Chances are that if you’ve ever driven in the Memphis area, your radio tuner has passed across WDIA at 1070 on the AM dial. B. B. King recorded his first single in the station’s studio and promoted Pepticon on the station.
Few people may realize that in 1948, WDIA was the first all-black programmed radio station in the country and, at its peak 50,000 watts, once reached over 10% of the African-American population in the United States.
In addition to reaching such a large audience, WDIA was heavily involved in community improvements, giving food and money to needy families, setting up the Goodwill Home for Black Children, and sponsoring the annual Goodwill Revue, which featured many of the top soul, blues, R&B, and gospel performers in the country.
Known for years as the Goodwill Station, WDIA celebrates nearly 60 years of providing community service and entertainment by releasing the two-disc set, WDIA AM 1070: The History, The Music, The Legend.
Disc one, narrated by current WDIA on-air personality James Davis, consists of various comedy skits, public service announcements, radio spots, jingles, some great vintage commercials (a Martha White flour spot with DJ Theo “Bless My Bones” Wade encouraging listeners to “baptize their biscuits in butter“ and a tongue-twisting King Cotton frankfurters ad are the highlights), and excerpts from various talk shows and even one of the Goodwill Revues.
Some names you may recognize on this disc include Rufus Thomas (plugging “Pink Pussy Cat Wine”), Nat D. Williams (noted Memphis columnist and the first African-American DJ in the Bluff City), and Pigmeat Markham, who appears in one of the Goodwill Revue excerpts).
Many of these recordings were discovered last year when WDIA relocated to new studios and they’re wonderful to hear.
Disc two consists of 13 tracks of R&B/soul tracks performed by mostly local acts, old and new, such as Thomas, William Bell, Johnny Taylor, the Barkays, Teenie Hodges, Lynn White, J. Blackfoot, Preston Shannon, The Mad Lads, Ben Cauley, and Wise Williams (Disc two producer and compiler Carl “Blue“ Wise and Ronnie Williams of the Bo-Keys). It’s an entertaining set of tracks that might be unfamiliar to some listeners, but it’s a great representation of what has gone out over the WDIA airwaves over the years.
Today, WDIA is still a vital part of the social and cultural scene in Memphis and shows no signs of slowing down. For fans of soul, blues, and R&B and the history behind the music, WDIA AM 1070: The History, The Music, The Legend is an absolutely essential purpose.
--- Graham Clarke
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