UPDATE: WFLI’s owner announced the station will sign off permanently March 31, 2017.
A press release from the station said, ” After more than 56 years of broadcasting, WFLI 1070 AM radio will go off the air on March 31, 2017. We sincerely appreciate our listeners, employees and clients for their support.”
Original story from 2013:
Some videos really don’t need an introduction. So here it is, my tribute to the Great Jet-FLI, 1070 AM, WFLI, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.
Although there was no introduction, I do have an explanation, and a story or two. As you’ve heard, life is short. Most of us FLI guys aren’t getting any younger, and too many of us have already checked out and gone on to the Studio in the Sky. In the past few years, as Chattanooga baby boomers have joined the ranks of the AARP, there has been renewed interest in the memories of our youth. Heck, I did a book about it, which inspired me to create this blog. I’ve seen how people react at the mention of WFLI. The sound of the soaring jet and the echoing “Down…beat-beat-beat-beat” are imbedded in the heads of everyone who grew up in Chattanooga in the 60s and 70s. I’ve seen grown men moved to tears upon meeting Tommy Jett.
What makes a radio station so special? We’ve seen many of them come and go since WFLI hit the airwaves in 1961, but few have stuck in our collective psyche like this one. Was it the music? The voices? The personalities? The promotions? The simple answer is “Yes,” to all of the above.
With a powerful transmitter carefully pieced together by owner/founder/engineer William “Billy” Benns, the station stood out from the beginning with a strong signal. By the end of the 60s, it got even stronger at 50,000 watts, the maximum power granted to an AM station by the FCC. “Mr. Benns,” as most of us called him, was brilliant and eccentric. I think I speak for most WFLI jocks when I say I equally respected and feared him. He was known to enjoy the good life with a drink now and then, but on payday he was never particularly in a good mood. The rest of us were, but he had to sign the checks.
One Friday afternoon, as I was playing the hits, he made a rare appearance in the studio, accompanied by his large German Shepherd “King.” I was 18 or 19, living the carefree life of the rockin’ DJ. One of our duties was to go to the transmitter room, just a few steps away, and write down the meter readings each hour. It was an FCC requirement, and although I had never met an FCC inspector, you never knew when one might pay a visit. I had adopted the habit of taking all my meter readings as soon as I went on the air at 2:00, just to get it out of the way. I’d write down the 2:00 readings, the 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00. They never seemed to change much anyway. Who would ever notice?
You guessed it. Mr. Benns and the dog came barging in, and he found the clipboard with the meter readings. It’s 2:55. I was busted. He studies it for a few seconds, looks me right in the eye, and said, “Mr. Carroll.” (He addressed everyone as Mister. I sort of liked it back then. Now it makes me feel old.) “Can you predict the future? Do you have a crystal ball somewhere?” Hoping he was joking, I awkwardly replied, “Well, not really, you know sort of sometimes I…” He ignored my babbling and snapped, “How do you know what the meter readings will be at 3:00? At 4:00? At 5:00? How could you possibly know that, Mr. Carroll?” Lesson learned. “It won’t happen again, Mr. Benns.” I’ll skip past the rest of the conversation. Let’s just say he wasn’t happy. And….he was right.
Other than teaching me a thing or two about staying legal, he was also responsible for assembling the finest group of guys I’ve ever known. The “FLI guys” of the early 60s grew up together, under the leadership of station manager Johnny Eagle (who at the age of 25 was the elder statesman) and Mr. Benns. Dale Anthony, Tommy Jett, Nick Smith, Ron Arnold and the other early voices provided the soundtrack of a generation. In the pre-Beatles era, WFLI played what passed for rock and roll at the time, along with a heavy helping of country and soul. After about a decade, the old guard was out, new guys came in, and modernized the sound to reflect the Woodstock generation, and even later, the disco beats that were sweeping the nation. By the late 1970s, FM stereo music had blanketed the market, and WFLI spun its last rock and roll tune. The big 1070 played country for a few years, eventually giving way to a gospel format that continues today.
So although WFLI hasn’t rocked for more than 30 years, the old gang still keeps in touch, reuniting annually to share old stories. They talk about who got fired the most by Mr. Benns (he was known to fire deejays, who knew he’d forget it about the next day…so they would just show up for work like nothing happened…and indeed, nothing happened). They talk about how hard it was to get their first-class radiotelephone operator license, which was a requirement to work at the powerful WFLI until sometime in the 1970s. (I don’t know how or why that rule was changed, but I’m forever grateful. I barely knew how to change a light bulb, and I could have never passed that test). And they talk about how much fun radio was back in the seat-of-your-pants 1960s, when stations were locally owned, and creative minds like production genius Stanley Hall were allowed to have fun. “Sure wish radio was like that today,” is a familiar refrain.
In February 2014, the old gang will get together to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of their alma mater, with a special broadcast from the legendary Tiftonia studio. We’re all looking forward to it. The YouTube tribute above includes some of the voices of WFLI, but not all. We’re hoping new “old” tapes will turn up as folks clear out their junk drawers and attic boxes. Until then, please replay the video, which highlights the station’s first 15 years. Hopefully it will make you smile, again and again. It’s my way of paying tribute to a special brotherhood of guys who miss radio. But as my friend Jerry Pond would say, “Not as much as radio misses them.”