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Michael Butler accepting the award for Alabama Broadcasters' Association Station of the Year in 2007

WTLS celebrates 60th year

Staff Report

WTLS is now 60. Tallassee's first radio station went on the air on June 1, 1954.

Adolphus Gauntt talked about WTLS' many years of broadcasting. "When we were kids, we grew up listening to 1300," he said. "We still listen to it. My daughter listens to it."

Brown (left) and Blalock

Gauntt is the pastor at God's Congregational Holiness Church. His church has had a 30-minute radio program on Sunday mornings for almost 20 years now. The program follows WTLS' longest running show, "Gospel in the Morningtime," hosted by Charles Blalock and Isaac Brown. It began on WTLS in 1958, originally hosted by Johnny Fitzpatrick.

Michael with founder of WTLS and grandfather Ned Butler

Like much of the broadcast industry, a lot has changed at WTLS in six decades. The station became a 24-hour operation in 1999. In 2007, the station became one of the first AM radio stations to receive a license to broadcast on an FM translator. In 2011, a new 430-foot tower for that FM frequency was added.

The golden anniversary in 2004 brought back many of the former deejays and staff. In the ten years since some have passed on. Included are the first family of broadcasters, Ned and Betty Butler, who ran the station for 45 years.

Their son, Steve has been here for all 60. He was not quite three when the 1,000 watt AM transmitter was first turned on.

"I started going to the station when I was five. Hank Holman and Wallace Hopgood worked there then," Steve said. "The first commercial I did was for Dairyland Farm Milk at about five or six. I was about 10 when I started working between two turntables."

Steve made the decision to turn WTLS into an All-Country station in 1970. Most stations at that time ran block formats featuring several types of music.

"I was 19 or 20 and I got to liking Country," Steve recalled. "The artists' music was crossing over on the Top 40 charts. The folks in Nashville weren't getting a lot of airpay."

Butler attended his first deejay convention in "Music City" in 1972. "I met Connie Smith, Charlie Pride, Tom T. Hall, Don Gibson, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Rodriguez, Mel Street, Merle Haggard, Freddie Hart, and Mel Tillis, to name a few, " he said.

The artists recorded station IDs for WTLS. "Mel Tillis was messing up," Butler said. "I'd stop the tape and and start it over again. He got upset and said an expletive. I found out his stutterting was not an act."

Georgia Anne
Daniel & Michael

Steve and his wife Cathy, who also worked at WTLS in the 70s and 80s, talked about a scary experience with their son and current owner, Michael.

"He was about three-years-old," Cathy said. "We lived next door to the radio station. Everyday I would walk with Michael to the station. This morning was different. I didn't know he had gone out."

Steve walked outside and saw Michael crossing the highway on his tricycle. "I saw a transfer truck and couldn't see him," he said.

He made it across without incident. "He loved to go to the radio station," his mother added.

Georgia Anne Butler with the Tallassee High School
cheerleaders in 2009 in her own WTLS cheer uniform

Today, Michael and his wife Leigh Anne run the operation with their children commonly getting airtime as the format is primarily talk. Georgia Anne, whose initials are G. A. B., got the gift of gab. As she said, "You need exceptional speaking skills to be a radio broadcaster." The 10-year-old aspires to do just that.

"It started with my great grandfather. Then it went to my grandfather. And, next my dad. He owns it now," Georgia Anne noted. "I want to carry on the tradition.

"Working in this business has been a tremendous privilege for our family," Michael Butler said. " It's satisfying to get positive feedback from listeners.

"This radio station has always kept the community at the forefront. The community in turn has supported this station, that includes listeners and advertisers. The formula has worked for 60 years. I hope I get to see what the future holds for my great grandkids someday."

Interview with Ned Butler by Michael Butler for College Project in the Early 1990s

WTLS through the Decades

The original WTLS across from Tubby's Place
Jack Mitchell with "Meet the Beatles" in the record stack
Former Disc Jockey
Kathy Granger
Dr. Earl Fever playing country favorites
Current Day
Michael Butler at the controls
Cutting the ribbon at the new location in 2000
Prior to Tallassee football vs. Clarke County in 2012
Kindergarten field trip to the studios in 2014

A Who's Who of Former WTLS Radio Personalities

Harlan Burton, Show Host - "I had a show called the "Harlan Burton Country Show." As Barbara Mandrell said, 'I was country when country wasn't cool.' I said, 'Ned you need to get away from this Rock 'N Roll and go country."

Hank Holman, WTLS' First Disc Jockey - "Ned (Butler) and I were working together in my hometown in Ozark. He said, 'I want you to come (to Tallassee) when we go on the air.' I said, it'd be fun to work with you and put a new station on the air, but I'm doing pretty well here. He said, 'I'll pay you five dollars a week more than you're making here.' I jumped at that."

Produced by Harold Shedd

Harold Shedd, Disc Jockey - "I don't think anyone had any idea that (Alabama) would be as successful as they were. We got to #17 with "My Home's in Alabama." That's when major record companies started to take notice. The next single was "Tennessee River," the first #1. We had 22 (#1 records) in a row."

Jack Mitchell, Disc Jockey/Station Manager - "(I) started about '58 or '59. I think I was about 13 or 14-years-old. I told Ned I wanted to be an announcer. He said, 'Come here boy. Let me hear you read.' Back then they would rip and read news off the AP wire. I found out real quick I better get out of here. I hung out at the radio station as much as I could after school and on weekends. One day, Ned was sick with the flu. He said, 'You know how to work this board?' I said, yes sir. 'He said, 'I'm going home and going to bed.' I was in hog heaven."

Charles "CC" Blalock, Show Host - "When this station opened up, man were we glad to hear a radio station in Tallassee, Alabama! One evening I came up and (Ned) was running the station. I told him what I wanted to do. Only thing he said was, 'When you want to start?'"

W. C. Bryant, Disc Jockey - "Back in the olden days, nothing was automated, no CDs, two turntables, you had a pot - that is a switch for every turntable and microphone. Back then you used to cue up your records to make sure they were going to start when you flipped the switch and there was no dead air. The great sin back then was having dead air. When you opened the mic you had to talk. When you flipped the switch there had to be music. Whenever you put a tape in the tape machine there was a commercial. If you put a record on to go to the restroom, you better be sure you timed your restroom visit to three minutes or you were going to be in trouble."

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