Early County News

Local Feature: From WBBK to the Big BAM




 

 

“And then Brownie Fryer took over to play rock and roll until sign off.”

To a man, that’s what everyone associated with WBBK radio during its heyday recalls about the final hours of each weekday broadcast. Brownie Fryer was synonymous with rock and roll music. And with WBBK. He should be, he grew up there.

Lewis Brown Fryer III, known to everyone as “Brownie,” was only 15 years old when his life-long career in radio and television began. It was his familiarity, and notoriety, for music that paved his way back in 1965.

“Wayne Foster knew of my connections with music and bands. He approached me and asked if I was interested in working for the radio station.”

Brownie Fryer played trombone for the Early County High School band and for the Bobcat Brass, an award-winning musical group within the band that performed frequently. Later he joined the Seventh Soul Division, a popular band that performed concerts throughout the area, as headliners and with other nationally known groups. It seemed fitting that Brownie should spin vinyl records on a turntable at the local radio station. But in another place and time, it might not have happened.

This group, the Bobcat Brass, was part of the ECHS band. This picture was taken in 1967.

This group, the Bobcat Brass, was part of the ECHS band. This picture was taken in 1967.

WBBK radio had been on the air a mere five years when Fryer entered what was then Blakely-Union High School. The popularity of the Beatles had swept across the globe but in rural America, the radio airwaves were packed with country and gospel music. The pop music of that era had yet to reach small town radio. Once it did, WBBK was prepared.

In 1965, “Beatle music,” as many referred to the British influenced music of the time, was only two years old. WBBK expanded their audience by playing music for teenagers on Saturday afternoons, following Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on television.

With the addition of Brownie Fryer, WBBK took things a step further by playing teenage music on weekdays during after school hours from 4:00 p.m. until signoff. Additional deejays, like Jimmy Barksdale and Leonard Harris, were hired from the high school ranks to keep the music going on Saturday afternoons.

Leaving school and arriving just in time to hit the air, most of Brownie’s time was spent putting records on the turntable, playing commercials, making occasional on-air advertisements, announcing the hourly news from UPI and reading the weather. In the case of breaking national news or a sudden storm popping up locally, those announcements were made between records.

The production staff, which included most everyone whose voice you ever heard over the air – Wayne Foster, Albert Newberry, Eugenia Foster, Pete Sayers and others – were busy recording the commercials you heard on WBBK. As he became more involved, Brownie would also record commercials as well as promos for various music concerts in the area. Many of the latter were sent to other radio stations such as WBAM in Montgomery which was a popular station among teenagers.

While the program director, Albert Newberry, scheduled which commercials were to be played at what time, the music selection was at the discretion of the disc jockeys. Brownie Fryer picked out the record, cued it up on the turntable, and soon the music was coming through our radios at home or in our cars.

“There were some high school girls who came in and took requests from the listeners because I couldn’t take requests while also playing the records. We did a few dedications, but it would have taken all day for them all.”

You would think that WBBK would have had every vinyl disc from the Animals to Frank Zappa, but it wasn’t that easy for a small-town radio station to get its hands on all the popular records at that time.

“The bigger radio stations got first pick from the record companies as the hit songs were released. We had to search to find those records any way we could,” explained Wayne Foster.

“I would shop around to find the Top 40 records,” said Fryer, “and Wayne Foster would give me an allowance for those I could locate. I could easily get records from local bands who wanted me to play their records.”

Not all records they received were played on the air. “Some of the songs had questionable lyrics,” Fryer explained, “so Wayne wouldn’t let us play those.”

Getting the records wasn’t the case at stations like 50,000-watt WBAM in Montgomery, the Big BAM as everyone called it. That was where Fryer ended up after more than six years at WBBK. Some of the promos that he recorded for area rock groups and sent out to radio stations caught the attention of WBAM. They offered him a job and he left WBBK in February of 1972.

“My duties were about the same as at WBBK – play records, record commercials,” Fryer recalled. “Sometimes I did remotes. I stayed at that job for several years before taking over as music director, then program director, and finally I got into news reporting.”

As deejay and music director, Fryer was involved with the “Big BAM Shows,” rock festival style concerts at Garrett Coliseum featuring top artists such as the Beach Boys, the Turtles, the Hollies and the Cowsills. At his first “Big BAM Show, Fryer took the stage to introduce Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. The following year, the headliners were The Osmonds.

Fryer recalls a humorous concert story from before his days at WBAM. “Jeannie C. Riley was in Dothan for a concert at the Farm Center. She was also to be Grand Marshall of the Peanut Festival parade. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (noted songwriters and performers) were also performing, brought to town by Tom Freeman of Columbia. Their performance prompted a visit from none other than Dick Clark, so the festival asked Dick Clark to be Grand Marshall. Jeannie C. Riley was not happy.”

After working as news director at WBAM, Fryer continued in that vein but in a different medium. He worked as the ABC News affiliate television station, then at the CBS affiliate and finally became director at WSFA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Montgomery.

And it all started at WBBK radio in Blakely.

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