George Carr and Radio Station WFEB – Remembrances of Sylacauga by Ginger Clifton
The first radio station in this county was WFEB. Owned by E.E. Forbes of Birmingham, he sold an interest in the station to George Carr in the mid-1950’s. Carr was the station manager and later became the sole owner. An article in the Daily Home in 1984 reports, “The first tower was made of cast iron pipe due to the shortage of materials during World War II. Today, the station operates on 1,000 watts in the daytime and 250 watts at night.” That first station was in the 500 block of North Broadway, but it was moved to the Millerville Highway in 1972. I remember the quiet dignity of George Carr long before I became acquainted with his unforgettable wife, Nerine. Nerine worked for Jimmy Purcell at Parker Fertilizer in the days when employer/employee had a golden bond.
The Carr family was completed with two boys, Barry and Bruce, 5 years younger. I never knew Barry, but Bruce played sports and graduated from SHS in 1980 with my son, Ray. I fell in love with Bruce’s dry wit and fun-loving nature during those very special years. George Carr became ill when Bruce was finishing his senior year at Alabama in 1983-84. Bruce felt he must come home and take the reins at the station, but popular, iconic, L.R. Ross, who was assistant general manager of the station stepped up and assured Bruce that he could help out until Bruce graduated. George Carr passed February 18, 1984, and Nerine in 2014.
In the days of my childhood when radio was king, every household was acquainted with the wonderful programming of WFEB. Swap and Shop hosted by L. R. Ross and later Bruce Carr. People called in to buy, sell, or swap; and my parents who held a rental house, depended on this spot for perspective tenants. L.R. who had a special way of advertising “ dried black-eyed peas and hog jowl” on sale at the IGA, brought smiles to listeners with his down-home announcements and the gospel music he played.
Other people who worked at the station that you will doubtless remember were engineer and announcer, Conrad Pickren (Pick) , Kit Carson, Millard Smith, Bill Jessup, and Danny Whitsett. Don Stephens, recently contacted me about his wonderful memories of George Carr and this station, and it is his remembrances that connect most with me. Don writes, “George Carr gave me an opportunity in 1956 to work in radio as an announcer and in radio sales. My first assignment on the air was an hour gospel music program at 8 a.m. weekdays. Some of my sales accounts at the time were Hutto-Gladden Furniture, Blue -Ribbon Cleaners,
McClure’s Refrigeration, Bill Fields, State Farm Insurance Agent, and the Coosa Theater in Childersburg.” I can certainly remember that my sister and I would listen to the radio that sat in the corner cabinet by that yellow/grey formica table in the kitchen. Those announcers had to have a gift to touch people’s hearts and keep them listening. Don remembers Kit Carson’s show , Carson’s Corner, who was always there to “spin the platters and make with the chatter.” Mentors are so important, and Don Stephens memories of George Carr remind me of so many people who invested in my life in those early days when “I did not have it figured out.” Don goes on to write, “I’ll always be grateful for instructions that Mr. Carr provided for a young up-start. He taught me how to be a radio broadcaster, not to be satisfied with just being a disc-jockey. In October, 1957, I pulled a bulletin from the teletype machine and reported on the air that Russia had placed a satellite in orbit. That was Sputnik arriving to bring fear to the U.S. In December of 1957, I remember the news that a test Vanguard Rocket exploded on the launch pad at the U.S. Florida test site.”
Bruce Carr is no longer owner of the radio station, but he still is a presence that keeps old-timers like myself tuned in. In the morning it is comforting to hear, “It’s just plain ole partly cloudy,” to begin my day. Tim Orton, Steve Sprayberry, and Bruce are no longer together doing the play-by-play of Friday night football, but B101FM is still the Home of the Crimson Tide and the Sylacauga Aggies. Bruce is still bringing us this special coverage along with Harold Drummonds.
Back to Don Stephen’s wonderful memories: “George and Pick took me along when the station broadcast local football games. We went to Montgomery for a game at Crampton Bowl. My job was to read live commercial copy during the broadcast and describe the half-time show. When George and Pick went down for refreshments and a break, I was ready to describe the show on the field. The P.A. announcer put fear in my heart as he said the half-time show had been cancelled. What do I do now? I read every word on the printed program, described the weather, gave a description of Crampton Bowl, and I don’t know what else I said. I did learn from that experience what many radio broadcasters and politicians do, TALK TILL YOU THINK OF SOMETHING TO SAY!”
It is always people that make life horrid or special. Special people like the George Carr family are always a part of our hearts and lives. Don Stephens went on to become a radio broadcaster in markets like Montgomery, Pensacola, Toledo, Atlanta and Nashville, interviewing President Gerald Ford, and meeting Gov. Jimmie Davis and sitting beside Loretta Lynn at the Ryman Auditorium. He remembers fondly helping to record a video presentation in preparation for the 1975 Billy Graham Crusade. Don says, “I humbly submit that these things may never have happened had it not been for George Carr and WFEB, and as they used to say, “The Biggest little station in the nation.”
George Carr is now playing “Music Beyond the Stars,” but memories of those good times still linger in our hearts right here in Sylacauga, Alabama. It was a wonderful time, and not so long ago at that!
Special thanks to Don Stephens, Bruce and Tracey Carr, Nina Lambert, and Earl Lewis.