Wednesday, September 04, 2013

DJ Chet Atkins

Born in 1924, Chester "Chet" Atkins is known today almost entirely for his country guitar picking.  He was also a lifetime radio man and that is no exaggeration. He was an ARRL member, and earned a Ham Radio General class license in 1998. His first call sign was WA4CZD, but he traded that in for a vanity call sign contianing his initials W4CGP in 1998.  That's a radio man.

He was born in  Luttrell, TN on the distant outskirts of Knoxville. He landed his first radio gig on WRBL-AM at the age of 17 in 1941. It was a 30 minute Saturday morning program at 10:00 AM, hosted by Parson Jack, a local preacher. Parson Jack had actually heard Atkins playing on at a farm and spontaneously invited him to perform on the program.

He next appeared on the radio closer to home, at WNOX-AM on the Bill Carlisle program. He played for Jumpin' Bill Carlisle regularly and became a studio musician for the station. There he met the Carter Family and became their guitarist.  In 1945 he relocated to Cincinnati to play on WLW. His reasons for leaving are unclear but one biography said he lost his job to "cut backs." In his autobiography he just flatly said he was fired. Regardless, he lasted only six months and moved on to Raleigh in 1946 and WPTF-AM. That was short lived as well and he moved on to WRVA in Richmond and played the Old Dominion Barn Dance. He lost his job too, this time due to missing work over asthma attacks.


He auditioned in Chicago, for Red Foley, and later made his first appearance at the Opry in 1946 in Foley's band. The Opry gig wasn't a stayer so Atkins moved on to KWTO-AM in Springfield, Missouri.  There VP Si Siman nicknamed him "Chet." Apparently it stuck. In 1947 Chet went back to Knoxville and had a regular slot on the WNOX programs the "Tennessee Barn Dance" and the "Midday Merry Go Round". Two years later he left WNOX to re-join the Carter Family back on KWTO. He was briefly fired there was well and ended up playing with Saddle Rockin' Rhythm on KOA-AM in Denver. The Carter Family, then including Chet, relocated to Nashville in 1950. Atkins began performing on WSM-AM regularly and became a member of The Opry thereafter.

In his later years he went back to radio, appearing on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio program, and other public radio programs. He died of cancer in 2001.