Originally created 12/01/05

WGAC was launchpad for many country, bluegrass artists in area



You wouldn't expect in today's crowded, Augusta-area radio market that one broadcast station would welcome a competitor to the airwaves, but that's what happened when WGAC-AM (580) went on the air 65 years ago today.

"A salute from station WRDW to the new station was broadcast simultaneously by the two stations shortly after WGAC took the air with its first regularly scheduled programs," The Augusta Chronicle reported the next day.

WGAC officially went on the air at 5 p.m. that day in 1940 with a 30-minute introductory program that included Augusta Mayor James M. Wooddall and North Augusta Mayor R.B. Mealing.

WRDW and WGAC are now owned by Beasley Broadcast Group Inc., based in Naples, Fla.

More than two months before WGAC went on the air, The Chronicle reported that the first manager of the station - then under construction on Sand Bar Ferry Road just below East Boundary - would be J.B. Fuqua.

He later founded Augusta's first television station, WJBF (Channel 6), which still bears his initials. He also founded Fuqua Industries, now based in Atlanta.

Over the past six decades, WGAC has had its share of great announcers, including George Fisher and Harley Drew, but the station also once offered live performances by some popular bluegrass and country music performers.

One such group was The Smoky Mountaineers, whose members at various times included Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Carl Smith, Slim Williamson, Wiley Morris, Hoke Jenkins and Curly Seckler.

By the summer of 1949, the Mountaineers had gained such a following that they were heard several times during the week on WGAC.

They also performed throughout the Augusta area.

Smith, who recorded with Columbia Records for 22 years, was a lead vocalist with the group in late 1948 and early 1949.

"The radio stations didn't play a lot of records then, and if they did, they weren't country,'' he said. "Most of the stations I was around would have maybe two 30-minute shows a day of country music, and the rest of it was a little bit of everything from symphony music to news."

One by one, the members of The Smoky Mountaineers left Augusta for bigger things, playing on some of the greatest stages of the world.

The band's broadcast home of WGAC, however, continues to be what Ray Ringson, the manager of its rival station, described 65 years ago today "as a medium of public information, entertainment and public service."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 35 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.