Broadcaster and author Lee Dorman’s love for local radio covers some 48 years, dating back to his days as a rock ‘n’ roll DJ and later a general manager with stints at WKDA and WLAC.
Now the general manager of WQKR-1270 AM in Portland, Tenn., Dorman has written a new volume Nashville Broadcasting (Arcadia), which covers earlier, bygone eras in Music City radio and television.
Dorman, who’ll sign copies of his book Thursday night at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, examines the evolution of Nashville radio and television broadcasting from its inception to the’50s, ’60s and ’70s, when such names as Coyote McCloud, Gerry House (who is still active and popular today), Noel Ball, Larry Munson, Bill Jay and Jud Collins became household names.
The holder of a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history, Dorman is particularly interested in communicating the flavor and appeal of great Nashville radio and television personalities.
“I wanted to give people who weren’t around during those days a sense of just how important radio and television broadcasters were to the community and their fans,” Dorman said. “Things were completely different then in terms of focus, style and presentation. All the people featured in the book reached out to the audience, and were very distinctive types.
“It wasn’t a case of corporations creating a basic sound that would work in any market — something that’s resulted from all the consolidation and deregulation of the past couple of decades. That’s why I chose the mid-’70s as both a turning point and appropriate place to end, because that’s when the broadcasting industry began to change dramatically.”
Dorman begins with the arrival of the city’s first radio station in 1922, an outlet built by 16-year-old high school student John “Jack” Dewitt, who three years later helped start one of America’s premier stations WSM. By 1950, Dewitt and WSM helped put the city’s first television station on the air.
Dorman fondly recalls such area institutions as Ruffin’ Reddy and Five O’Clock Hop, plus the role Nashville played in launching the careers of Dinah Shore, Oprah Winfrey, Pat Sajak and Pat Boone.
The book contains 214 photographs, many of them extremely rare, candid and informal, and Dorman admits he was pleasantly surprised at both the availability of material and willingness of people to share it with him.
“Had I known there would be so many wonderful photographs and such access, I might have tried to do separate books on radio and television, because we really had more than enough for two volumes,” Dorman said.
While acknowledging times have greatly changed in the broadcasting world not only locally but across the nation, Dorman sees his current station as emblematic of the sensibility that was once the norm.
“We’re really a community station — kind of the voice of the people in Portland,” Dorman said. “We service Sumner and Robertson County, plus parts of south central Kentucky, and offer local news every hour. There are also a lot of community events that we offer, and other services such as UT football and basketball and Titans games that our audience enjoys, plus specialty shows that reach an audience that’s often neglected or overlooked in today’s marketplace. In a sense it’s like going back to my roots in broadcasting.”