WIL-AM will be remembered for many things. It was the second station on the air in St. Louis (ed. note: Not true), going on the air in 1922. It was the first station west of the Mississippi River to air commercials for businesses. It had the first “man on the street” broadcasts with someone with a microphone outside, talking to people on the sidewalk about events of the day. They were the first station to carry the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball games (ed. note: Not true).And at one time they were the number one rock ‘n’ roll station. WIL-AM also has a rich history in St. Louis country music. In the early days they presented shows by many of the best bands and singers in the area on regular programs. Then came the time that they changed the face of country music in St. Louis.
In early 1968 WIL-AM was broadcasting an all-news format competing with KMOX. Tom Perryman, the manager at the time, convinced the owners to switch to a full-time country music format. He hired the most prominent program director in the nation, Chris Lane of WJJD in Chicago. Chris was also a great DJ, now a member of the Country DJ Hall of Fame. Perryman gave Chris a free rein to assemble the best DJs in the business to staff the station. It was a search that started in January of 1968 and took until June of that year. Chris was quoted as saying, “I took my time finding just the right guys until I felt I had the cream of the crop in DJs to really make an impact on the market!” All the DJs but one were rated number one in their respective markets.
The first was Davie Lee from Dallas, who was also named music director. That meant he was responsible for all the music to be played on the station. For about a year, Davie did the overnight show before moving to the 10 to 2 slot for the next 20 years. Next was Dick Byrd from San Diego, the morning man from 5 – 9 a.m. Chris did the 9 to 11 a.m. slot.
Then there was Dan Daily from Charlotte, N.C., to handle 11 to 3 p.m. Walter Vaughn from Dallas was a late addition to do the 3 to 7 p.m. show. Mike Haines from Knoxville, TN. was chosen to do the 7 p.m. to midnight shift. Today these guys are still close friends and admit it was the most fun they’ve ever had in radio.
WIL-AM immediately became the number one country music station in St. Louis and was named the number one country music station in America in 1969. After leaving WIL to buy into a radio station in San Jose, CA., Chris Lane was replaced by Larry Scott from WLAC in Los Angeles. He is also a member of the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame. After him the following men were program directors at WIL: Tom Allen, Walt Turner and Mike Carta. Under their leadership the station continued to prosper.
There came a time that FM radio became more and more popular, and WIL-FM also became a full-time country music station. After some time, the ownership decided to go with only WIL-FM and bought out the AM DJs, changed the call letters to WRTH and became the “middle of the road” format station that it is today. WIL-FM was a huge success and became the number one rated station in St. Louis, which it still is today (ed note: Not true).
Although it no longer is playing country music, the “old” WIL-AM with its dream team line up of DJs with their great visibility in the area, the Shower of Stars at Kiel Auditorium with all the great stars from Nashville, is still fondly remembered as the best thing to have ever happened for country music in St. Louis.
(From Gateway Country Music Association Who’s Who).