Joe Croley works the soundboard at WBNM on Radio Road in Alexander City, a Southern gospel station located in Alexander City. | David D. Goodwin
Joe Croley works the soundboard at WBNM on Radio Road in Alexander City, a Southern gospel station located in Alexander City. | David D. Goodwin

Archived Story

‘That old-timey feel’

Published 8:29pm Friday, November 22, 2013

1123 radio_FOR_WEBThough iTunes, mp3s and automated playlists have worn away at the popularity of AM and FM radio, the industry lives on.

And a longtime favorite of the local radio market is making a new push for listeners, under the fresh call-letter of WBNM. The Alexander City Southern Gospel station broadcasts on AM 1050 with a repeater on FM 99.1, from Radio Road, where AM 1050 has been pumping out music across the area since at least the 1950s.

“We’re trying to regenerate that old-timey feel,” said ministry representative Cassie Keyes, a name well-known to local gospel listeners from her many years at Dadeville’s WELL, Praise 88.7. “We’re trying to keep Southern Gospel alive in this area.”

Keyes and local resident Joe Croley have been involved in local Southern Gospel at both stations since the 1980s. WBNM has changed formats and ownership a few times. In 2007, former owner Jimmy Jarrell took it over. His wife Pat has assumed the owner’s position since Jarrell’s death a few months ago.

“It’s the ministry that really matters,” Keyes said. “I think that’s why Pat has kept the doors

open. Jimmy had a heart after good Southern Gospel; he loves the old stuff.”

Now, Croley shares his gospel favorites each Saturday morning. Barry Ingram takes the get-ready-for-church slot on Sunday. They update the weather and have news at the top of the hour from the Salem Network. Ingram, too, has been a noted voice in local radio for more than two decades.

“When you key that microphone, though, the main thing is that it’s a ministry,” Croley said.

Croley remembers a show he did with Steve Culbertson, which they called the Cubby and Crow Show. There were times the DJs’ ministry to their callers was real and undeniable.

One caller admitted she was in serious emotional and psychological distress, even contemplating suicide. She requested a specific song, “Go Rest High on the Mountain.” Croley kept it playing while Culbertson took a mobile phone into the next room to talk things out with her.

“Most of the music we play helps to give them hope,” Keyes said, noting there are many shut-ins and senior citizens who are their true target audience.

Keyes even spoke with one of them Friday – “she calls in every day,” Keyes said.

They had a turntable play the old 33s – 33 RPM records – and “the phones would start jumping,” Croley said.

The station’s spot on the dial, AM 1050, has a long and storied history. Legend has it that Hank Williams once performed on the air at the WRFS studios in downtown Alexander City, Keyes said. Croley said he’s heard of an interview from a city jail cell across the street, too, but both mid-century tales are hard to pin down.

Louise Day once shared the goings on around town in a show called “Daily Doings.”

Day was “a pioneer back in the 60s,” Croley said.

The WRFS led to a phrase around town, “Radio’s Finest Station,” he added, and through the 60s and 70s, it had a mostly Top-40s format.

Later on, Henry Waites would pioneer the old-time Southern Gospel format, Croley said, opening with a theme song of Floyd Cramer’s “I Saw the Light.”

The station was almost all volunteer, with some agreeing to keep the station going 24/7 in the days before automation and computers phased out the disc jockey almost entirely.

“We’d work two or three shifts straight sometimes before the computers’ time,” Keyes said.

The station has a valued role in the Southern Gospel music industry. Croley sends his favorites in to “Singing News” magazine each year to be reflected in the Top-80 Gospel charts.

Keyes said they’ve been broadcasting more or less continuously since Jarrell’s purchase, but only really marketed the station “through word of mouth and friends or family.”

“We’re an old station with a new twist,” she said. “We want to remind folks we’re here.”