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WTLS founder Ned Butler (top left) with son Steve and grandson and current owner Michael Butler

70 years on the airwaves

Staff Report

In 1954, there were several significant events. Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio. Bill Haley & His Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock." Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile. And... WTLS signed on to the airwaves in Tallassee, Ala.

This week marks the 70th anniversary of that first broadcast on June 1 of '54.

1954 is also the year that Elvis Presley recorded his first single, "That's All Right," at Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. The next year, he dropped off a record at WTLS called, "Mystery Train," based on an account from former disc jockey John Culp.

Presley might have been the biggest star to ever visit the station, but there have been so many 'stars' to use the platform of radio to disseminate their messages. From talk of local concerts to yard sales, thousands have had their moment of fame via the radio.

Newspaper ad promoting the station in 1954

In seven decades, much has changed at WTLS, but the constant has been the Butler family name.

Ned Butler built WTLS. Bert Bank, who started what is now the Crimson Tide Sports Network, was the station's original owner. Butler, an engineer by trade, built stations with Bank as his partner across Alabama and purchased WTLS from him in 1956.

Ned and his wife Betty ran the operation with family until transferring ownership to grandson Michael in 1999.

Michael is still at it after 25 years himself. The morning show, the "Wake-Up Call," is in its silver anniversary year - still offering local content for local people.

"The secret to the longevity is the sense of community that remains from our listeners to our sponsors," Butler said. "This is Tallassee's station. It has always been that. We know our audience and the content targets their interests."

From high school football play-by-play to interviews with local leaders, that is what has kept WTLS relevant in the ever-changing world of mass media.

In that first year, WTLS broadcast the 1954 Tallassee Tigers, a team that won the Border Conference with a 9-1 record. The games were played back on Saturday mornings.

Games today are broadcast live on the air, not just on 1300 AM but also 106.9 FM in Tallassee and on 94.7 FM in Pike Road. There are those three radio channels but also the internet at www.1300wtls.com and a video feed on YouTube and Facebook.

"Technology has opened the door for us," said Butler. "We've adapted with the times and it's enhanced what we do - not just with sports coverage. There are no boundaries or limitations with a radio signal. With the internet, you can pick us up anywhere - and many have in foreign countries, whether it be a Tallassee Tigers' sportscast or video of the "Wake-Up Call" on a social media page."

The station now has a consecutive broadcast streak of 729 Tallassee High School football games dating back to 1954. It has also carried numerous other sports including baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling.

Broadcasting the 2024 state wrestling duals championships in Birmingham

WTLS produces two local shows daily; the "Wake-Up Call" and "River Region Sports." There are two weekday satellite programs; the "Chris Plante Show" and the "Southern Sports Today with Chuck Oliver."

"We still have some music programming," Butler added. "Things have kind of come full circle. Back in 1954, there was block programming with a variety of combined formats. We are still doing that. It's about providing programming that appeals to our listeners - and viewers now."

Michael Butler with country music legend John Conlee, prior to his concert put on by WTLS at Tallassee High School in 2018

One of the longest-running shows is a Sunday morning program hosted by Charles Blalock. "Gospel in the Morningtime" is on WTLS and Facebook each week. The program started in 1958 with the late Johnny Fitzpatrick as the host.

Blalock had his own gospel show in 1971, "The Gospel Train." He started hosting the Sunday show in recent years and at age 86 is still coming to the studio every weekend.

"I always wanted to be in radio," Blalock noted. "I went to a disc jockey school in New York. I went into the station and said, 'Mr. Ned, I came into to talk to you about possibly having me a gospel program.' He looked at me and said, 'When you want to start?'"

Some of the reach of WTLS goes beyond the Montgomery metro market. The station generates statewide, regional and national programming. WTLS is the flagship station for the AISA Championship Network with state title coverage of the Alabama Independent Schools' football, basketball, softball and baseball championships. It also produces the "Lindy's Football Report" with 107 affiliates from coast to coast.

WTLS has received some recognition during its extended business span. In 2004, it received the Tallasse Chamber of Commerce "Business of the Year" award. In 2007, WTLS was named the Alabama Broadcasters Association "Station of the Year."

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

*Vintage WTLS Photos

1950s
1960s
1970s
1980s
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
1990s
2000s
2010s
2020s
Michael Butler at the controls
Cutting the ribbon at the new location in 2000
Prior to Tallassee football vs. Clarke County in 2012
The Tallassee Anglers discuss their 2023 title

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!

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."