The golden age of radio is generally acknowledged to have been in the '40s and '50s, but the '60s in the Chattanooga area were pretty special for a lot of people. The music of the era is universally regarded as the best of any time. In fact, 204 (40 percent) of the songs on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time were released during the period.
People began spending a lot of time in their automobiles in the '50s. That continued on into the '60s, so the car radio became an enormous form of entertainment. It's where you heard the latest hits, and where you were entertained by the wild antics of the disc jockeys.
Spinning those tracks were guys like Tommy Jett, Johnny Midnight, Dale Anthony and Johnny Eagle at WFLI-AM. Almost immediately after signing on the air on Feb. 20, 1961, the station jumped to the top of the charts in the area.
"When we started out, it was more music and less talk, almost like a jukebox, and it just took off," Eagle says.
On Saturday, beginning at 2 p.m., WFLI-AM 1070 will take a look back with air checks from the station. From 3 to 6:30 p.m., it will air an audio history featuring memories from folks who were there and some music from 1961 through 1969.
"We'll play the No. 1 song from each year all the way through and then some clips from some of the other stuff," says Ben Cagle.
Cagle was an engineer at the station for a time and has spent several months working on the project along with Eagle. He managed to find some old tapes from guys like Jett, Anthony, Eagle and Gene Lovin, who had several tapes stored away in a trunk.
Cagle said it was Eagle's idea to put something together. Cagle, who went on to be the general manager at WDEF-TV 12, did much of the fact-gathering, editing and voice-over work for the show. He also put together a slide slow that accompanies the audio history that will be posted on YouTube in the coming days.
Over the years, WFLI has broadcast rock, country and gospel music, which is its current format. For many Chattanoogans, it will always be remembered for its glory years, which is why the special focuses on the years 1961 to 1969, Cagle says.
"That was such a special radio station and a special time."
Cagle says that visiting the station on O'Grady Drive in Tiftonia today is like stepping back in time.
"Nothing has changed. It's the same (sound) board that Tommy and those guys used in 1961."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
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 ...