WBHP, North Alabama’s first commercial radio station, signed on the air at 4 pm May 25, 1937, with an interview of Huntsville’s Mayor. The station’s owner, W.H. Pollard, was so nervous he hopped in his car and rode around town. But the car was without a radio and Pollard missed his first broadcast. His wife, Pleas Alexander Pollard, walked outside their home and paced the lawn to relieve her anxiety over the new station’s beginning. She, too, missed the first broadcast.
W.H. Pollard was born in Huntsville on May 23, 1909, and was fascinated as a boy with radio. He was the first Amateur Radio Operator in North Alabama, and in 1923, The Huntsville Times told the story of this 14-year-old boy who “could contact the rest of the world” if Huntsville were ever isolated. After attending both Auburn University and the University of Alabama, Pollard married Pleas Alexander of Atlanta, GA who was the program manager at WSPA, a Spartanburg, South Carolina radio station. That is where the idea of WBHP came into being. The couple had two children, Eleanor Anne Pollard and Wilton H. “Buster” Pollard Jr.
To put WBHP on the air, Pollard built the station’s first transmitting tower from scratch, and erected it atop the old Henderson National Bank building downtown. It lasted only one day, destroyed by tornado winds. A new antenna was put up on Old Athens Pike, now Holmes Avenue. Actual location was the corner of Pulaski Pike and 72 where Subway used to be. The tower was five creosote power poles bolted together. It was about 150 feet high and had a large copper wire going to the top. Transmitter power then was only 250 watts but Huntsville was very small compared to today so it did pretty good.
The station began broadcasts from the sixth floor of The Times Building on Holmes Ave. One night in the spring of 1940, from his control booth at the station, Herbert Johnson, heard the buzzing of planes over the Times Building. Knowing there were no lights at the old Huntsville Airport, Johnson urged WBHP listeners to rush to the airport and leave their car lights on. Their beacon of light guided the planes to a safe landing, and earned WBHP and the quick-thinking Johnson an award citation from the U.S. War Department.
Later that same year, WBHP relocated to a house at 318 West Clinton Avenue across from the now gone West Clinton Street School. In June, 1953, the station moved to new quarters on Fifth Avenue and what is now Governor’s Drive. Mr. Pollard had built a true Radio Ranch that lasted many years and endured several floods. A new sports announcer joined the WBHP staff in 1947 named Grady Reeves. But in his many years with the station, Reeves became much, much more than a sportscaster. At 5:30 each morning, Grady Reeves signed WBHP on the air, often with his familiar introduction. “Broadcasting from the beautiful, pearly beaches of the Pinhook…”. Reeves put on WBHP’s “Sterchi’s Jamboree” twice daily, five days a week, which was to become the longest running hill-country show in the United States, as well as the nation’s longest commercially sponsored radio program. In the late 1950’s, a glass broadcast booth was constructed atop the Holiday House Restaurant, that later became Boots Restaurant, on South Parkway near the current Arby’s. From there, Reeves broadcast the “Skycastle Show,” playing rock-‘n’-roll four hours a night, six nights a week. The program became an institution with area teen-agers.
It was 1956 when an established western-country-gospel disc jockey from Cullman joined WBHP. Slim Lay, known as the “Country Colonel,” had just won the Country DJ of the Year award, when he became part of the WBHP broadcast family. For nearly two decades, Slim Lay entertained the Tennessee Valley on WBHP with three daily programs and a special gospel show each Sunday morning. He grew to become one of the best radio salesmen in the station.
In 1968, Buster Pollard joined his father in the station’s operation, initially as a staff advertising salesman. At the death of his father in October, 1974, Buster Pollard assumed ownership of WBHP. Ron Bailey served the station as general manager for than a decade after that.
Since the studios were at the fork of Spring and Pinhook creeks, floods were common and several kept the station off for several days. In 1978 after a particularly close encounter, Buster had studios built on higher ground that were the most modern anywhere. AM stereo came along and WBHP was the first Huntsville station to go stereo. For many years WBHP was the leading station winning Associated Press awards for outstanding news coverage from its 4 person 24/7 news team. Until the explosion of FM, WBHP was the number one station for many years and always the station to turn to for news and information. It is hard for folks to understand how influential WBHP has been for most of its existence. From its beginning in the 1930s all the way to WDRM’s rise in the late 1980’s, WBHP was the gold standard in Huntsville radio for personalities, music, local news, weather and entertainment. WBHP was essential listening if you needed to know what was happening “right now” in Huntsville and Madison County. No one did it better and we should be very proud to have WBHP in our radio family.
Some of the talent that was on WBHP includes the following:
Pappy McDonald, Bob Dunnavant, John Garrison, John Slatton, Clete Quick, Buz Busbin, Slim Lay,
Jerome Hughey, Glenn Slayton, Dewey Webb, Margaret Peake, Kay Moore, Harold Bugg, Marion Worth, Dana Webb (Country Music Association DJ of the year 1987), Happy Wilson, Mitch Hughey, Ed Benefield, Sherri Deville, Doug Adams, Mike Sweeney, Gary Hahn, Sid Sutherland, Greg Picciano, O’Reily in the Morning, Melissa Maloof, Mark Hunter, Bill Murray, Stuart Langston, John Malone, and Abby Kay. Many are still on the air locally.
The once state of the art studios are now offices for Hyde Construction. The tower and transmitters are still located at Governor’s Drive.
Happy Birthday WBHP!