“Welcome to the Magic Valley!” The Magic Valley… that’s a phrase that’s been uttered thousands of times since the fall of 1956, the year that radio station WFWL began broadcasting in Camden, TN. Over the past 57 years, I’ve been asked the question many times: “Why do we do refer to our community as ‘The Magic Valley’?” Well, here’s the story from the man who should know: Mike Freeland – the original founder of WFWL 1220 AM.
Mike and his wife Ellen were driving around the area admiring the beauty and landscape, and listening to their new radio station. One of them remarked, “This looks like a Magic Valley.” He then called his brother, Jim Freeland, who was a young announcer on the station… and told him to start using the term on the air. The station began referring to WFWL as “The Voice of the Magic Valley” and as they say, “the rest is history.” It became such a namesake for the area, that throughout the years countless businesses have incorporated the term “Magic Valley” into their names.
WFWL went on the air in September of 1956, broadcasting on 1220 on the AM dial from the Lockhart Motel on Highway 70 East in Camden, TN. At the time, there were only a few radio stations in the area and it was a “big deal” for a small town to have its own radio station. Some of the other surrounding area stations already in operation were located in Paris, McKenzie, Jackson, and Dickson. The programming consisted of country, pop, and gospel music; and national, regional and local news.
Freeland stressed that a radio station should always be a “reflection of its community” in terms of its format. In other words: the music, news, programs, and involvement in community events, should be dictated by the listeners rather than the owner’s personal preference. WFWL has had a long history of community involvement and service that continues, even today.
Mike Freeland pioneered such broadcasts as: “Man at the Fair;” “Cancer Crusade Radio Auction;” a live broadcast for several days from an underground bomb shelter; and the “Treasure Hunt” promotion that had listeners digging up the Magic Valley country side searching for hidden treasures. Clues for the treasure hunt were broadcasted daily. This promotion was one of the most historically-successful promotions to date on the WFWL station, with a mass community interest/involvement throughout the area.
Some of the individuals that assisted in making WFWL what it is today: John Latham, Jim Freeland, John Lashlee, Will Luther, Ricky Fite, Gene Presson, Charlie Banks, Russell Gallimore, Ron Lane, Reid Bell, Charlie Baylor, Jim Hart, Terry Hudson, Bobby “Flash” Melton, Terry Hendrix, Randy Lane, and many, many others. John Latham was the engineer that built WFWL, and one of the station’s owners (the L in the call letters stood for Latham, while the F stood for Freeland). Jim Freeland was one of the original announcers for the station, and took claim to being the first to coin the phrase “Magic Valley” over the airwaves. Ron Lane was a little kid from Big Sandy who hung around the station so long and often that they finally gave him a job at age 17 in 1958.
WFWL had three groups of owners from 1956-1985. Mike Freeland and John Latham were the originators and were the owners from 1956-1977; Ron Lane and 2 Union City absentee owners from 1977-1984; Ray Smith and John Latham from 1985-1994. WFWL was then moved into the same building with WRJB at 117 Vicksburg Avenue. In 1994, a group consisting of Larry Melton, Stanley Melton, and Ron Lane purchase WRJB and WFWL. In 2008, the Community Broadcasting Company was acquired into the Media Group of Magic Valley Publishing, Inc. of Camden, TN.
In the summer of 1976, a new FM station was born in Camden: WRJB-Super 98. The 3,000-watt FM station went on the air featuring adult contemporary music 24-hours a day. WRJB was owned by Ray Smith and John Latham, with Latham managing the station. It quickly became one of the most popular stations in West Tennessee. WRJB featured live sports broadcasts of UT football and basketball; and local sports coverage of Camden and Bruceton football and basketball. Live announcers manned the mike around the clock, that included: Larry Nunnery (aka Crazy Larry/The Bionic Beaver); Gary Powley, Darrell Lynn; Kyle Dewberry, Charlie Baylor, Will Luther, David Poehlein, Buddy Smothers, and Bobby “Flash” Melton – just to name a few. WRJB also covered many news events live-on-the-spot such as the train wreck and chemical explosion in Waverly. John Latham did live reports for days from the scene. WRJB was known for live broadcasts by businesses all over the area for their big promotions, sales, and special events.
With the ownership change in 1994, Ron Lane became general manager and John Latham continued to work in sales until his death a few years later. In 2006, WRJB obtained permission from the FCC for an increase in power from 3,000 watts to 6,000 watts. With this power increase, the station was required to change the frequency from 98.3 to 95.9.
In 2012, WFWL improved its coverage and quality of sound with the addition of an FM translator. This has made it possible for WFWL’s AM signal to be simultaneously broadcasted on the new additional FM frequency 99.7. WFWL became known as “The Catfish” 99.7FM/1220AM. The music format is now Hot Country 24-hours a day. WRJB and WFWL continue to serve the beautiful Magic Valley with music, sports, and broadcasts of news and public events.
In 2013, WRJB/”The Catfish” staff include: Ron Lane, Station Manager; Vicky Dodson, Office Manager; Jim Hart, Program Director; Tim Smith, Sales/Sports; Tammy DeBruce, Sales; Bobby “Flash” Melton, Sports/News; Buddy and Joyce Smothers, Sports; Charlie Baylor, Staff Announcer; Larry Nunnery, Engineer; Derrick Kelly, Announcer; Marty Lange, Announcer; Steve Sullivan, Announcer; and Dr. Mike Baloga, Host of “Operation 7570.”