and the WSGN-WERC radio war of the 1970s .....
1973: the Birmingham dial contained two (2) Top-40 stations: WSGN 610 and WVOK 690. Since WVOK was in its own orbit (it appeared to cater more to the rural listeners of north and central Alabama than those in metro Birmingham), it could be argued that WSGN had no real competition.
In any case, WSGN had no FULLTIME format competition at all ... after sunset, the only entities WSGN had to worry about were the clear-channel giants like WLS, KAAY and WLAC. And there'd been no local nighttime rock 'n' roll competition for 610 since WYDE flipped to country in November 1965.
When Taft sold WBRC Radio to Mooney Broadcasting, it spelled the end of WSGN's complacency. Mooney -- who owned Top-40 stations in Pensacola, Fla. (WBSR) and Nashville, Tenn. (WMAK) -- chose to fill a needed void. Old-line WBRC "Radio 96" became "Most Music 'ERC", a high-energy Top-40 presentation was put into place, and suddenly WSGN had to earn every ratings point it got!!
Coyote Calhoun was on the 'ERC airstaff in the '70s, and has been a part of the Birmingham radio landscape, off-and-on, for over 30 years. He contributes his recollections of what had to be the most bitter rivalry this side of Tuscaloosa and Auburn (or is that Auburn and Tuscaloosa?):
* * * * * * * * *
That battle was intense from day one as Scott Shannon (of Z-100 in New York), came to Birmingham as our consultant and spent a month here doing afternoon drive on ERC verbally ripping the heads off of the guys at WSGN every day on mic. I recall he had Amaysa Kincaid (WSGN's then night legend) spitting mad in short order.
Shortly after Shannon went back home, ERC's PD Frank Lewis fired our mid-day guy Jan Jefferies (who now is a world-famous consultant) simply because he thought Jefferies to be a dull air talent. Jan has since made his mark in radio as a programming consultant, not a DJ.
At any rate, Jefferies did not take getting blown-out very well and he swore on his dying breath that he would dethrone WERC at any cost when he went over to program WSGN in late 1973. Jefferies actually told Frank, "I am gonna get even with you for this if it's the last thing I do." Jan was, and still is, a very intense man. I should know, I worked FOR HIM in the late 80's at the old Z-102 (WZBQ 102.5). Frankly, I was kind of frightened around him.
From the Fall of 1973 to Fall of 1976 WERC
actually beat WSGN in total audience ...12-plus ....every time.
But here in B'ham, Dees never gained any traction to speak of and Layton and Dearman eventually ran him out of town to Memphis after about a year and a half. Dees got his revenge a year later in 1976 when he released that not-so-classic hit, "Disco Duck", which went to number one in the country, forcing 'ERC (and me) to have to play that thing every two hours...yeeech.
After that (circa 1975), Layton and James (Dick James) continued WERC's morning show dominance, although their ratings did slip a bit after Jim Dearman left.
It was about this time, late-Fall, early-Spring 1975-76, that Jefferies teamed T.C. and John Ed (Tommy Charles and John Ed Willoughby) together in a brilliant stroke that slowly eroded Doug Laytons' numbers, finally overtaking Doug for good in late 1976.
And that move eventually catapulted WSGN back in front of WERC after three years of being an also- ran. No doubt WSGN was a great station during those down years, but ERC just had the mojo of the moment on their side with a steady diet of flamboyant DJs and creative promotions.
WSGN at first tried to counter with a more music, less talk approach. When that failed miserably, WSGN then tried to counter ERC's personalities with their own, which also failed until they stumbled onto T.C. and John Ed. (and I do mean stumbled; it is not widely remembered that Jefferies originally just hired just T.C who was on the air about FOUR MONTHS ALONE and not going anywhere). It was T.C. himself who eventually went to Jefferies when that wasn't working and said, "I know this funny guy in the furniture business ... I am going to put him on with me and see what happens."
And the rest, as they say, is Birmingham radio history.
Anyway, it was this stroke of genius, or luck, that changed the dynamics of the two stations over time, and forever adding to T.C. and John Ed's early momentum was a six month period shortly after T.C. was teamed with John Ed; a period which found Doug Layton again between partners and doing his show solo for an extended period of time.
WERC's Program Director Frank Lewis has always maintained that this was the biggest mistake of his tenure at WERC: allowing Layton TO GO IT ALONE FOR THAT LENGTH OF TIME while he searched diligently for his perfect partner. That gave the morning boys at WSGN the opening they were looking for and they exploited it. By the time Layton was re-teamed with Jim Dearman, it was too late as the damage was done.
From 1976 to 1978 WERC and WSGN battled it out for top CHR honors with WERC occasionally slipping by WSGN by the slightest of margins and visa-versa. I vividly remember one ratings book where I beat THE SUPERFOXX in teens 17.0 to 16.4: and that was as close as I ever came to losing to WSGN; thank goodness we hired Chris Foxx back from WSGN to do our afternoon show in late ' 75.
By 1978, however, WERC's numbers started eroding severely, hastened by a catastrophic decline in Layton's numbers. By then T.C, and John Ed were just trouncing WERC in morning drive on their way to becoming Birmingham's most famous morning team for nearly three decades. That's about when WSGN left 96 ERC in the dust.
By this time it was clear to the management at WERC that the days of ERC and AM radio in general were numbered. So, in a shrewd move they took ERC-FM (AOR) and flipped it to TOP 40 (WKXX - "KICKS 106"), directly competing with their own ERC and WSGN.
As I recall, it took about two books for the new KICKS 106 to destroy both AM's and send them to the dustbin of Birmingham radio history within three years. I'll never forget the day KICKS' first ratings book came back and their night jocks, Steve Davis and Charlie Martin (both who were pretty straight with a no-frills approach) just kicked my butt 7-12 midnight.
Up until that moment, which I believe was the spring of 1978, I had held off WSGN and was the last jock on 96 ERC to bite the dust, although not to WSGN, but to KICKS 106. And that ended my (Coyote J.) four year run as Birmingham's number one evening guy. I never forget Steve Davis looking sheepishly into my control room window the night the those ratings came back and then apologizing for cleaning my clocks.
The night of my last show on WERC, two years later, the same man cried in my studio.
Someday I'll have to send you other stories from back in the day...
One of my favorites was when Frank Lewis and Jim Christian found out through our janitor, Herb, that "some white dude" (later identified as Jan Jefferies from WSGN) was going through the dumpster behind ERC every morning at about 4am. Frank concluded he was looking for trashed memos that might tip Jan off to one of our upcoming promotions. So Frank planted bogus memos which highlighted a big promotion we had planned to begin BEFORE the next ratiings book, according to the memo, to get the jump on WSGN's promotion for the same book (back then there were just two books a year and all the stations would launch a major promotion for it which essentially blew our meager promotional budgets until the next book).
Well, Jefferies took the bait and launch WSGN's big promotion six weeks before the ratings started to get the jump on us. Of course, we did nothing and by the time the ratings began, WSGN's promotion and promotional budget was over and done...no more money.
As planned all along, we then launched our promotion going INTO AND ON THROUGH THE BOOK; that was the fall of 1975...check out that ARBITRON: ERC crucified WSGN.
But that's the kind of grudge match it always was ... heck, there were a number of physical confrontations, which just don't happen anymore.
Many thanks to Coyote J. for his contributions!
sometimes came to the competitors' doorsteps. To wit: two
bumper stickers recently found in the abandoned Jimmy's Hot Dog stand during
the City Federal Building's renovation. Of course, the CFB's penthouse
was WSGN's home. Above left is a WSGN sticker, probably
dating back to the late '60s. At right is a 1976 specimen of the
"96-ERC" bumper sticker.
The ERC sticker was found stuck ON TOP OF the old WSGN decal! TIM HOLLIS salvaged both stickers -- incredibly, he was able to peel off the 'ERC sticker fully intact. Look closely at the 'SGN, and you can barely make out the 'ERC decal's outline.
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