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(The Original) WIS Radio, Bull St & WIS Lane: 1980s   76 comments

Posted at 5:30 pm in Uncategorized

What to say about the original WIS Radio? Well, I think it's hard to describe to a modern audience, but for me growing up, it was a constant and welcome presence in my life.

WIS started broadcasting on 10 July 1930 with call letters that stood for Wonderful Iodine State (to celebrate the natural abundance of the goiter preventing element in South Carolina, a big deal in the days before iodized salt). I'm not absolutely sure if it signed on with its historic frequency, but for all the time I knew it, it was AM 560 (560 kilocycles or as it is now called, 560 kilohertz). Or if you were in your car, once you set the station, it was was just known, as the drivetime show put it, as WIS:Pushbutton One

In those days (from the 30s to the 60s) AM radio was the norm, and FM radio was a bit exotic. Most radios sold were AM only, and AM radio was the medium for all kinds of music from rock & pop all the way to classical and opera. Most importantly, the clock radio sitting on top of our refrigerator was AM only, and too high for a kid to retune easily, and it was set to WIS.

That meant that all through grammar school and into high school, I mostly started my mornings with toast, orange juice, milk & cereal ... and Gene McKay. McKay was the morning host at WIS, and he ran a very low key show with gentle humor and good helpings of music interspersed with the events and news of the day. He had a number of running jokes, with two of the most popular being first the reports of new doings at the worlds most inept college, Crodney Tech, whose teams, under the aegis of head coach Arms Akimbo had apparently never won a game of any sort, and second, anything involving Irmo. McKay apparently was at first just fascinated with the way the word sounded, and used it as a tag for jokes, but later he started making up "history" bits about the doings of the Ancient Irmese and eventually, in a manner on which I'm not entirely clear, ended up either inspiring or founding the annual Irmo Okra Strut, which endures to this day.

The other personality I remember from the classic era (ie: when I was growing up :-) is Bill Benton. Benton had a talk show, perhaps called something as simple as Time to Talk though I'm not sure that's right and conducted many interesting interviews with local personalities and people passing through town on publicity tours. In general though, I heard few of those because I would be in school during the day, and frankly as a kid wasn't that interested in the abstract, though they did catch my ear sometimes when I was home sick. What I did listen specifically for was Ghost Story Thursday. That means exactly what it looks like. It's hard to imagine now, and even at the time it was a bit retro, but every Thursday night, Benton would bring out a book of ghost stories and read out-loud as many as his time slot allowed. That was some scary stuff! Of course, the only one I can actually remember right now was not scary so much as it was funny, though I'm sure Benton was not amused at the time. Whether a crew member was having a bit of fun by setting him up, or if Benton just pulled a likely book from his stash without having time to pre-read, he ended up one night with a book of "modern" ghost stories and started reading something (think Ann RIce or Lauren K. Hamilton) that was heading in a direction he clearly could not allow it to go on the radio. I was old enough then to kind of appreciate what was happening, and after a couple of references to "thighs" and Benton reading slower and slower, trying to edit in real-time, he finally just had to stop, apologize for not being able to finish and move on to something else. (Yes, I know this is similar to a Garrison Keillor bit, but it really happened).

WIS was the station for USC athletics and though I was never really into sports, I can remember many times hearing Bob Fulton ("The Voice of the Gamecocks") calling games on the radio. It was also for many years the local affiliate for the Atlanta Braves, and I was listening one night grilling burgers in the back yard (perhaps the last time I did that, come to think of it) when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record. WIS was also the dominant radio news station, and had the first, and still perhaps the only, helicopter radio traffic reports. These were given added authority by the fact that instead of them being done by station personnel, through some sort of arrangement with the Highway Patrol, Sgt. Frank Ravetta flew in the traffic chopper and did the reports live himself. In fact WIS was where most people automatically turned for the news up into the late 70s. I remember when I was in high school around 1977 when Columbia had a terrible ice storm which left people without power for days (we were without for two weeks), one of the girls in my carpool commented that she had heard the station save someone's life by talking him out of running a charcoal grill inside.

Not that WIS was all talk, news & sports. Music was a big part of the format, and they tried to walk a narrow line with pretty good success. WIS wasn't a rock station, nor was it country, jazz or classical (though they did have the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays for many years before it moved to public radio). The format, I think, was not rigidly thought out as today's are, but was designed to appeal to adults, who had been adult when the rock revolution started. That meant that they played a lot of Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones and the like. It wasn't oldies, these were artists still releasing new songs -- it was sort of what pop radio might have been had Elvis and The Beatles not come along. Today the closest tag would be "Adult Contemporary", but that doesn't exactly fit. At any rate, because my parents listened to WIS (they weren't against rock the way some people were, they just didn't like it much), I mostly missed the rock era. On the whole, I'm very happy about that. I got to hear and enjoy a lot of music that was foreign to my peers, and still had rock to discover later (for instance, when I finally discovered Van Morrison, there were about 30 Van Morrison albums to listen to!). Gradually this started to change as the years went by. Personally I think "The Carpenters" were the death of the people trying to carry on the Sinatra traditon. "Such nice kids! So melodic!", but if you listened to the guitars on "Superstar", it was rock, and the dam was broken. The last WIS personality I really remember was Mike Collins, and he epitomized the new style, playing standards or non-edgy rock as the mood took him.

In 1977, the classic era ended. FM and stereo were obviously the coming things for music, and personalities Gene McKay, Bill Benton & Dave Wright jumped ship, buying local station WSCQ (FM 100) as an outlet for their efforts. By this time, we had a stereo with FM in the dining room, and I remember tuning in Gene McKay for what I think was his first morning broadcast on WSCQ. He played Abba's "Dancing Queen", and I remember thinking that I had never heard anything as glorious as that coming out in stereo from the two speakers.

After that, WIS moved more in a news direction with less and less music and finally the station was sold around the early 1980s. The new owners tagged it WVOC (Voice of Columbia) and it remains at AM 560 to this day. Somewhat later, the WIS TV organization decided getting out of radio had been a mistake and started a new WIS radio, but it is a new entity with no real ties to the original.

The pictures at the top of this post are of WIS TV on Bull Street. Growing up, the building housed both stations and had signage indicating that. Sometime in the 70s, I think, despite being the elder entity, WIS radio moved out. I visited the radio studio three times that I can recall. Once to pick up some tickets I had won in a contest, once to take Mike Collins a Beach Boys record, and once for the station's 50th anniversary celebration (which featured Snuffy Jenkins & The Hired Hands -- the same band that had played on-air when the station opened in 1930 if I recall correctly). Despite that, I can not today remember exactly where the studio was. I think it was somewhere off of Broad River Road on a flood plain (the station was set on pilings like a beach house), but I can't for the life of me recall just where. I know the location was always given as "1 WIS Lane", but mapquest doesn't know anything about it, so I'm guessing it was renamed after the station was sold.

I wouldn't go back to the way things were -- I like being able to find any song from anyone on itunes and being able to check the news at any time, but just because I wouldn't create WIS today doesn't mean it wasn't great then.

We'll be right back after tonight's top story.

Update 30 May 2008:

Well, thanks to commenter Jonathan, I was able to find the old WIS studio and towers.

I had thought it was somewhere off of Broad River Road, actually it is on (or off of) Garden Valley Lane, which is off of Bush River Road.

You go down Garden Valley Lane until you hit the Saluda Hydro Project recreation area, a place which seems very nice, and which I had no idea existed. I believe this is the point where WIS Lane used to start, but apparently it is all just Garden Valley Lane now. The studio and towers are about a quarter mile down the road from there on the Saluda River flood-plain.

It appears that, as I recalled, everything at the old station is now owned by WVOC. There are three transmitter towers.

This is one:

This is another:

Here is the old studio. It appears that WVOC does not use the building on an ongoing basis (which makes sense as the phonebook lists their studio as being on Greystone Blvd):

Notice the old broadcast TV antenna. Apparently they never got cable at the studio!

Of course the whole place is posted, so I didn't go up the stairs and take a look inside:

I seem to recall that the last time I was there, the studio did not have the red wood grille work covering the pilings that keep it off the flood-plain:

I'm guessing this antenna mast may connect the current Greystone studio back to the towers here, but I have no real idea:

UPDATE 11 October 2009

WIS Time to Talk ad from November 1970 Sandlapper Magazine:

UPDATE 26 October 2009: Ad from Jan 1972 Sandlapper Magazine:

Written by ted on April 22nd, 2008

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76 Responses to '(The Original) WIS Radio, Bull St & WIS Lane: 1980s'

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  1. Great history lesson, Ted
    I don't think many realize
    that took a lot of effort ..
    best post yet .. I'll bet I could
    win "Who wants to be a millionaire"
    with that WIS acronym question !!!


    30 Apr 08 at 9:43 pm

  2. One correction, though, Ted
    I believe the ice storm
    was in 79 .. we got lucky
    .. out for 5 hours .. my
    neighbors .. 8 days .. crazy


    30 Apr 08 at 10:10 pm

  3. That could well be! I'm just glad it hasn't happened since then.


    30 Apr 08 at 10:52 pm

  4. WIS Radio was actually off of Bush River Road, right behind or past Gardendale Swim/Tennis Club.


    7 May 08 at 3:09 pm

  5. Great memories of working in that old building. We were the only game in town the night of Hurricane Hugo and on live all night. People still mention listening to this day.


    19 Jun 08 at 7:33 am

  6. I think a lot of broadcasters excelled that day. I was driving to the beach to check out the damage to our property (If I had any real idea, I never would have tried to get there that day!), and WKZQ in Myrtle Beach was about the only thing on the air. They were a complete rock station, with almost no news operation, but that day they were handling the news and emergency stuff like it was all they ever did.


    19 Jun 08 at 9:56 am

  7. Before they moved to Bull Street, the original WIS radio studio was off Bluff Rd. That area is now a big open field next to the Columbia Sewer plant.


    16 Jul 08 at 11:43 am

  8. Interesting. I didn't know that at all.


    16 Jul 08 at 11:48 am

  9. There used to be a tiny little Toddle House on Gervais St., where WIS' parking lot is now. If you ever wanted to bump into a WIS personality all you had to do was hang out in there and drink coffee for a while.


    25 Aug 08 at 9:01 am

  10. Now this has a lot of memories for me. Gene McKay came to talk to people on career day at Irmo HS in the 70s. I saw him parents listened to WIS every morning.

    The ice storm was about 1979. I was at USC apartment in West Columbia had no power but a neighbor nearby did, and she let several of us stay with her for a while. That was a terrible storm.

    And those radio towers....oh my. I think it was about 1975. The towers were not secured then, just surrounded by woods. Some redneck friends and I camped out there in the winter, and the challenge was to climb up the tower, to at least the first light which was to about the top of the first red area in the photo....I don't know if they were painted then. One of the guys went higher, maybe into the white painted area. I recall it was so cold and damp the bars on the tower were icy...dumb, yes. Beyond dumb, but I think everyone did it. Amazing what beer and youth will do to a person.


    18 Sep 08 at 9:42 pm

  11. Not to mention

    Glad you made it down OK!

    Yeah, that was some storm. We had a fireplace and plenty of wood, but we had to shower at relatives for two weeks. My mother called us "The Great Unwashed".


    18 Sep 08 at 10:29 pm

  12. One autumn Saturday in the early '80s when I was riding my bicycle on South Beltline, I got a wild hair to go out to the end of Beltline at Bluff Road. When I got there I was still adventurous and decided to head directly across Bluff Road to Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, which hadn't been there very long and was back off of Bluff maybe a 1/4 mile down a dirt road. I looked around the campus a bit and then headed back to Beltline. As I was riding back on the dirt road I noticed a totally ramshackle old wooden building off to my right that I had missed coming in.

    It looked like it had been a cross between a wood-sided farm house and some sort of business in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing to keep me from getting right up to the windows, which were still in place around the building. As I approached the windows, the first thing I could see through them was that the walls were covered in that really old acoustic tile that you see in photos of old radio stations. The next thing I could see while peering directly into a window was a really old table-top swiveling DJ microphone stand holding one of those ancient radio station microphones, and I instantly knew what the building I was examining had been. The mic was the kind with the huge metal name plate on top, and this one had the letters 'WIS' embossed in the metal and were painted black against a white background. At this time I had no idea that WIS had originally been out on Bluff Road, so it was quite the instant revelation.

    The mic was so old it wasn't even a ribbon microphone in a large squarish housing like you see in all the old photographs. It was one of those carbon puck microphones suspended from all directions in a suspension harness like you see in the really old photographs. Microphones based on carbon granules are the earliest microphones used in the broadcast industry, so I was looking at something really old. Next to the mic table were rack cabinets with the remnants of petrified rack-mounted audio gear from another era, all with giant bakelite knobs and huge glass meters with needles. I took it all in, briefly toyed with the notion of "making the locked door open," let my morals get the better of me, and then rode off into the crisp autumn afternoon headed back to Forest Acres.

    I hope someone at least has the old carbon mic hanging from that swivel stand somewhere in their house or office. I would hate to find out that those items were at the bottom of a land fill somewhere. And of course the whole time I was looking at the old studios on Bluff Road I had a fully loaded 35mm SLR back at the house begging to be along for the ride. Even when I got home I had no urge to ride back with my camera. That kind of attitude has left me with pages and pages of empty photo albums and tall tales that can't be proven.

    Michael Taylor

    26 Oct 09 at 2:11 am

  13. Oh man, those would have been great pix!

    Phones continued to have carbon mikes into the 70s. It's a totally different tech: You pass current through it and the resistance varies according to how tightly the sound waves moving the air pack the carbon granules. Other mikes generate current according to the sound waves..


    26 Oct 09 at 2:21 am

  14. I moved to Columbia in the late '60s because my dad accepted a job with WIS TV/Radio. This was during the spin-start turntable era. It was a hoot watching him cue up the next song to be played from a 45 or a 33 1/3 record.


    26 Oct 09 at 4:47 am

  15. Speaking of Bob Fulton, I dont know if he's still living or not, but the few times I would see him at the West Columbia Walmart, he was always rude with a bad/smart attitude. He may have been a local big shot back in the 60 or so, but he was very rude to some of the employees and demanded 100% attention towards him because who he is/was. I thought Gene McKay was funny along with Dave Wright and Bill Benton..but that was back in the 60's through the 70's. Too bad things change.


    26 Oct 09 at 9:02 am

  16. In the early '60s, the Toddle House on Gervais was a favorite spot for us USC students for a late night pecan waffle and coffee. I remember peering into the windows of the nearby WIS building to watch the station operations.


    8 Feb 10 at 8:41 pm

  17. Ted, the "TV" antenna was there to receive emergency alert information from WTCB and WLTR as well as to monitor 93.5. One of the other antennas I believe was there to receive two-way or remote broadcasts. The big tower that now holds the microwave antenna for the link to Greystone Boulevard also holds remote receiving antennas.

    The original portion of the building dates from the early 1960's. The right-hand portion of the building is more recent.

    I believe the latticework has always been there. Clear Channel may have trimmed the bushes. I seem to recall in the late 1980's early 1990's that the front of the building was completely masked by the bushes.

    You really didn't want to go under the building, particularly if a waste pipe broke (and it did once). 93.5 used to keep the Jeep CJ (which had no wipers, radio, top or adequate brakes) under the backside building. The new owners had no desire to keep thing. Fun as hell to drive.


    8 Feb 10 at 10:24 pm

  18. I worked for WIS radio in the early 80s then again in the mid 90s. There was a room in the building called "The Bomb Shelter" which, as of 1982, had Geiger counters and emergency rations. It was used as a production room. The items were gone in 1995. The bathrooms were named "Elton" and "Olivia-Newton". Johns, get it?

    I seem to recall too that goats and/or horses were kept inside the fence of the towers field to eat the grass.


    13 Feb 10 at 2:19 pm

  19. WIS was at 1010 on the dial from 1930 to 1935. The transmitter was located near where Colite Industries is in West Columbia. The studios were in the Jefferson Hotel in the 1800 block of Main St. where Jefferson Square is now located. The transmitter moved in 1935 near what is now Heathwood Hall School, after Dick Shafto negotiated a deal to swap 560 and 1010 between Knoxville and Columbia. At some point, the studios moved from Main St. to Bull St., but I don't remember the date. There was a back-up studio at the Heathwood Hall site that was used frequently when the telephone lines between downtown and the transmitter went down, The transmitter and studio moved to the WIS Lane site off Bush River Road in 1966, leaving Bull St. as a TV station and corporate headquarters. This began the "Great Divide" between WIS Radio and TV that continued for another 20 years. Radio people were looked at as red-headed step-children, and treated so. The original towers at WIS lane were demolished and rebuilt in 1986 due to severe corrosion. When the radio station was sold in 1986 (December 31 to be exact), the Post Office renamed the street Radio Lane and the address was changed to 56 and the call letters changed to WVOC. The voice of Dave Rogers signed WIS Radio off at 1:59 that afternoon, and then signed WVOC on 30 seconds later. What followed in the months after was the consolidation of WCEZ 93.5 into the facility. A little over a year later, the stations were in bankruptcy due to several factors. Rick Dames and his crew get alot of credit for coming along and pulling the station out of a certain death-spiral.


    28 Mar 10 at 2:45 pm

  20. I thought that WIS Radio was still at the Bull Street location through the early 70's until they moved to their new location off Bush River Road and were there til the 80's. I do remember the WIS building when it still said WIS TV AND RADIO on the side for quite some time.


    29 Mar 10 at 10:37 am

  21. Jim

    I'm glad that you climbed the tower and survived. What you and your redneck friends didn't know is that directional AM towers, including the part that you climbed, are energized. That is why they sit on large base insulators and have insulators in the guy wires. I suspect that you got lucky and climbed it when it was 'off the air'. Otherwise, you would have died instantly when you touched the bottom part of the tower. Hence, the warnings posted all over the tower grounds.



    30 Mar 10 at 10:06 am

  22. Answer to two here...

    First, the Bull St building had a sign facing Gervais St. that read "RADIO - WIS - TELEVISION". It stayed that way until the sale of the radio station in 1986. The first time I interviewed for a part-time job at WIS while in college, the PD asked me if I knew where they were...I said sure. I showed up at Bull St. and they lthought I was crazy. They sent me to the WIS Lane site...I was 90 minutes late and the PD was now on the air. None the less, I didn't get that job! I remember our manager on the phone (after i got a full time job there after college) with corporate several times in the mid 80's demanding RADIO be removed from the sign, but they didn't want to spend the money...until around a week before the sale. The letters sat under the radio building for a couple of years until we took them to the dumpster. The I and O were broken by the sign crew when they removed them.

    Second...during the day, the center tower has a full 5000 watts. The two outer towers "float". They have RF radiated from the center can pull a good arc when you ground one of them, but they are fairly harmless. At night, all 3 towers are energized. One of the outer towers has 2500 watts and the other has 500 watts, with the center tower at 2000 watts...It's been a long time since I saw the actual design, but at night it would be survivable to climb. A trained crew would climb the center tower in the day (at full power) to change bulbs with no affect...just don't touch the tower and ground at the same time. The burns you would get are not much worse than a bad sunburn (except RF burns to the bone and not just the skin. I have two). And, the warning signs didn't go up until the early 90's when the government required it. WIS was so cheap they wouldn't do anything that wasn't mandated.


    30 Mar 10 at 7:44 pm

  23. Andy

    Would the same be true for a 50,000 watt clear channel station? I was under the impression that AM RF is more dangerous than FM, considering the lower frequency and potential to penetrate the skin more readily than FM or television frequencies which tend to run along the surface but can cause terrible RF burns. I still wouldn't recommend climbing one. Check out the link about hot tower climbing.


    31 Mar 10 at 12:32 am

  24. The problem on AM doesn't come from being on the's when you get between the hot tower and ground. Most tower crews will use a wooden ladder to climb from ground to the tower. 50,000 watt is bordering on losing limbs if not careful. I worked with crews that would have the 50K transmitters shut off for a minute while they mounted and dismounted the towers. FM and TV can get ugly, too, but when climbing FM or TV, you aren't around hot rf like on an AM.


    31 Mar 10 at 2:19 pm

  25. Interesting information. I read that even a floating tower can create a nasty shock due to induced current from the active tower. They need to be temporarily grounded to make them safe to operate on. FM and TV stations use a shunted feed which makes them safer to work on. Climbers wear RF suits to be shielded from the RF. I suppose that the danger lies up at the emitter on top of the tower.

    WLW used to broadcast using 500,000 watts from 1934 to 1939. People living near the station complained of hearing the station in their bed springs or seeing their lights flicker in unison with peak modulation from the station.


    31 Mar 10 at 2:55 pm

  26. My grandmother had a radio show on WIS in the 1930's. Her name was Pearl Mobley Redwine. Her stage name taken from her grandmother was Mary Merritt. She had a variety type show that once put on a real wedding using the advertisers to furnish all items.

    Caroline Pollet

    15 Jun 10 at 6:49 pm

  27. My dad had one of the longest-running live broadcasts on WIS Radio. "On the Farm with Bob Bailey" woke up Columbians from about 1950 and went through several transitions, both in name, and to television before it ended in the early 1970s. As a kid, i loved being with my Daddy and would beg to go with him to the "radio station" every morning. He was featured on The Johnny Evans' Show. Like Gene McKay and Bill Benton who followed, Johnny (who later had a career as spokesman for the the SC Department of Wildlife) was a folksy kind of guy who was as entertaining as he was friendly to the early morning crowd. I remember arriving at the station, sometimes before the engineer, Bob Donly, got there. Daddy had a key to the building and would sometimes cut on the lights to start the day. While he was on the air, I was allowed free range of the studios, roaming the music libraries, hanging out with Donly who let me "de-gause" audio tapes on a huge electromagnet, and, with the advent of TV, rummaging through the sets of The Cactus Quave Show. Mackey Quave, Gene Upright, and John Wrisley sometimes sat in when Johnny was on vacation of off for the day. Lots of great stories of Audrey Hunt, "The Gal on the Go" and "Push Button One," the news show named for the radio feature on car radios of the day that had push buttons keyed to area stations. At the lowest frequency on the dial, 56, WIS was "push button one!"


    15 Jun 10 at 7:20 pm

  28. Cool memories Caroline & Becky!


    15 Jun 10 at 10:54 pm

  29. For someone more in love with radio than television, I love stories like Caroline's and Becky's. While I was yet to be born when Caroline's grandmother had her program, I absolutely remember Bob Bailey's radio (and TV program), and though I was too young to understand the total content and wasn't a farmer, I watched and listened more for the comforting demeanor of Mr. Bailey more than anything else. Gee whiz Becky, talk about being envious of your access to WIS and all those people; I'm not quite green with envy, just pleasantly jealous.

    If anyone is interested in local radio history, check out this Dr. Walter Edgar's podcast on ETV radio where the guests are John Wrisley and the late Betsy Weinberg. Click on the "Watch/Listen" tab to find the podcast. It's an hour long program, but if you love old radio, you'll love every minute of it. Many local legends, including Mackie Quave, are mentioned with fondness and inside stories.

    Mrs. Weinberg had an Old Time Radio column on Wrisley's website up until her passing this past January. You may be interested in her last column which had to do with Fred Allen and the famous "Allen's Alley." It's a marvelous story with several photographs from the show. Just as a teaser, I'm sure many people remember Foghorn Leghorn, the southern rooster from the Looney Tunes cartoons who used to exclaim, "I say son, I say, go away, you bother me." That's directly based on a character from "Allen's Alley" who was a southern colonel supposedly from Charleston. Great stuff for those who love old-time radio.

    Michael Taylor

    16 Jun 10 at 12:34 am

  30. I've heard that back in the late thirties and early forties there was building in Columbia that had flashing "WIS" call letters on it's top. The person who told me this, said that as children they would recite, "Wonderful Iodine State" in time to the lights. Would this have been the Jefferson Hotel?

    Bill Pennington

    17 Jun 10 at 11:57 am

  31. Bill:

    I haven't ever seen any pictures of that sign. I am sure there has to be one out there.

    According to Papa Joe Pinner, WNOK (AM) was in the Jefferson Hotel.


    17 Jun 10 at 9:54 pm

  32. The first WIS studios were in the Jefferson Hotel. They moved to Bull St. in the early 50's. WNOK AM moved to the Jefferson after WIS left. There were pictures floating around of the Jefferson Hotel studios. I remember they were given back to Cosmos' corporate people right before they sold the station in 1986 with the promise they would be returned after they got copies for their archive. I left in 1989 and never saw those pics again.


    29 Aug 10 at 3:33 pm

  33. [...] fans will probably remember him best for his football broadcasts. I fondly remember listening to WIS-AM on many a “Gamecock Saturday”. Gamecock Saturday wasn’t just a radio broadcast, [...]

  34. The stories I could tell. I worked there from 1986 until 2006.
    But let me correct a terrible misconception that WISW-AM 1320 has no connection to the old WIS. That'd be news to Bill Benton who does the morning show every morning Monday Through Friday on WISW. It would've been news to Gene McKay too who was his partner on that show until he died.


    9 Apr 11 at 9:03 am

  35. Thanks for the correction!

    It's a shame that McKay's favorite festival, the Irmo Okra Strut seems to be homeless this year..


    9 Apr 11 at 10:14 am

  36. My father, Jim Seay, worked on several occasions at WIS Radio in the 1960s and 70s, as a sports director, production director, and as an on-air personality. It was one night while he had me and my brother Paul there at the station that I had decided, (which was in the summer of 1971), that this radio thing looked really cool, and I might just want to give it a try someday. As an adult I did work at approximatley 10 different radio stations, one of them being WIS in the summer of 1986, just before Cosmos sold the station, retaining the call letters WIS for only the TV station, requiring the radio station to change call letters, that being WVOC which it goes by today. I would love, now that I am in my mid-to late 40s, to have a station like WIS being around with the format they had back in the 70s, today, in 2011. Not all-talk, not all music, and not all sports, but a variety of the three. I wish that format that WIS Radio handled so superbly would return, if only via a sattelite network. I would have to say that while Columbia is to this day still a medium sized radio market, WIS Radio 56 was about as close as she will ever have to a major-market sound.

    Tom Seay

    29 Oct 11 at 11:32 pm

  37. WISW used to simulcast news live on their current 1320 AM band. I'd kinda like to see WISW go back to broadcasting WIS news again for old times' sake...

    I remember WVOC being on Radio Lane past Garden Valley Lane. I'm not sure what happened, but WVOC is one of six stations owned by Clear Channel and they consolidated in one building at 316 Greystone Blvd. Not sure when but I would guess sometime in the 1998-2005 timeline

    Along Garden Valley Lane, beyond the railroad tracks is a swimming clup called Gardendale that I used to swim in back in the 90s. Now it's something called River's Edge retreat. There is also a home adjacent to Gardendale...

    The WVOC studio has stayed vacant for somewhere aroudn 8-10 years and I don't know how anything would set up shop there...I wonder if they should just tear it down and make some type of open field out of it...

    WVOC is now available on 100.1 FM and I hope to enjoy hearing The Afternoon Drive with Keven Coehen a little more often with greater clarity since the radios at home will allow me to hear it with greater clarity.

    Those of you that enjoy pregame SC football can hear pregame coverage 4 hours prior to each SC football kickoff and after the game, a 2-2.5 hr. 5th quarter post-game call-in show. From 3-6 PM on Fridays preceding each game, you can listen to a call-in show where people predict their scores. What was once only on 560 AM is now available at 100.1 FM as well...


    30 Oct 11 at 12:19 am

  38. I miss the WIS-WBT (Charlotte) News, Music, Sports and Talk Variety format that WIS Radio 56 and 1110 WBT were both known for. Such stations have switched to total New-Talk formats, which I listen to with hosts like the syndicated Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, and others. While I like the conservative talk radio formats (if you want liberal talk, go-online, or listen to an NPR affiliate, or just watch any TV news network other than FOX News), I would really love to have that WIS radio 56 format back as it existed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I love conservative talk radio, but also still love the heck out of mainstream pop and oldies music, classic rock, and the "we play anything" sound. I'd love to have all of that on one station now. While they do what they can with just a computer and no live announcers at the station, here in the Pee Dee where I live, work, and listen to the radio, I pretty much just have WJMX NewsTalk 970/97.9 FM out of Florence as my WVOC. They'll "do", but they are not WIS/WVOC or WBT.

    Tom Seay

    30 Oct 11 at 8:48 am

  39. Andrew, It would be kind of sad to see that building come down. I'm sure it could serve as business offices, a private school, or some other purpose as long as the AM transmitters were left alone. You could have housed all of the Columbia area clear channel stations in that building. It really surprised me when I drove down "WIS Lane" in 1981 after having not been down there in 4 years, that they had actually built on to that building between 1977 and 1981, especially as it housed just one radio station. WIS had plenty of room prior to the add-on, but I guess they needed more. I think one reason no one locates there now, besides the suspicion that it may not be for rent as Clear Channel may be concerned over the well being of the AM transmitters, if they are in fact still housed in that building, could be because the building sits in a potential flood zone, and that so little of the business and other population even know the building is out there. Though WIS/WVOC sat out in the suburbs there off of Bush River Rd, it was pretty scary going out there some nights and even some days as it sat right next to the Saluda River where a lot of drunks would go, and that it was a dead end road. One Sunday evening while working at WVOC I thought I was going to have to borrow someone's home phone (this was 1987 before every Tom, Dick, and Harry had a cell phone) and call Lexington County police to about 8 of them as they had been out at the river, probably drinking, and didn't seem like they wanted to let me through. They had both lanes blocked. Someone finally got the h*** out of my way, allowing me to make it in w/5 mins. to go before my shift. Maybe that's another reason no-one wants to locate there.

    Tom Seay

    30 Oct 11 at 9:18 am

  40. While this site is informative and pretty interesting, it's kind of sad to see all these businesses that have left, merged, moved away, or otherwise are no longer in operation. This site gives a lot of information on businesses and organizations that once existed in one of the greatest cities on earth in my opinion, that being Columbia, SC.

    Tom Seay

    5 Nov 11 at 1:01 am

  41. Another thing I heard about WIS-TV was that when the station signed on the air in 1953, the station manager was also an FCC commissioner. Using his clout with the FCC, this manager kept Columbia from getting more than one VHF frequency at the time channels 19 & 25 were also entering the airwaves. Explains why channel WBTW-TV in Florence started on ch. 8, and later moved to ch. 13. Oh well, the UHF ban developed signal coverage over the course of the 1970s and 80s that matched, and in some cases, even surpassed the coverage area of many VHF stations.

    Tom Seay

    14 Dec 11 at 11:00 am

  42. I always heard it was political, but it seems like the story I heard was some powerful Charleston guy was what kept Columbia from having more than one VHF.

    We used to be able to pick up channel 6 from Augusta at the Towers at least in west side rooms.


    14 Dec 11 at 1:01 pm

  43. We could get 6 and 12 from Augusta.


    14 Dec 11 at 2:15 pm

  44. L. Mendel Rivers, S.C. congressman from Charleston was the source of the infuence that got the Holy City it's 2 VHF channels.


    14 Dec 11 at 10:17 pm

  45. The Late Rep. L. Mendel Rivers (D-SC) held SC's 1st Congressional district from 1941 until his death in 1970. The seat is currently held by Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) with his predecessors being (in this order): Rep. Henry Brown (D-SC), Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Arthur Ravenel, Jr. (R-SC)...


    15 Dec 11 at 6:04 pm

  46. btw I must add that WVOC will only be available on 100.1 FM effective January 3, 2012 and that SportsTalk 1400 will move to 560 AM. I hate to see WVOC lose the 560 AM because of how far back I go with them at 560 and I don't think I would have found it as interesting as I do now.


    15 Dec 11 at 6:09 pm

  47. Can anyone give me information on the old Ranger Parks radio series? It's my understanding this was a weekly show that was perhaps a forerunner of educational radio. My father would tape the radio shows and send lesson plans to the teachers throughout the state of SC. He would broadcast during school hours so the teachers could use his broadcast as part of their lesson for the day. When did it start and end? Thank you. (He passed away yesterday so I could not ask him.) Thank you.

    Susan Ahearn Mitchell

    19 Dec 12 at 5:20 pm

  48. The original WIS Radio was located next to the old Jefferson Hotel on Main St. It didnt move to Bull/Gervais Street location until 1950 or there when the "new" bulding was finished.


    20 Feb 13 at 9:01 pm

  49. I was part of the engineering staff from 1996-2000 at Benchmark/Clear Channel. I remember going out to the towers I think #1 and replacing a marti receiver at the base of the tower.


    1 Mar 13 at 11:52 pm

  50. semiquaver2013, did you take the time to read all the post in the thread?


    3 Mar 13 at 1:13 am

  51. I worked at WIS-Radio as News Director from 1970-77, then hosted the Time to Talk show from 77-80 while I returned to USC to complete undergraduate and grad school. Worked with Benton and McKay, Jim Seay, Maury O'Dell, Bill Drake, Jeff Flanders, Mike Collins, Tom Clark and others. At the time we had one of the largest radio news operations on the east coast, and the helicopter traffic reporting service was the first in SC.

    There were snow storms and ice storms in the early 70's that shut down about half of the state. WIS-Radio provided nearly around the clock coverage for thousands of folks who were at home without power and access only to radio via transistor sets. Our news department included some great talent that went on to much bigger markets. Don Rollins left WIS for WNBC in NYC and was Don Imus's morning newscaster for six years. Rachael Myers became an executive with Mutual Radio Network out of Washington DC, Beryl Dakers left radio for WIS-TV and later ETV. Thom Berry, who worked with us in news was the spokesman for years with SC DHEC and is now in that same capacity at SLED. You mentioned the ice storm of 78-79. I was doing Time to Talk at night, and kept households that were out of power, informed of what was going on including doing contests for home-bound callers to participate in. Also, when doing Time to Talk I put together Talent Time USA, a live, over the telephone talent contest open to any caller. Some of them were great. A lady showed her rock collection over the phone. She had a box of rocks she dumped on a kitchen floor and it sounded like a dump truck had just unloaded. Another guy, an ex signalman in the Navy, used signal flags to spell The United States of America. You could hear the flags flapping over the phone. And...another guy, apparently with a deck of cards in his hand did speed reading, saying he would speed read War & Peace. He riffled the cards over the phone. It was hilarious.

    Over the years WIS had such a great reputation as a news and information source, that anytime there was a major storm or...major news event most folks in the midlands tuned in WIS. Thanks for the opportunity to highlight what we were doing in news in the 1970's Jerry D. Pate

    Jerry D. Pate

    12 Jul 13 at 10:06 pm

  52. Oh yeah, I recall hearing you on the air! Thanks for the anecdotes!


    13 Jul 13 at 12:22 am

  53. My father, Jim Seay, is still strong at it in his mid 70s, and can be heard on the radio in the Columbia area w/morning sports on WZMJ 93.1 FM, "The Lake." Google or Bing for the web site in order to listen on-line.


    14 Jul 13 at 12:53 pm

  54. Someone told me that the former TV tower which still sits on top of WIS-TV in downtown Columbia was also one of the original AM towers at first.


    28 Sep 13 at 7:27 pm

  55. According to the WIS history web page the tower was constructed in 1953 for use by WIS-TV. The WIS page here has a comment that says the original WIS radio transmitter (and one assumes its tower) was originally located in West Columbia.


    28 Sep 13 at 7:48 pm

  56. Just a quote, but thanks.


    29 Sep 13 at 4:53 pm

  57. Regarding the WIS Radio tower. I know that before they became 560, they were somewhere else on the dial--1590, I believe, making them a day only station when they first started. The tower to that edition of WIS was sold to the station that took the 1590 frequency when WIS got 560--WCAM Radio in Camden. That tower stood for nearly 50 years behind the WCAM (originally WACA) station on Ridgeway Road in Lugoff. The property is now McDonald's and the station building is now used by a florist, and WCAM's new tower is the WPUB tower. I don't know what happened to the old tower.

    alan reames

    25 Feb 14 at 6:20 pm

  58. I worked several times for WPUB-FM from 1983 to 1986. The station had a really good signal for only 3,000 watts. Something geographical made it possible for their signal to beem into the Piedmont portion of the state. I remember coming back from Greenville one afternoon and picking the station up, when it was on 94.3, from as far west as Laurens county. WPUB-FM is now on 102.7 and is nicknamed Cool 102.7, playing music from the 50s and 60s, and running Carolina football and basketball, as well as Falcons football and Braves baseball.

    Tom Seay

    16 May 14 at 8:41 am

  59. One more thing. WIS/WVOC seemed to 'weather' the ever increasing FM competition back in the mid 80's, and probably would have been able to do so even with its departure from Cosmos Broadcasting HAD it not been for the lousy way it was programmed under Andy Thomas. He helped bring that station down to the lowest ratings it had ever seen.

    Tom Seay

    16 May 14 at 9:05 am

  60. I am awaiting arrival of a Beatles vinyl LP record album with a WIS Radio 56---SPECIAL PROGRAMING banner spread across the front cover. These Radio Station Promo records are very collectible. Anyone have any comments on this?

    Pete Ricigliano

    26 Sep 15 at 8:10 pm

  61. That site on the Saluda river is rumored to be the location of the union POW "Camp Sorghum" However, archeologists have found no signs there, but further up river next to the Zoo gardens parking lot where the old Mill village was, archeological hobbyists have found ample evidence of War between the States artifacts, many of which indicate the presence of the guards (eg, buck and ball ammo, uniform buttons, broken Sharps pistol) and Sherman's brief occupation of the area (Henry rifle cartridge casings, union belt buckle, and the prisoners (rusty old pocket knives which may have been used to kill a tracking hound that had been lured into one of the shebangs.


    24 Apr 17 at 10:54 pm

  62. Camp Sorghum was located near the "Shelling of Columbia" marker in West Columbia. The area where the three radio antennas are is the area most experts believe it is in. The reason why many think it was on the other side of the river is due to Marion Lucas putting it in the wrong spot in his 1970s book on the burning of Columbia.


    25 Apr 17 at 6:30 am

  63. I am trying to locate film or pics from 1960 Johnny evans’ Show. My mother was a ballroom dancer from the author Murray studio and appeared as a guest every Thursday night on johnn’y show. My mom will be 80 next April and I would love to locate photos, audio, or film of her dancing. Can anyone steer me in the right direction? Many thanks


    7 Jun 18 at 8:24 pm

  64. On July 10, 1930, Columbia’s first commercial radio station, WIS, went on the air with the first official programming beginning at 6:00 PM. Owned by George T Barnes, the station began its broadcasting history from studios on the mezzanine floor of the Jefferson Hotel with the transmitting station and tower located on US Hwy 1 in West Columbia. It transmitted at 1000 watts during the day and 500 watts at night with a frequency of 1010 kilocycles. The station's manager was Thomas F Little, and John B Clotworthy served as the program director and announcer. The first evening’s programming featured speeches by Governor John G Richards, Columbia Mayor Lawrence B Owens, and other prominent government and business officials.

    WIS was the last radio station in the nation to be granted three-character call letters by the FRC (predecessor to the FCC).

    The WIS call letters stood for “Wonderful Iodine State” as the state government promoted the high level of iodine found in the state’s produce. The nickname, “Iodine State”, was used from the 1920s until the 1940s when iodized salt became common on grocery shelves.

    Paul Armstrong

    11 Jul 19 at 5:10 pm

  65. Before Joe Pinner did the Mr. Knozit show, there was Jolly Jim on WIS in the mid 60's. What ever happened to Jim O'Shea after he left WIS? Anyone know? or am I one of the few that remembers that show? And I think before that or around the same time, there was "Princess Pat" and curious what became of her?


    12 Jul 19 at 12:59 am

  66. Princess Pat would later become an attorney. She died of cancer in the early 90s, I think.


    12 Jul 19 at 6:32 am

  67. I remember Jolly Jim and his sidekick Chief Sillyhorse. I can't remember the bad guy's name in their ongoing skits.

    The only thing I specifically recall is that the bad guy once set up a fan to blow gas or smoke at JJ & SIllyhorse, but Jim snuck into the room beforehand and turned the fan around..

    Wasn't Princess Pat on one of the other stations?


    12 Jul 19 at 11:44 pm

  68. ted

    12 Jul 19 at 11:47 pm

  69. Thanks very much for your reminiscences, they brought back a flood of similar memories, esp. about listening to Gene McKay in the mornings, getting ready for school. Our house had one of those built-in 1970s intercoms, with a radio that my mom would turn on to get us out of bed. I think the only time the tuner was ever adjusted while we lived there was to follow McKay & company from WIS when they went to WSCQ.

    Regarding music, I have very distinct memories of them playing a variety of music, including soft rock and even disco (e.g., KC & The Sunshine Band).


    26 Aug 19 at 10:20 pm

  70. I recall the bad guy on the Jolly Jim show was "J.P. Sidewinder". He was also "the gravedigger" on "The Graveyard Shift" show, late Sat nights ('62-'63).
    Don't recall his real name.
    I chatted with him, while he was in character, when my Cub Scout den sat for the Jolly Jim show. Very cool for a ten year old.
    Does anybody recall the classical score they played when "the Graveyard Shift" came on?


    23 Dec 20 at 10:42 am

  71. Jolly Jim had an interesting possum like grin, kinda like our current president as pictured often on the Tucker Carlson show. Wonder if Jim O'Shea came from Delaware? HMMMM?


    21 Aug 21 at 11:05 am

  72. I worked at WIS radio part of 1963 while was in the Army in 1962-1963. I had been working late afternoon/early evening weekdays and on Saturdays as a DJ with another station. I was hired by WIS in 1963 for better pay and a very specific job. I came into the station in the early evening and prepared a newscast that was aired at 10pm. I was able to use any tapes that were used in TV's in the early evening news on TV. I worked on the news cast until about 9:30pm then taped the newscast and went home. That was the only thing I did Monday through Friday, and I got paid more than I got from the other station. I had worked in radio at WKLO in Louisville.

    Allen Bryan

    3 Feb 22 at 10:27 am

  73. Re: WIS-TV and Farm Report -- Around 1974 or so, when I was in middle school, I won a essay contest sponsored by the SC Soil Conservation District. There were several other winners, from other age groups. Anyway, we all got a walk-on appearence on the morning farm report, i.e., say our names/schools. I remember getting up super-early that morning, putting on suit & tie, and my parents taking me to the WIS-TV studio at the foot of Bull St, then getting treated to breakfast somewhere nearby.


    14 Aug 22 at 7:06 pm

  74. Hey My father-in-law is John Wrisley who is now 94 worked for the station for many years and my brother-in-law designed the building down town. You should interview John Wrisley his mind is still strong and he worked off the Bush River building

    Katherine Wrisley

    26 Sep 23 at 8:41 am

  75. Did a tornado blow down or damage a radio tower around the Millwood St /Bull St area in the spring of 1974. Someone I worked with told me about it. He said it blew a 2x4 into his car tire as he stood next to it. I can find no reference to it any where. I was in the service overseas at that time and my sister wrote me about the incident. She was attending Carolina and living in that dorm with the rotating restaurant on top I distinctly remember the story from other sources as the “Five Points” tornado.
    Regarding storms in the Five Points area, I was at a store on Devine St up from Five Points in the Summer of 1980 when the wind started howling and roaring, bending trees down top to bottom. That was the same storm that toppled a softball dugout onto an airman at Shaw AFB, killing him


    15 May 24 at 7:11 pm

  76. After some digging, I found the the Five Points Tornado was on 12 Nov1975. It ran from Owens Field to Capstone Dorm near Gregg St. It was rated EF2. This info comes ftom the magazine GoUpstate under tornado Archives. The 1980 storm occurred on 10 July. Storm Events Database has some good detail on this storm. It occurred between 1630-1830 hours with the worst damage in Lexington, Richland, and Sumter Counties. Recorded winds in the upstate were 60mph. There is no indication of the wind speeds in the midlands. I can tell you they were definitely clocking higher than 60MPH down Devine Street, Jack! When you see a large oak bend top down to the ground as a deafening roar occurs, the “pucker factor” gets real high! A couple minutes later someone on Leesburg Rd who hails from Tornado Alley phoned me that he saw three funnel clouds swirling but not touching down.


    17 May 24 at 10:35 pm

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