Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Rise and Fall of WGTL

In 2009, WTCG-AM changed their city of license to Mount Holly, NC from Clayton, GA. When they made the 170 mile move they also changed frequencies from 1370 kHz to 870 kHz and call sign to WGHC.  Why a move so large was even considered I have no idea. They literally jumped over the entire Greenville, SC metro. It's one of the largest moves I've ever heard of and it was only possible because WGTL-AM no longer existed. WGTL stood for "world's greatest textile land" and as you might expect, there's a story behind that.

WGTL-AM was built by Foy T. Hinson and signed on in 1948. (Hinson later founded WKRB) Trouble began only a few years later. The Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) was on strike in 1951 at the Cannon Mills in Kannapolis among others.  The TWUA was trying to buy airtime locally to cover the news of the strike since most news outlets covering were covering the strike unfairly. The TWUA has held a strike at those mills back in 1934 and it had gone poorly. Their attempt to use media savvy was a response to miserable lessons they learned a couple decades earlier. More here. WGTL at first sold them time, but Cannon Mills was pressuring them to kick out the TWUA.  This was a problem because the equal time rule was still in effect as it had been since 1927. But Kannapolis was a company town and Cannon had a lot of muscle, and the union show was kicked to the curb.

It was personal. Fred H. Whitley was the owner of WGTL, WAAK (and a funeral home) and personal friend of Charles A. Cannon.  Both Cannon and Whitley family members owned businesses that advertised on WGTL.  In the book Waves of Opposition author Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf recorded the joke that "In Kannapolis, the Textile Workers joked that the radio station's motto was "Hear no unionism, speak no unionism, see no unions." The TWUA continued to send them letters for years asking to renegotiate terms for airtime. The situation was so bad there were congressional hearings.

WGTL in some ways was a typical southern small market radio station. It began and ended each day with The Lord's Prayer. From it's debut through the early 1950s it mostly aired big band music, and went MOR in the 60s. In the 1970s they flipped to easy listening. They were an early adopter of the Xmas flip stunting Xmas in May of 1949, and committing to the Thanksgiving stretch in the early 1960s.  In the 1990s the station was still using mostly 1960s-era broadcasting equipment. There were money problems. Following bankruptcy and an eviction proceeding, WGTL signed off forever on December 25th, 1992. Their Blaw-Knox tower was dismantled two years later, the site is now a parking lot. Former owner Fred H. Whitley moved to Las Vegas to live with family. More here. Cannon Mills went bankrupt in 2002 and was sold to Iconix.