Between 1958 and 1961, listeners tuned to WETB AM-790 on their radio dials each weekday morning from 7 to 9 were treated to two young aspiring radio announcers, Joe Goodpasture and Merrill Moore.
The young men, hosts of a program known as The “Joe and Mo Show,” grew up across the street from each other on W. Pine Street in Johnson City in the 1940s. Because of their common interest in radio, they became best friends. They often went by WJHL studios when it was located on S. Roan Street where they were given reams of Teletype copy. They took these home and practiced reading them, pretending to be news broadcasters.
Merrill rigged up a small radio station at his house. It was made out of an old phonograph oscillator and had a turntable and microphone. The boys actually transmitted from the Moore house and could be heard over a three-to-four-house radius, allowing some of their neighbors to receive them on their radios.
This action attracted neighborhood youngsters who joined them by giving sports reports and scores, reading news, airing a woman’s show that included recipes and becoming disc jockeys. Since they had only two 78-rpm records, their listeners had to endure four songs over and over: ‘Humoresque’/‘Tales from the Vienna Woods’ by Guy Lombardo and ‘Too Fat Polka’ (‘She’s Too Fat for Me’)/‘For Me and My Gal’ by Arthur Godfrey.
The path forward that produced the “Joe and Mo Show” began to emerge when Goodpasture’s family moved to Bristol where Joe worked at WFHG and WOPI while in high school. After enrolling at East Tennessee State College, Joe was interviewed for a part-time job by Burney Burleson, Program Director of WETB. Bud Kelsey was station manager. Joe was offered a full-time job, working as a disc jockey on the morning show.
Meanwhile, Moore who had previously worked at WETB before going into the Army had returned full time to the station after his discharge from service in 1958. He was assigned the morning news broadcasts. The stage was set for the arrival of “Joe and Mo” over the airways.
Burleson originated and promoted the new show with clever newspaper ads. Since none of the shows were scripted, the team had to react spontaneously. This is what made the program uniquely interesting.
The “Joe and Mo Show” began broadcasting from 7-9 o’clock each weekday morning. Its format was a combination of talk radio and popular music from such artists as Perry Como, Hugo Winterhalter, Patti Page, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Les and Larry Elgart. It was a carryover of the big band era.
Joe opened the station at 5:30 a.m. and served as DJ until it became time for the morning team to begin the show. Merrill had to break away from his microphone about 7:30 in order to prepare himself for giving the news at 7:45.
The show offered a variety of zany pretense. One routine involved Mo asking motorists driving by the station on the Erwin highway to honk their horns. If no one responded, Joe went to his car in the parking lot and started tooting his own horn. Then he ran over to Merrill’s car and blew his horn. Finally, he scampered over to Jeep Jones’ (station engineer) Volkswagen and honked it. Each time this was done, Mo said something like “Thanks folks for blowing your horn at us and have a great day.”
Another hilarity from the show was the “Joe and Mo, Hoe and Row, Garden Club of the Air.” The young men decided to incorporate a garden club into their routine. They dug about a 2×4-foot flower garden in the front corner of the building near the parking lot. Both individuals routinely went outside to report to their listeners how the garden was doing, making up all sorts of problems that they were having such as locust attacks, blight and constant difficulty getting anything to grow.
Listeners often called the station to offer advice on how to address some of the growing concerns. On one occasion, two female fans of the show showed up at the station and planted flowers in the garden. They were taken back by the smallness of it.
Another popular air spoof was the “Joe and Mo Bird Watching Society and Friends of the Feather Association. The duo walked outside and sought to locate exotic birds in the surrounding area. Many of the species they spotted did not exist, such as the Hubcap Sparrow that flew along beside cars viewing itself in the wheels’ shiny hubcaps. It required a lot of creative imagination to do a show like this.
An additional feature was giving traffic reports. One of them went out in the car to get coffee and donuts for the crew. While he was out, he reported on traffic conditions on the roads. That was usually a gag because there were essentially no traffic problems in Johnson City in the late 1950s.
Occasionally, Mr. You Knew Too, a famous Nationalist Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations, came by the station and chatted with Joe and Mo on the air. In actuality, the oriental visitor was Merrill performing the role, all the while speaking in broken English, while Joe carried out the amusing interview. There was no end to such merriment.
The “Joe and Mo Show” made instant celebrities out of Goodpasture and Moore. They were asked to emcee two beauty contests, one being the Miss Johnson City Pageant and the other the Miss Rhododendron Festival on Roan Mountain.
Also, Burley Shoun, a Mountain City farmer, artificially inseminated a cow and it bore twin calves. He was such a fan of the two radio personalities that he named one calf Joe and the other one Mo. The Johnson City Press-Chronicle carried the story accompanied by a photo of Joe communicating with Joe and Mo fellowshipping with Mo. The caption humorously noted that Mo (the calf) was slightly fatter than his twin brother.
The popular “Joe and Mo Show” was on the air between 1958 and 1961. Its demise came when Goodpasture went into the Air Force. Shortly afterward, Moore left the station. Not surprisingly, the popular WETB disc jockeys went on to have outstanding broadcasting careers.