Lynn Williams wrote me a letter saying, “Bob … At long last, I find time to comment on your column about the Dutch Maid Drive-In that operated in Elizabethton between about 1956 and 1964. The remote broadcast was heard on Monday through Saturday nights, 7 p.m. until station sign-off at midnight.”
WBEJ's #2 Transmitter
In that column, I noted that the announcers then were Curley White; Jim Berry; Ed Howze; E. Lee “Leaping Lee” Brown; Larry Hinkle; and “Hap” Harold Henley Ziggy Ziggy Higgenbottom, host of the very popular radio show, “Hap’s House.”
“I received telephone calls from Billy Hale and Bob Coffman,” said Lynn. “Billy, son of Bill Hale, former WBEJ Program Director and eventually Station Manager, remembered the remote broadcast. Billy was appreciative of the comments made about his father.
“Bob Coffman was one of the kids who was at the WBEJ studio frequently during many of the musical penthouse broadcasts. His sister told him of your article. At the time and for many years afterward, Bob’s uncle ran the Southern Restaurant in downtown Elizabethton, a popular eatery where I ate many good dinners.”
Lynn relayed to me an interesting tidbit of area history that he obtained from Bob’s aunt’s mom: “She once operated a boarding house at Whitetop, Virginia for construction workers. Lynn believed his dad had been one of her renters. He said that workers from Stoney Creek would on Friday or Saturday evenings walk through the mountain to where the railroad ended, get a lever car and ride down the railroad track to their homes for the weekend. They would then return to the car on Sunday afternoons, ‘lever’ it back up the track, walk through the mountain to Whitetop and be ready to go to work early on Monday morning.”
Lynn sketched a floor plan of the first WBEJ studio that was located at 626.5 Elk Avenue as it appeared from 1946 to about 1950. It was situated upstairs facing north over Childress Hatchery, a farm supply business.
Entrance to the radio station was obtained by climbing steps along the east side of the building and entering a large room used as a hallway and audience room. Lynn recalled that on special occasions about 50people would cram into it.Upon entry, an office attendant on your right greeted visitors. Directly behind her was the sales office staff.
A noisy United Press News Machine that constantly printed paper from the news wire was in a small room directly ahead. Down the hallway that ran to the right of the news machine were the offices of Station Manager Bob Woods and Program Director Bill Lowery.
Two studios were used to air live broadcasts. The large Main Studio containing a piano was located diagonally to the left of the entrance door. The Small Studio about half the size of the main one was farther left in the corner of the building. Both had soundproof glass windows that permitted guests to watch performances without being heard.
The Control Room, adjacent to both studios, also had soundproof glass windows. An additional floor of about eight inches was specifically built for the control console and announcer. It served two primary purposes; it elevated the announcer allowing him to see well into the studios and it provided space for the many wires that ran to and from the console.
Lynn concluded by saying that there was no air conditioning in the building until about 1953 when two electric fans were installed. The studio often got very warm with 15-20 musicians in there at one time.
Thanks Lynn, Billy and Bob for giving us a quick look back to Elizabethton history of about 50 years ago.