Friday, February 05, 2010

The Atomic Boogie Hour

The Atomic Boogie Hour ran from 1946 to 1954 on 1400 WJLD-AM in Birmingham. In 1946, Jump Blues had only just morphed into Rhythm & Blues. The term Rock N' Roll hadn't even yet been used to describe the raucous crowds that came to see Fats Domino. It was another of those early rock n' roll programs that brought black music to white kids, another show that helped transform American culture. For this one we must thank Bob Umbach.

WJLD had only been on air for four years when the Atomic Boogie Hour debuted. The station began in the Gary Hotel in Bessemer, AL. J.L. Doss build his eponymous station with a little help from his brother J.R. Doss who built and named WJRD in much the same manner. In 1944 George Johnson bought the station. It was under the Johnson Corporation that WJLD began airing "negro" programing. Most of it was gospel at this stage but it was still a big step. There were only 4 radio stations in Birmingham at the time, but that's 4 more than most cities had.

It was 1946 when Bob Umbach started the Atomic Boogie Hour. It began as you might expect, as a one hour program. It's popularity grew so quickly that it ultimately became a six hour show running Monday through Friday and five hours on Saturday. Since rock n' roll had not yet been invented, he played a lot of blues, and jump blues and wow was it popular. When Bob emceed a show at the Birmingham Theater in November of 1948 he out drew Lionel Hampton setting a record.

Bob left in 1954 for a gig at WMBM-AM in Miami. Roy Wood took over the program but without Bob the program wasn't to last. Roy was better off, he went on to great success in news. Bob didn't stay in Miami long. In November of 1954 he left WMBM in 1954 to start a daily, 4-hour R&B show on WAOK-AM in Atlanta. The station was brand new, and had been on air only a few months. WAOK was the station that broke Ray Charles single "What'd I Say." Atlantic hadn't even cut a single but WAOK recorded a show they sponsored in 1956 and they played the single so much that Atlantic had to drag Ray into the studio to cut it. It wasn't Umbach personally... but he was there.