WJSO-AM stories continue to drift into my mailbox. Don Sluder, who became employed at the station on December 1, 1958, within two months of the station’s sign-on, said he enjoyed the two recent Press articles from Don Dale and Ray Stockard on the subject. Don indicated that there was so much that could be said about WJSO that helped cause a revolution in the way a radio station was formatted.
(The WJSO “Bad Guys” (l to r): Don Dale, Norm Davis, Ray Stockard, Bill Seaver (Jackie London) and Stan Scott attempt to push the station's Chevrolet van.)
“Bob Mattox and I worked the morning shift,” said Sluder. “Seeing the picture you used with the trashcan in the air reminded me of a humorous incident. Bob called me one morning and said that there was something alive in the control room trashcan. It was filled with Teletype paper and I discovered a mouse had made a nice nest and had a large number of little hairless babies. When Bob finished his shift he took the trashcan out and dumped it. Watching Bob run as mother and all the little ones scattered in every direction was hilarious.”
Don related another funny account concerning Bill Bachman who was the station manager at the time. He was an old radioman but was a little rusty with his announcing skills. He was pressed into service one morning to deliver a newscast. As was normal back then, they did a rip and then read the latest five-minute newscast to come across the wire. There was very little preparation time. In Bill’s search for news, he came across a story about a famous actor who had died. He became very serious since this was his final story before doing the weather. Although Don could not remember the actor’s name, he recollected what he said over the air: “Mr. (name) has died; he was 76 degrees.”
“Another tale,” said Don, “involved my doing a five-minute newscast in a small booth facing the control room. My first story had a Johnson City byline and concerned a lady who discovered what she thought was an alligator in her rose garden. There was something about the way it was written that I thought was funny. I began laughing uncontrollably during the entire newscast. My next story concerned a plane crash that killed several people. Yep, I laughed through that one also and on through to the weather. The control room announcer was laughing so hard he didn't think to turn me off and start a record playing.”
While in the same booth but during a different newscast, Bob was to start Don’s first record after the news, which would start his air shift. When he finished the news, he realized that Bob was not in the control room; therefore he proceeded to make his way to start a record. This, of course, was a distraction and led to some dead air space, something that was unthinkable by radio stations. The reason for the blunder was that Bob forgot that Don had left the studio to go up the highway to a store to get some snacks.
“I still keep up with Bob Mattox,” said Shuler, “I talked to Stockard and Norm Davis recently. Ray was still a student at ETSU when he came to the station and worked weekends.
“WJSO had unbelievable power and reach in the surrounding area. The staff regularly received mail from listeners in Knoxville who tuned in every day. When they received permission for an early sign-on, I was working the early shift in Sumter, South Carolina. Bob and I would continue our morning banter by phone until time for me to sign our station on the air.
“I have many fond memories of that time in my career,” said the former announcer. “Our big competition was the duo team of Merrill Moore and Joe Goodpasture, who had a dialog over WETB-AM in Johnson City that was known as ‘The Joe and Mo Show.’ He and Merrill worked together several years later at Channel 5 in Bristol.”
Don concluded his note by saying, “I thought you might like to know what WJSO was like in the real early days.”