WJLD History – 1950s
1951 saw “Duke ” Rumore, younger brother of Joe, join the station which had now moved its tower, studio and city of license from Bessemer to Red Mountain in Homewood. In ’53, Roy Wood, fresh from Indianapolis, Indiana, “temporarily” replaced Bob Umbach at the “Atomic Boogie Hour” helm. Bob left for WMBM, Miami and Roy left after 11 months to Chicago, where he would eventually co-found the National Black Network (now the American Urban Radio Network). Truman Puckett played gospel and “Hard Rock” Gunter played C&W with Willie “Bill on the Hill” McKinstry doing weekends.
WJLD did the Sunday outdoor service on the patio live with local talent. Roy Wood argued that George Johnston should make WJLD “solid Black,” before he left in ’54, since it was believed white radio would be “done in” by TV. When Roy left for Chicago, King Porter from WEDR took over the “ABH.” King spun the blues, sometimes in his sleep. Eddie Castleberry arrives from WEDR to take over King Porter’s slot in ‘55.
One sponsor of the time was “Big Hearted Eddie.” He sold cars and Jesse Champion, a great musician, voice man and Ad Club ward winner, did his spots. Jesse stayed with WJLD from ’54 until ’63 when he had a run-in with Eugene “Bull” Connor, and was arrested for stopping what appeared to be a kidnapping of a Black youth. Jesse left town at Bull’s insistence and did not return until 1970 at which time he became a well known newsman at WERC.
Robelia J. Pope is doing a cooking show for WJLD in 1954. She was reported to have been on the air in the 40’s and was the first Black woman to run a board at WEDR in 1950, the second all Black staffed radio station in the nation, located in the Forniss Building on Fourth Avenue, downtown Birmingham. It was at WEDR where the KKK blew up the tower site shortly after it went on the air in September, 1949.
“Tiger” Thompson played blues when he wasn’t boxing. “The Blues, You can play it, just don’t play with it.” “Rack ’em Back” Zack Allen also spun briefly. Roy Wood gave him the name when Zack would rack back Roy’s sides. Our own Ennis Bragg brings his Golden Hummingbirds on Willie McKinstry’s Saturday evening show for the first time in ‘56. Lora Gary’s also on the air, moving from WBCO, where she began her career in ’52 as the single Lora Walker. WBCO 1450 hits the air in ’50 owned by Bessemer Mayor Jess Lanier, where some who would come to WJLD got their beginnings, including Edward “Johnny Jive” McClure. BCO stood for “Bessemer Cut-Off,” but as soon as it went all Black in ‘51, some folks said it meant “became colored overnight.”
“Gatemouth” Moore passed through WJLD in ‘56, announcing and promoting gospel, pausing long enough to stage his own funeral at the Boutwell Auditorium!
It was 1958 when Lewis White arrived. He played R&B, jazz and gospel. Alma Johnson (Colin Powell’s wife) did a woman’s noon show, Puckett did more gospel, McKinstry played the blues and Jessie Champion did his late night dance party from 10 to midnight. The Fifties were HOT!!