For immediate release
October 25, 1999
NPR Revisits WHER - The World's First All-Girl Radio Station
WHER: 1,000 Beautiful Watts Airs October 29 on All Things Considered
"When I started WHER…people thought I had rocks in my head. A girl could do a cooking show, but no one thought girls could handle hour-to-hour programs and commercials. I felt differently. I had always wanted a radio station, but Memphis already had nine. I had to do something different. An all-girl crew, and pleasant, light music, was the answer." ~Sam Phillips, Memphis, TN, 1960
[Washington, DC] -- On Friday, October 29, NPR's® evening newsmagazine All Things Considered® features WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, the story of the world's first all-girl radio station. Started by Memphis recording legend Sam Phillips in 1955, the station introduced women's voices to the airwaves of Memphis and beyond. [Please contact your local NPR station for broadcast times, or visit NPR online at www.npr.org.]
WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts recounts the story of WHER AM 1430: its sensational beginnings in a few rooms at a Memphis Holiday Inn; the surprise of listeners who heard women leading a broadcast for the first time; the roles of the women who played the records, managed the station, and reported the news; and the pastel, beauty salon-like decor of the station's studio. The piece includes rare clips from WHER broadcasts, as well as contemporary interviews with Sam Phillips and surviving members of the station staff.
WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts is part of the year-long "Lost & Found Soundä" series, NPR's acclaimed end-of-the century retrospective that celebrates the last hundred years of American life in recorded sound. "Lost & Found Sound," a nationwide collaboration between NPR, independent producers, artists, radio stations, and listeners, is led by Executive Producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva (The Kitchen Sisters), Jay Allison, and NPR's Art Silverman. Funding for the series is provided by The National Endowment for the Arts and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
National Public Radio, a membership organization of 607 public radio stations across America, is radio's leading provider of high-quality news, information and cultural programming. NPR is the producer and distributor of award-winning programs such as Morning Edition,® NPR's Performance Today,® and CarTalk.® NPR serves a growing audience of 14 million Americans each week. NPR can be accessed on-line at www.npr.org.
WHER: 1,000 Beautiful Watts: The Story
WHER, the first all-girl radio station in the world, went on the air in Memphis on October 29, 1955. It was the brainchild of sound legend Sam Phillips, who created the groundbreaking format with money he raised from selling Elvis Presley's Sun Studios contract. In doing so, he satisfied a childhood dream of owning a radio station, a station unlike any other on the dial. Many said it wouldn't last, a radio station featuring only the voices of women. But it did last for eleven years, going off the air in 1966.
The story of this forgotten chapter in radio history comes to the airwaves on October 29, 1999 (44 years after WHER's first broadcast) on NPR's All Things Considered®. Produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts captures what was a fresh concept in its day, as well as the curiosity of those that listened.
Phillips started WHER - 1430 on the AM dial - with the help of a few key players, including old friend Kemmons Wilson, a rags-to-riches Memphis millionaire who owned what at that point was considered a local family chain of motor hotels called Holiday Inn. To the radio business Wilson brought a few dollars, and a few spare rooms of the third Holiday Inn ever built. Those rooms would become the first home of WHER.
An early article described the station this way: "The studio and offices have been feminized from front door to rear exit. The disc jockeys are called jockettes, the studio is known as the doll's den, the control rooms are called playrooms, the hallway is mirrored, the equipment room has been decorated with murals depicting the evolution of feminine clothing, the stationery is perfumed, the advertisers are listed in a date book, and the exit to the parking lot is lettered 'Bye Bye Till Next Time.'"
Women almost exclusively ran WHER. On the air they read the news, interviewed local celebrities, and spun popular records. Behind the scenes they sold and created commercials, produced and directed programming and sat at the station's control boards.
In its life as an all-girl radio station, WHER generated considerable attention from the rest of the Memphis radio community, as well as imitator stations across the country. In another early clip about the station, then Assistant Manager and Program Director Dorothy Abbott was quoted saying, "We are not trying to prove the we can get along in a world without men. We are simply trying to prove that when a group of women make up their collective minds that they are going to do something successfully, no force on earth can keep them from it." WHER certainly proved her point.
WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts is part of the yearlong "Lost & Found Soundä" series, which airs Fridays through January 2000 on NPR's All Things Considered. "Lost & Found Sound" presents richly layered stories that chronicle, reflect, and celebrate the changing century through sound.
WHER: 1,000 Beautiful Watts: The Details
ORIGINAL LOCATION OF WHER:
The third Holiday Inn ever built, Memphis, TN
- Becky Phillips, 1955 -. Disc Jockey, News, Librarian. Auditioned music. Hometown: Sheffield, Alabama
- Rena Franklin - 1956-1958. Disc Jockey, Station Librarian, Publicity Coordinator.
- Janie Joplin, 1959 -. Disc Jockey. Had a morning show & wrote commercials. Hometown: Memphis.
- Denise Howard, 1955-. Promotion Director/Designer/Account Exec. Hometown: Memphis.
- Bettye Berger 1957 & 1962. Disc Jockey & Sales. Hometown: Memphis.
- Dean Duvall, Sales Manager. Her nickname was "The Hat." Hometown: Kentucky. Marge Thrasher, 1960 - early eighties. On-air personality; first to bring the call-in talk show to the radio in the Memphis area in 1967. Hometown - Lohrville, Iowa.
- Donna Barlett, 1965- 1971. Disc Jockey, Copy Writer. Hometown - Memphis.
- Jaine Rodack, 1967 - 1971. Disc Jockey & Host of Talk Show. Hometown: Philadelphia.
- Jackie Kelly - 1967 - 1971. Disc Jockey & Copywriter & Traffic. Hometown: Memphis.
- Wanda Martin (Price) - 1965- 1970. Disc Jockey & Bookkeeping. She used to say while on-air "I love you whole bunches." Hometown - Texas.
- Sylvia Black - 1960s. Radio Announcer & Board Operator.
Sam Phillips, President & Founder, WHER, 1955
Kemmons Wilson, VP, WHER (Founder of the Holiday Inn)