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Memories of small town radio

In a recent TABulletin, Dick Pickens wrote a wonderful report about his memories from a bygone era in broadcasting.  In it he recommended a book about the history of radio.

Inspired by Dick I will use this occasion to remind broadcasters and would be broadcasters about the late Bob Doll's book on small town radio history, "Sparks Out of the Plowed Ground: The History of America's Small Town Radio Stations". It was published in 1996 by Streamline Publishing.

Bob was my mentor in radio. I worked for him at my second radio job, WMST in Mt. Sterling, Ky. in 1965, before he moved us to WDLR Delaware, Ohio. I moved to Georgetown in February 1969 and tried to apply his ideas, ethics and skills that he championed.

Bob was great to learn from, in what was called, at that time, "The Man on the Street". Many radio stations had a program such as that mostly in the center of the business district.  I accumulated dozens of stories about those amazing folks I interviewed, who just happened to pass by on the street. I loved them all.  

Bob taught those he trained so much, but it always included the caveat to never forget who we were there for, the folks in the town and market we served. 

"Sparks Out of the Plowed Ground" by Bob Doll, brilliantly tells the story of the beginning of radio as well as the regulatory commission that we know now as the FCC. He tells the brief history of the first radio station. Finally, my hero Bob Doll tells story after story, probably well over one hundred of them, about every radio station in a small town in which he could accumulate interesting information.

It is almost a college degree, for the reader, in the management of successful radio stations for small town, USA. In his lifetime Bob wrote two other books - one was about humor in radio but my personal favorite was when he heard about a small town station in Union, S.C. about to celebrate their 50th anniversary. 

He went to Union, did his research and what followed was a relatively short book about that station, from its birth. It covered several ownerships and near financial failure as the town itself seemed to be dying. Both rallied and then came one story after another.

The book concludes with a shocking story about what happened in Union that every reader will remember but may have forgotten. Every day, during this heart breaking story, the tiny station proved its worth as an irreplaceable part of that community. The book is called, "A Perfect Union: 50 Years in a Small Town and Its Radio Station. A Love Story".  

There is not a broadcaster who reads, “A Perfect Union” who will not wonder if they have lived up to the standard set by WBCU, their staff and the town that loves them.

Personally, I must wonder if the radio stations where I have worked were as important to our town as was WBCU to theirs. I sure hope so.

Bill Buchanan is the President/General Manager of KSHN Liberty.  He has been at the station since 1977.

His previous station affiliations include KBOP Pleasanton, KCLT Lockhart, KGTN Georgetown, WDLR Delaware, OH, WMST Mt. Sterling, KY and WEKY Richmond, KY.

Bill served on the TAB Board of Directors for 22 years as well as other state, national and local boards and commissions at the same time.

He was inducted in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2011.

Want to share some of your memories of Texas radio or television?

Email Teresa McAnally for publication in future issues of the TABulletin newsletter!

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