manning the mike. He does the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift at WDOD 96.5 The Mountain. He's also the resident information technology person for the three FM and one AM station in the local Bahakel Communications family. Last year, he bought an old motel at the foot of Lookout Mountain and spends a good deal of his day rebuilding it unit by unit.
Q: How did you get into radio?
A: The intent was to go into the Navy, but I was run over by a drunk driver, and I got into radio to give me something to do while I healed.
Q: This was right out of high school?
A: I had just graduated high school. I was going to deploy in a week, but before I could, I was run over.
Q: Were you driving or walking or what?
A: I was standing at a Coke machine at a curb. He ran me into the Coke machine, and my left leg was crushed. It took me a year to fully heal. I needed a job, and the temp agency said the only thing they had was at a radio station. They asked if I'd ever thought about doing that, since I had a good voice. I said, "No. No I haven't ever thought about it."
Q: What was the first station?
A: WATX in Cookeville, Tennessee. I was there for 30 days. I got fired. It was a gospel station and I'd already gotten hired by a Top 40 station. I was trying to do both and they weren't too happy about it at the gospel station.
Once I got inside the radio industry, I fell in love with it immediately. I thought if I'm going to do this, I want to work at a station that I actually listen to. I went over there and applied and was hired that day.
Q: What was it that you liked about it?
A: It's hard to say. The work environment. The creativity of the people there. The activity. I've always been an electronics and computers-type person. It just seemed liked everything I wanted to do was all in one place. Plus, the people I worked with were great. I was gifted with the best mentors anybody could have in radio.
Q: When and why did you come to Chattanooga?
A: I moved in 1992. [A co-worker] moved here and wanted me to come here. An opportunity opened up that I couldn't turn down. Not at 20 years old.
Q: Where was it?
A: WKXJ 97 Kicks. I moved over to the 96.5 The Mountain in '97. Danny Howard called me and told me they were launching a new station, but that he couldn't tell me anything about it. I came over not knowing anything. He just said, "I guarantee you will like it."
We launched it in 1997. It was an amazing experience being part of a brand new 100,000-[watt] regional station that was filling a market gap.
Q: What is different about launching a new station versus going to an established one?
A: There is a competitive element that gives it a feeling like nothing else I've ever done. ... There is a great deal of creativity but also an element of risk. You don't know what will happen. Radio is an industry of risk. That's the blessing I've had is to be employed for 22 straight years with the ability to raise four children and genuinely enjoy my career. I get to do my job, rebuild my little motel that I just bought and enjoy life.
Q: Wait, what? You bought a motel?
A: Yeah. It's at the foot of Lookout Mountain. I bought it from a family friend who died about four years ago. It's a stereotypical, dilapidated property built in the '40s. I bought it a year ago.
Q: Do you actually work there, like behind the counter?
A: I have a great manager and I am on site about every day rebuilding it unit by unit. I absolutely love it.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...