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Early Broadcasting in Adair County, Kentucky

A note of explanation: This odd little critter just happened. All that science-y stuff aside, I'm pretty sure it's a product of spontaneous generation. As Uncle Mart told the revenuer about the gallon of moonshine he was caught carrying, "Hit warhn't there, and then it wahr." It started out as a brief response to a Facebook posting, but then it grew, and grew again, and grew some more, and now it's neither animal, mineral, nor vegetable, fish nor fowl, this nor that; rather, it's a rambling, disjointed look at early broadcasting in Adair County. By no means does it claim to be a history; rather, it's an attempt to identify some of people involved and some of the building-block events that occurred from 1945 though the summer of 1951. --JIM

Early Broadcasting in Adair County: a false start; side issues; a remote station & more side issues; WAIN


The week before Thanksgiving, 1945, came word a group of Adair Countians had "formed a stock company with the view of establishing a commercial radio station in Columbia. . ." and planned to incorporate as the South Kentucky Broadcasting Corporation. Officers of the group included Columbia businessmen S.C. Bybee, President; Barney Rasner; Vice President; and J.R. Kerbow, treasurer; Rev. L.R. Fugit, then serving as pastor of the Columbia Christian Church, secretary; and Rev. Clifford Spurlock, program director.

Rev. Spurlock, a minister of the United Brethren faith, had long been interested in recording and broadcasting.

In 1941, during his first tenure in the Adair County area, he ran a recording studio in the Christine community. A notice in September 1941 announced he would be recording sacred music, on a date to soon be announced, in the Adair County court house, and urged anyone or any group interested in participating to contact him immediately. His modus operandi was to record and process the music, then have the vinyl discs pressed out of state. The performers received no remuneration for their efforts.

As soon as Ralph Hurt, the fledgling group's attorney, filed the necessary paperwork with the state, plans called for the corporation to petition the FCC "for a construction permit and operating permit" for a broadcast station, call letters WKOL, with 250 watts of outgoing power. However, the project apparently died a-borning, as the News never again so much as mentioned it in passing.

In October 1946, Rev. Spurlock accepted a two-year assignment to pastor a church in Clarksville, Tenn., and while there, reported the News, he "completed a Course in Practical and Theoretical Radio and Television and. . .[was] awarded a Diploma by the National Radio Institute of Washington, D.C."

Come the fall of 1948, Rev. Spurlock and family returned to Adair. In an early October front page news item about him, the paper stated, "He is opening the Acme Recording and Music Shop in the New Adair Hotel Building, which will be managed by Mrs. Finis Pyles" (nee Lettie Marie Burton). An ad in the same edition (October 6th) listed some of the items for sale, including sacred records and sheet music, blank recording discs, needles (both recording and playback), plectra, strings, various small instruments, and song books.

Less than three months later, in early 1949, came the News report that several men, mostly Adair Countians, had filed for incorporation under the business name Acme Record and Recording Corporation. Those involved in the venture included Rev. Spurlock, President; S.C Bybee., Vice President; Finis Pyles, Secretary (and son of J.B. Pyles, Sr., mentioned below); W.R. Wooten, Treasurer; and Robert Wengard, Autry Janes, and Austin McKinney. (Pyles and McKinney were brothers-in-law, their wives being sisters.)

About two weeks later, a column headed "Charters Granted" in a mid-January 1949 edition of the Courier-Journal mentioned "Acme Records & Radio Corporation, Columbia, $15,000 capital stock. . .; incorporators, Clifford Spurlock, S.C. Bybee, and W.R. Wooten" among the grantees.

Meanwhile, over in Taylor County: the Adair County News had informed readers back in February 1948 that Campbellsville's first radio station WTCO (1150), a project in the planning stage for a year and half or longer, would soon become a reality, operating under the auspices of the Campbellsville Radio Corporation.

Of the Corporation's six-member executive board, two were well known Columbians, merchant S.C. Bybee and Dr. Pepper bottler/distributor J.R. Kerbow. Of the remaining fifteen stockholders, five were Adair Countians: Harold K. Richardson, J.B. Pyles (Sr.), Barney Rasner, Doc Walker, and David Heskamp. Another stockholder, Taylor Countian Paul Johnson, was well known in Adair County through his association with Columbia Motor Company. (Bybee and Kerbow had served together on the Columbia City Council; Heskamp and Johnson were first cousins.)

With the recent governmental approval for the transmitter location and construction of the tower, stated the article, broadcasting would begin as soon as weather permitted the necessary outdoor work, including running the lines from the tower to the station house. Buried near the bottom of the announcement was a lede of local interest, the news that "there will be a remote studio at Lindsey Wilson College."

Just about a month after the story appeared in the newspaper, the Campbellsville part of the operation went live, soon followed by the Columbia end. The May 5, 1948 edition of the News noted that "The Lindsey Wilson Hour," broadcast via remote control each weekday afternoon at 4:30, was "winning very favorable comment from the many friends of the college who tune in. . ."

The exact location of the remote station drew no mention but the article did state that "The up-to-date studio located in the basement of the new library building is nearing completion and the college broadcasts will be made from there in the very near future."

Several months earlier, early in the fall of the preceding year, Lindsey Wilson had obtained through the federal Bureau of Community Facilities what now would be called a grant to put up a library building. This was to be a cooperative effort, in that the school would first construct the basement, and the government would then fund the construction of a 3,000 square foot main floor to house Lindsey's library holdings. As built, it would be a semi-permanent structure; the onus to "provide whatever material is necessary" to make it a permanent building would fall to the college. The article specified the basement would be "devoted to various purposes," with one such use being the broadcast studio.

By mid-October 1948, about a year after the grant monies were secured and almost nine months after the Campbellsville station went on the air, the new remote broadcast facilities were ready to use. Said the News, "A full hour of broadcasting, originating in the new studios located on the campus of Lindsey Wilson Junior College. . . is announced by Rev. Clifford Spurlock, director for the Columbia Studios."

The new program,"Columbia on the Air," was broadcast five days week with the possibility of adding a Saturday show. Other programs originating from Columbia's remote station included "The Lindsey Wilson Hour," mentioned previously, as well as "The All-Request Hour," "This Week in Adair County," and a Friday afternoon gospel music show, "Songs of Hope and Glory," presented by the Adair County Trio. (The Trio was a family affair: Leonard Burton, his wife (nee Virginia Sinclair), and their daughter Barbara. A tiny handful of their songs may be heard on YouTube, at least two of them pressed under the Acme label.)

The article went on to state,

"Much work has been done to make these studios modern and efficient. Soundproofing is completed, new transcription turntables have been installed, [and] machinery to do both tape and disc recording is now in operation," and also noted that "as soon as equalizing of the telephone line which carries the broadcasts to Campbellsville is completed, advertising from local business firms will be handled."

The article concluded by extending an open invitation to the public to visit the studios, "located in the new library building at Lindsey Wilson."

The only other use of the expression "Columbia Studios" appeared thirteen months later, around Thanksgiving 1949, when the airing of a new series, "Church Vesper Half Hours," began "over station WTCO, originating from the Columbia Studios." The show was sponsored by Columbia merchants.

Come mid-June 1950, the Adair County News reported Tricounty Radio Broadcasting Corporation of Columbia had filed for a permit from the FCC to operate "a new standard-radio station. . .to broadcast on 1270 kilocycles. . ."

The FCC issued the permit on January 10, 1951, with the assigned call letters W-A-I-N. An article in the January 17 News stated the Tricounty stockholders were "residents of Adair and adjoining counties." It also named the corporation officers as S.C. Bybee, president; Finis Pyles, vice president; John M. Ricketts, secretary; and Samuel Kelsay, treasurer. Lanier Burchett drew mention-in-passing as a staff member. The station was expected to be in operation by early spring.

Shortly thereafter, Bybee, Pyles, and Ricketts were re-elected as president, vice president, and treasurer, respectively; Lanier Burchett was selected as treasurer; and Autry Janes, Finis Pyles, F.X. Merkley, Austin McKinney, O.G. Wooten, Clyde Marshall, and Lanier Burchett were chosen as directors.

An article in the May 10, 1951 Times Journal (Russell Springs) stated in part that "Columbia has had a small station in conjunction with the one at Campbellsville, for several months; however, this [new] one is independent and will be much stronger." The piece also referred to Lanier Burchett as the manager of the substation and (perhaps not entirely correctly) that he would "assume the management of the new one." Burchett had radio broadcast experience at least as early February 1949 when he called several of the South Central Kentucky Conference basketball tournament games for WTCO.

A short page one article in the Adair paper in early May 1951 indirectly quoted business manager Lanier Burchett as saying plans called for on-air broadcasting to commence on June 15th. That date came and went, and the July 4th edition of the paper noted the opening date would be "about the middle of July" with "definite plans" in progress for an official grand opening celebration on August 5th. (The grand opening to-do was later pushed back a week.)

This same article also stated, "No, you haven't been seeing a flying saucer or a comet--it's the light on a 220 ft tower that will soon be sending out signals for the local radio station, WAIN," and gave the station's location as "the Booher Addition on Fairgrounds Street."

Despite best efforts to meet the new broadcast date, delays once again pushed it back, but the stars finally aligned for "The Station with the Stars," and at 8 a.m. sharp on July 31. 1951, reported the local paper, "Station WAIN began its career as a radio station. . .with the latest news from wires of the United Press. Musical programs, including all classes, and other news and weather forecasts completed the day's programs." The August 8, 1951 News observed that the station served "greater South Central Kentucky, including the Wolf Creek Dam Area."

Original station personnel included Herb Arms, manager; Lanier Burchett, commercial manager; Oris Gowen and Rex Osborne, announcers; Ed Healy, engineer; Allene M. Holmes, bookkeeper; and Jean Allison, Head of Continuity Department.

The grand opening, held on Sunday, August 12th, drew around two hundred people to the formal program and many others came and went during the course of the day. Out-of-county attendees included the mayors of Jamestown and Campbellsville, and two singing groups, the Burkesville Quartet, Cumberland County, and the Sunny Valley Quartet, Russell Springs. (In October 1950, the Sunny Valley Boys were Curtis Wilson, Flukie (Faldeen) McKinley, Walden Rexroat, and Ermil Wilson. Not long after the WAIN went live, at least one of the four had dropped out and Ivis Roy was included in the group.)

J.R. Kerbow, of Columbia's Dr. Pepper bottling plant, provided drinks, and Kern's bakery provided delectable edibles for the occasion. Speakers included station manager Herb Arms, Columbia Mayor Ralph Willis, and the above-mentioned mayors from Russell and Taylor counties. S.C. Bybee, WAIN president, spoke briefly on the history of the station and Clem Cockrel, luminary of WKCT radio in Bowling Green, also gave a talk. Lanier Burchett served as Master of Ceremonies for the fete.

In the same editions of the News (those of August 8 and 15, 1951) that announced the first broadcast and grand opening of the station, there appeared auction notices for the estate of the late Alvin Burton which stated in part, "We will sell the home on Fairgrounds Street in the Booher Addition, where Mrs. Burton now lives. . .We will sell at the same time a three-room house near Broadcasting station. . ."

The name "WAIN Street" found its way into the News lexicon in early 1953 when it drew mention as the residence location of Oris Gowen, one of the announcers.

Russell County native Lanier Burchett, mentioned a number of times in the above ramble, joined the US Coast Guard in 1943, shortly after his graduation from Russell Springs High School. He served for the duration of World War II and nearly a year beyond, separating out in June 1946.

Upon his return home, Lanier attended Lindsey Wilson Junior College, where he played basketball under Coach McCreary. He had also played at RSHS and while in the Coast Guard. In February 1947, he married Adair Countian Avanell Sapp, CHS Class of 1946.

After a ten-year stint with WAIN, Lanier helped found (in 1961) and was part owner of radio station WRSL 1520 in Lincoln County for a few years and later worked in banking in Henry County, Ky. Two of the other three original owners, Ray Doss and S.C. Bybee, were also associated with WAIN.)

When he was leaving WAIN in the fall of 1961 for then new station, the News commented that Lanier still owned stock in the local station and that in addition to his role as sales manager, he had had "several programs of his own." According to a number of mentions in the "Hi Lights of RSHS" column in the Russell County newspapers, he was also an accomplished pianist. One such reference, written in 1951 by Gloria Richards (Mayo) said, "He could always make a piano talk and nearly walk."

This story was posted on 2019-02-17 08:58:34
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