WLAC is a Nashville radio station established by the Life and Casualty Insurance Company in 1926; it shaped musical tastes in Nashville for over seventy years. Its most significant contribution to Tennessee cultural history came from the mid-1940s to the early 1970s when nighttime programming on its AM station shifted to blues and rhythm-n-blues music. Like Memphis’s WDIA radio station, WLAC in Nashville introduced whites to the sound and beat of black popular music. Although WLAC’s powerful signal of fifty thousand watts carried the programming throughout most of the eastern United States, the station exercised its greatest influence on its considerable black audience in the South.
Gene Nobles began the tradition in the mid-1940s, playing songs requested by students attending Nashville’s Fisk University and Tennessee State Agricultural & Industrial College (now Tennessee State University). In 1947 Randy Wood of Gallatin, who wanted to add records to his local appliance store business, agreed to sponsor the program by advertising a mail-order record business. Both Nobles and Wood met with immediate success. Nobles’s program had a diverse play list and featured records by Eddy Arnold, Nat King Cole, and Ella Mae Morse. Wood sold records by these as well as other artists through his Randy’s Record Mart, which soon became the nation’s largest mail-order record business. In 1950 he established Dot Records, which recorded such artists as Pat Boone, Johnny Maddox, and Gail Storm. Randy’s Record Mart remained in business until 1991, and its history is now commemorated with a state historical marker in Gallatin.
The late night star of WLAC was John Richbourg, who hosted a two-hour show in the early morning hours. Later recognized as the “granddaddy of soul,” Richbourg pushed both blues and rhythm-n-blues music and artists, giving many their initial major radio exposure. In the 1980s Bill “Hoss” Allen maintained a part of the station’s earlier tradition through his late night black gospel music program.
Jessica Foy, “WLAC,” in Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, ed. Charles R. Wilson and William Ferris (1989), 978-79