In the spring of 1955, the first announcement was made of the "coming" of Salem Radio station WBLU. In September 1956, after more than a year of planning tower sites, studio spaces, program schedules, talent, and a thousand other details, the station finally signed on the air! Most of the following was taken from a full page newspaper advertisement placed in the Sunday Roanoke Times on September 2, 1956. Other contributions came from the private collection of Dave Moran. Click here to see the WBLU sales brochure.
WBLU operated as an independent (no network affiliation) station, with local personalities, and programs aimed at pleasing the local populace. The bulk of the programming was music, with news scheduled each half hour.
Condon Bowers, general manager of the station, reported that considerable time and effort was spent in locating a well-rounded group of announcer personalities capable of entertaining the majority of the listeners. Don McGraw's association with WBLU was based on his knowledge of "hillbilly and western" music and his background of working in person with many of the top recording in the field. Sid Tear, who has been credited with much of the Glenn Miller revival in the past in this area, entertained with the nostalgic tunes of the 1935-1955 period. Barney Nash kept tally of today's hits. And Beverlie Lyles' music concentrated on stage shows and motion pictures.
Many stations call letters were selected to represent a corporation name, slogan, or other meaning. WRIS stands for Roanoke's Independent Station, WSLS represents Shenandoah Life Station. WROV points up Roanoke, Virginia. The call letters of WBLU stood for the Blue Ridge Mountains - the area the station served.
WBLU's broadcast day was from 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with 1000 watts at 1480 on the dial. Associated Press news was presented twice every hour - on the half hour, and immediately before the hour. News of local interest was added to the AP coverage.
First Commercial Manager
"Radio like newspaper work, gets in your blood, and it's impossible to live with out it". So said Ray Bentley, Commercial Manager of WBLU who's first job in radio began early in 1947 in Roanoke. Bentley was the day breaker on WROV, and advanced to continuity director. A copy position at a local advertising agency followed in 1950, and advancement to account executive was achieved. But after two years "out of radio", he moved back with the advent of television. Sales managership followed, and Bentley remained in that position in radio until he assumed his new duties at WBLU. Since being graduated from St. Andrews High School in 1939, Bentley had been associated with Richardson-Wayland Electrical Corporation and the N & W Railroad. He left the railroad in 1942 to join the aviation program of the Navy and was graduated in 1944 from the Pensacola Naval Air Academy after attending courses at the University of Virginia, VPI, and the University of North Carolina. Duty in the pacific theater followed. And after serving as "Death Ray Patrol Officer" at the first atom bomb test at Bikini, he returned to Roanoke and entered radio. Bentley retained his commission in the Naval Reserve and was the Public Information Officer of the Roanoke-based Aviation Ground Unit No. 862 associated with Navy Norfolk. He served as vice-president of the Roanoke Jaycees, Deputy Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus, President of the St. Andrews Alumni Association, and a member of Big Brothers of America, Inc. Bentley and his wife, the former Jane Smith resided in southwest Roanoke. They had three children. One son worked for XM Satellite Radio, the nations newest local station. His name. ....Terry "Motor-Mouth" Young.
The Happiest Man In Radio, Don McGraw, Was the First Morning Announcer. A cheerful "Hi Dee" awakened Salemites and Roanokers when WBLU's Daybreaker, Don McGraw, spins his records, tells his tales, and engages in a chuckling conversation with his studio kitty. This rotund master of the "hillbilly and western" hits has brought happiness to millions as the host on WRVA's "All Night Record Roundup" in Richmond. His popularity has led to a recording contract with "Twin-City" records where he has written and recorded many beautiful songs, including "Tell Me", "Trying to Forget", "Do You", and many others which are hummed, sung, and whistled everywhere. Don McGraw's mailbag at WRVA testifies to his fabulous popularity. His cheerful "Hi Dee" has become the watchword of friendliness all over the east. No hillbilly or western star will ever come thru the Roanoke Valley without spending time with Don McGraw at WBLU. "The happiest man in radio" was heard twice daily on WBLU - from 6 to 8 a.m., and from 4 to 6:30 p.m.
In 1959 a local band from Richmond, the Rock-A-Teens auditioned for Don McGraw, who owned a record shop in Salem. McGraw was impressed by the boys' own composition "Rock-A-Teen Boogie", a falsetto-refrained instrumental with one of rock's first midtune drum solos. Retitled "Woo-Hoo", it came out on Doran (number 3515) in August 1959, coupled with "Untrue", a vocal number. WBLU announcer Dick Moran (pictured on the left) engineered the session. Thus the name of the record label for this pressing became Doran, the first letter of the name Don and the last four letters of Moran. These first pressings on the Doran label credited the Rock-A-Teens as the writers of "Woo Hoo". However, none other than Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith sued the group for plagiarism, much to the confusion of the young boys. McGraw then said "I'll buy the song off you guys and that way they can't sue you". For a hundred dollars, the song got a new owner. Unbeknownst to the group, McGraw struck a deal with Morris Levy at Roulette Records in New York to reissue the record for national distribution on Roulette 4192, now with composer credits on both sides going to G.D. McGraw.
"The Colonel," Sid Tear heard on WBLU
The microphones at Roanoke's WRBX were the first that Sid Tear, "The Colonel", faced in his twenty-two year radio career. Since that occasion in 1934, Sid worked with many famous personalities, including Ernie Ford, Red Foley, Eddie Arnold, and a host of others. And his activities have been centered around the western Virginia area - in Wytheville, Clifton Forge and Roanoke. Sid's airshift when WBLU took the air in 1956 was from 8 to 10 a.m. and again from 2 to 4 p.m. daily, and on the "Music and Scores" show Saturdays at 2 o'clock.
Radio Veteran Barney Nash Program Director of WBLU
The program director of WBLU enjoyed a wide range of radio duties in his 23 years of broadcasting. Barnes Hutchinson Nash was born in 1915 in Roanoke, and attended Roanoke high schools and local music schools. His first job in radio was at Roanoke's WRBX at Crystal Spring, The termination of the station's activities led to employment with WHIS (Bluefield) as an announcer, entertainer, and studio pianist. Other station associations included WOPI (Bristol), WJLS (Beckley), WWVA (Wheeling), KTBC (Austin) and WSLS (Roanoke). Among his many assignments in the radio field, Nash spent four months in Texas making commercial transcriptions for the Sellers Transcription Studios. Nash entered the Army to serve in the 9th Infantry Division for the Army's Special Services, after which he accepted program directing duties at KTBC, Austin, Texas. These duties were followed by a return to WHIS.
Within a year of signing on the air, WBLU had formed a bond with the community of Salem and new talent was hired to help focus on it's youthful image. This popular announcer was Dick Moran (left) and a year later in 1958 Dick's brother Dave (right) joined the WBLU staff. The Moran brothers knew the music young people wanted to hear. Modern popular music was played daily from 1 to 4. Saturdays WBLU presented "Wolverine Turntable" a teen orginated program with students from Andrew Lewis High School.
A number of "Wolverine Turntable" staffers went on to jobs in radio or broadcast related jobs. From left to right: Steve Kennamer, later worked full-time at WBLU - Norman Moore, later full time at WBLU, he did news at WROV, also worked at WGAR in Cleveland - Sally Rikard - Tom King, later full-time at WBLU, WRBL in Georgia, became an FCC Attorney, now a judge - Lloyd Shockley, (brother of the late Norm Shockley-WFIR), runs ad agency in Richmond.
In the late 50's, Don McGraw wanting to spend more time with his recording studio departed WBLU. His replacement was Bill Reid who in the beginning used the radio name Bo Humpries. Bill was a local entertainer who performed with his wife, Mary in the area. He had a number of regional best sellers of his own. By this time the term Hillbilly Music had changed to Country Music and WBLU promoted Country each day from 6 to 9 a.m. and then again from 4 p.m. until sign-off.
Listed Below are just a few of the station's promotions!
April Fools Day 1959
Tennis Court Dancing
A candid shot of Dick Moran at work (October 1957)
In 1961 while attending Roanoke College country songwriter and storyteller Tom T. Hall worked on the air at WBLU.
Special thanks to Dave Moran for supplying photos and other materials related to WBLU.