Loyal DJs made the ride easier: ‘A friend for life’
April 8, 2011 | by: Lucinda Coulter
In Overdrive’s 1972 contest for truckers’ favorite disc jockey, Charlie Douglas, then of WWL in New Orleans, was named the magazine’s 1973 Disc Jockey of the Year. Some of the finalists, all of whom are famous, are featured in Overdrive‘s April Retro story. Several such as Bill Mack are still on the radio covering news, introducing new singers and generally soothing truckers’ long rides.
Their comments in the July 1972 issue, in quoted passages here, show dedication to their craft and to their trucker listeners.
CHARLIE DOUGLAS moved his radio career to Nashville in the early 1980s and started Compact Disc Xpress in 1995. He is still active with the company. The native of Ludowici, Ga., described how he became interested in trucking: “When I was a kid, my Dad had a bunch of pulpwood trucks running in and out of the lumber mill in Ludowici . . . and an even larger number of tractor-trailer rigs hauling huge pines and cypress logs. There was a particular driver, who on occasion would let this barefoot pesky kid hitch a ride from where we were cutting into town . . . and once in a while I’d get to drive that old Ford on one of the straight stretch paved roads. I’ve been fascinated by the big ones ever since.”
His respect for truckers is clear: “I watched, with a feeling of distant self-satisfaction, as the truckers have successfully improved the image of the profession, integrated themselves into the American mainstream of middle and upper middle class of society. This integration has come about with absolutely no loss of manliness . . . Truckers and construction workers are the last vestiges of hard-nosed pride in being male. They are the last ones to practice that time-honored art of whistling at pretty girls . . . This nation would be in one helluva fix if it weren’t for the men that follow lines between the ditches . . . and the ladies too, ‘bless ‘em . . . I appreciate and admire the entire industry.”
RALPH EMERY joined WSM in Nashville in 1957 and was named the nation’s Number One Country Disc Jockey six times and hosted “Opry Star Spotlight” week nights from 10 until 4 a.m. He, like other DJs, appreciated commercial drivers for the news they called in: “The night people are the most fascinating in the world. When they call in, I wish I could spend more time with them because boredom and loneliness are the worst things that can happen to a person. Truckers are my biggest listeners because not only are they mostly country music lovers, but they like the way I keep the show sort of loose and relaxed. We’ve been very fortunate during the winter months to have the valuable assistance of many truckers in reporting weather and road conditions over all the states covered by WSM.”
MIKE HOYER, with KWMT in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was named Billboard magazine’s Country DJ of the Year in 1959, and he recorded the popular trucking song, “Bulldog Mack” and “Someone Stole My Teddy Bear.” He noted drivers’ loyalty: “The trucker is one of the most dedicated listeners a DJ could ever have. If he likes you and the way you do your show, he’s a friend for life. I’ve personally met many of my truck-driving listeners and their sincerity is just great. . . Our studios are located right next to U.S. 169, and you’d be amazed as to how many of the truckers give us a blast on the air horn as they roar by. It’s a very warm feeling I have when I realize that they haven’t forgotten ole’ Mike since he left the nighttime airwaves for the daytime.”
BILL MACK, known as both the Satellite Cowboy and the earlier moniker, Midnight Cowboy, still records out of his home in Fort Worth, Texas, on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. The longtime DJ and song writer became a celebrity Grammy winner with for his song “Blue” in 1996. Mack told Overdrive for the 1972 article that he averaged about 250 calls per his show, “Bill’s Open Road,” with the mix of country music, country music artist interviews, news and weather.
“Truck drivers and other folks with similar jobs that keep them up all night literally make my show,” he said. “Those boys out there on the highway do a bunch of driving while most people are fast asleep. On a long haul, things get dull . . . and lonely. I just try to keep them company by giving them the kind of music and entertainment they want because without these guys, I wouldn’t have a show. We try to find out what these drivers want in the way of music and then give it to them. And they know they can get WBAP anywhere in the country. The result is that we get plenty of feedback and the show is tailored accordingly. It’s really a simple approach, but it’s solid, too.” Listen to Mack’s Aug. 2010 video interview conducted by Overdrive Editorial Director Max Heine, on RetroVideos, bottom left on this site.
LARRY SCOTT had been named the Country Music Association’s Country Music Disc Jockey of the Year by 1972. Before he settled with KLAC in Los Angeles, he was well known in St. Louis, Mo.; Bakersfield, Calif.; and Dallas. Overdrive described him as a “soft-spoken, good natured” native of the Ozark Mountains of southwest Missouri, a setting prominent in country music. Scott did a truck ride along in the 1970s to gain more insight into truckers’ jobs. His remarks reflect that experience: “I think truckers are real people. Country music is real music. It’s earthy and simple. I think most truckers, like most country disc jockeys, are simple people. Truckers have a feeling like they’ve never met a stranger. They’re very courteous. Just like they are when they’re on the highway. My most courteous callers are truckers. Boy, I tell you, they sure know their country music. They’re all men, and the women dig that. Basically, they’re the hard-core working men of this country – honest and friendly.”