Remember When, Chattanooga? Local radio changed forever in 1963

Chattanooga News-Free Press archive via / An unidentified woman examines a record at the studio of WDOD-FM in Chattanooga in 1963, the year the station started broadcasting in stereo.

It was autumn of 1963, and local radio was about to change forever.

Leaders at Chattanooga's first radio station, WDOD, had been working for months on what was then a technological revolution in the delivery of radio signals.

In mid-November 1963, WDOD-FM, part of Chattanooga's first commercial broadcast station, flipped a switch and began delivering a rich, FM-stereo sound to cars and homes around Southeast Tennessee. The innovation delighted listeners and sent them scrambling to retrofit their car radios with FM-stereo receivers and shopping for hi-fi radio consoles for their homes.

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Then-Chattanooga Mayor Ralph Kelley issued his congratulations in a news release: "WDOD, the 'Wonderful Dynamo of Dixie,' has just taken another step forward for our area. Now Chattanoogans may enjoy radio in FM-stereo."

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WDOD began broadcasting on the AM band here in 1925 and was granted a license to broadcast on the FM band in 1947. But it wasn't until 16 years later in 1963 that the FM station began FM-stereo broadcasts, which delivered two-channel sound to radio listeners for the first time.

Sales of stereo sets shot up 60% in Chattanooga in the first 10 months of 1963, a Philco radio representative reported. Meanwhile, prices for home radio consoles ranged from $70 for a portable stereo to $995 "for a concert-hall stereo used in color TV home theater models," he said. When adjusted for inflation, $995 paid for a fancy radio in 1963 would be equal to almost $10,000 today. Even the cheap $70 stereo radio would have cost almost $700 in today's dollars.

News reports on the landmark WDOD stereo broadcasts point to a heavy lift. WDOD had installed a new console, transmitter, tower and antenna to complete the transition, station general manager Ernie Feagans reported. The station's studios were on Baylor Road, and the tower was on Signal Mountain, the report noted.

Maps published in the Chattanooga News-Free Press showed a broadcast coverage area for WDOD-FM that stretched from just south of Knoxville to a few miles north of Gadsden, Alabama.

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The equipment upgrades also included an IGM program automation system, the first of its kind in Chattanooga, according to Parks Hall, a former WDOD employee.

"It was a mechanical marvel and a pain ... to maintain," Hall said in an email.

For much of the remainder of the 20th century, WDOD-FM was a country music station, but it eventually switched to a Top 40 format. Today, the station, known as Hits96, has studios on Broad Street and a tower in Walden.

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Remember When, Chattanooga? is published on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.