As I’m writing this, the legendary WABB-FM is playing it’s final songs as a Top40 radio station in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama. WABB has a special place in my heart for several reasons, not the least of which is that I was actually named after one of their deejays. I’ll explain in a minute. [Listen to WABB’s last hour on the air here]
WABB is one of the last privately-owned, local radio stations in the country. It’s also been the Gulf Coast’s #1 Hit Music Station for about 52 years since owner Bernie Dittman first bought WABB-AM. Bernie passed away a few years ago, leaving his family with the tough decision to sell their station after operating for the six years following his death. Educational Media Foundation, the station’s new owners, will switch to its K-Love contemporary Christian brand in minutes, at midnight 3/1. [Read the Story of WABB here]
I was born in Mobile to a radio family. My father, Jim Sands, was a broadcast journalist for legendary AM stations like WUNI & WMOB before joining Wayne Gardner for mornings on WKSJ-FM around 1972. Both of my uncles, Fred Sands and Les Coleman, worked in Mobile radio. Uncle Fred was a deejay for WABB when I was born in 1969, using the air name “Fred Scott” — for whom I was named, Fred Scott Sands.
WABB was the station I listened to for most of my youth; their formatics and personalities were a major influence when I landed my first radio job with WZKX/Gulfport-Biloxi at age 15. I wanted to be Scott Shannon. I wanted to be The Hound Dog. I wanted to be a Goofy White Guy. I wanted to be “Fred Scott,” a flame-throwin’ hot rockin’ night jock like my uncle and “SuperShan.” About six years after my career began, in 1990, I had the chance to work for Bernie as Operations Manager; ironically, not as a Top40 jock but to flip WABB-AM1480 from music to a news/talk format. Luckily, I did have the chance to pull a few airshifts on the “Gulf Coast’s 100,000-Watt Blowtorch” both solo and as part of bits on the Scott Innes morning show.
Although my period at Bernie’s School of Broadcasting lasted just a year, it was still a wonderful year … the Giant Boom Box, Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, High Striker at the Fair, Community Club Awards, big contests, working with Leslie Fram, and so many more. At least once a month while in Bernie’s “office” (really a museum or shrine to the history of WABB), he would point to a picture hanging on his wall of him and several old WABB jocks from the 60’s. He would point and tell me how much he enjoyed working with my brother. Every time, I would tell him that was my Uncle Fred. I’d love to have that picture today. Actually, as I think about it, I wonder who in the world has the job to clean Bernie’s office and all the old storage areas. As recently as last year, you could find old Boss 30 Countdown lists and cardboard cutouts of the Beatles randomly around the building. There are so many great memories of WABB, and so many great people I know who have also walked those halls (and eaten greasy food next door at the Freeman House) that I can’t list them all here.
Actually, I was just reminded of good times competing against WABB, too. For some reason, in 1998, Wayne Coy & Darrin Stone decided to pick a fight with my morning show on LIVE95 Biloxi (Scott, Darren Kies, & Virginia McGrane) … sending their van and stunt boy over to the Waffle House in Gulfport MS next to our studio. I seem to recall winning that battle and going on to become friends with Wayne & Darrin.
So, ever since the announcement of WABB’s sale, I’ve been looking for the two WABB aircheck cassettes I have of my time there … to no avail. I did find one business card, though. At least I will always have those memories, and the experience of being part of WABB, a Mobile institution and broadcasting cornerstone that served as a launching pad for so many careers.
Bernie, the radio industry misses you. And now, the city of Mobile will miss you, the community service, and great radio of WABB. To all the current air staff, the many great deejays and programmers who inspired my career for the last 20+ years, thank you and best of continued successes.
Reminiscing … Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.
UPDATE: Former PD Jo Valentine (2000-2004) is working on a WABB Tribute site. I look forward to its launch.
UPDATE: Cumulus launches Top40 “104.1 WABD” replacing its previous JACK-fm format in Mobile.