|Broadcast area||Nashville metropolitan area|
|Slogan||Where Nashville Comes For News Talk|
(also on HD Radio)
|Translator(s)||98.3 W252CM (Nashville)|
|First air date||November 24, 1926|
|Callsign meaning||Life And Casualty (reference to former owner)|
|Affiliations||NBC News Radio (2017-present)|
Vanderbilt IMG Sports Network
(Capstar TX LLC)
|Sister stations||WNRQ, WRVW, WSIX-FM, WUBT|
WLAC is a clear channel radio station based in Nashville, Tennessee. WLAC is owned by iHeartMedia, airing a Talk radio format, WLAC carries the standard slate of iHeartMedia's national conservative talk hosts, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Clyde Lewis and Coast to Coast AM, as well as a local morning show hosted by Steve Gill. The station's studios are located in Nashville's Music Row district and the transmitter site is in the city's Northside.
WLAC operates at 1510 kHz on the AM dial, and is simulcast on 98.3 and WSIX-HD2. WLAC's is the only 50,000 Watt, Class A station in North America which operates on 1510 AM, sharing the frequency with 50,000 watt Class B station WMEX, Boston (currently silent). WMEX and WLAC mutually protect each other's nighttime coverage.
Its first broadcast took place on November 24, 1926. The call letters were chosen to contain an acronym for the first owner of the station, the Life and Casualty Insurance Company of Tennessee. Studios were located on the fifth floor of the Life and Casualty building in downtown Nashville. In 1928, it became Nashville's CBS Radio affiliate, while its main competitor, 650 WSM, was affiliated with NBC, the other major Radio network in the early days of broadcasting.
The early years of the station featured, as most big-city stations of that time, network programming, local news, studio-orchestra musical features (accompanied by an in-studio pipe organ), farm reports, and some educational programming. Its main competitor in that era, WSM, became known as the radio station where country music essentially developed and became a national phenomenon. When country music became a big business in the late 1940s, WLAC added early-morning and Saturday-afternoon shows in an attempt to steal some of WSM's thunder. Otherwise, the station prided itself as a pillar of the community and placed emphasis on general full-service programs.
In 1942, the station boosted its power to 50,000 watts, becoming the second clear-channel station in Tennessee behind WSM. Its daytime signal is somewhat weaker than that of WSM, due in part to WLAC's higher frequency on the dial. The daytime signal reaches parts of five states. Some close-in suburbs of Nashville, like Murfreesboro, get only a grade B signal from WLAC. However, its nighttime signal reaches parts of 28 states and three Canadian provinces.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, WLAC was legendary for its quartet of nighttime rhythm and blues shows hosted by Gene Nobles, "John R." (John Richbourg), Herman Grizzard, and Bill "Hossman" (or simply "Hoss") Allen. Thanks to the station's clear channel designation, the signal reached most of the Eastern and Midwestern United States. WLAC described itself as the nighttime station for half the nation with African-American listeners, especially in the Deep South as the intended audience of the programs. Further, several foreign countries, particularly islands in the Caribbean and southern Canada, were within range of the station's nighttime signal; the music heard on WLAC played a notable role in the development of ska music as a result. WLAC was also popular with some young white teenagers. Radio historians believe that the nightly "Rhythm and blues" WLAC shows, in part, laid the foundational audience for the rock and roll phenomenon that began in the late 1950s.
Nobles began the move, in 1946, to play what were considered at the time "race" records, a euphemism intended to deter supposedly respectable audiences. But he and the others reached large numbers of African-American listeners in places like the Mississippi Delta, the Carolina Lowcountry, Louisiana, Chicago, and Detroit, people whom practically no other radio stations were serving. Gradually phasing in artists like Amos Milburn, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino in the early 1950s to supplement the big-band artists of the era such as Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, the WLAC announcers presided over the development of what became "rhythm and blues" music. They did this mainly to attract advertisers who serviced the African-American community, such as hair-care products like Royal Crown Hair Pomade or chicken hatcheries, which packaged baby scrub roosters and other undesirable stock in large quantities for sale. The disc jockeys developed a reputation for colorfully pitching those products on-air; some product slogans lent themselves to sexually suggestive double entendres, which only increased the announcers' popularity among teen listeners. The deejays conducted the advertising sales on a "per inquiry", or commission, basis, meaning that the station did not rely on traditional ratings to gauge the programs' successes.
WLAC Sales Manager E.G. Blackman sought to hire the nation's first African-American news radio broadcaster, Don Whitehead. Whitehead, a graduate of Tennessee State University, began his career shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Whitehead announced the news at the top of the hour during the nighttime hours. He traveled around WLAC's listening area to promote the historically black colleges and universities and played a big role in increasing enrollment of African-Americans attending college.
Performers of later years, such as Johnny Winter, and the Allman brothers, Duane and Greg, have credited the station as being a valuable source of inspiration for their artistic development. According to Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson listened to WLAC in Toronto. As a teenager, Robertson would stay up all night to hear blues from deejay John R. A strange irony about the phenomenon was unknown to most listeners of that time: all four disc jockeys were in fact middle-aged white men, not African-Americans, as their Southern, gravelly, drawling voices suggested. Richbourg and Allen in particular made frequent use of colloquialisms most familiar to their audience, thereby convincing many that they were "soul brothers," as a common expression of that day would have it.
Other regular sponsors of the four shows included Randy's Record Shop of Gallatin, Tennessee, Ernie's Record Mart, and Buckley's Record Shop, the latter two of Nashville, all of which conducted mail order business selling the recordings featured on the shows, and had affiliations with record companies in Middle Tennessee. Buckley's Record Shop folded in the early 1970s; Randy's Record Shop ceased operating in the late 1990s. Allen and Richbourg also had financial interests in recording companies, artist management, and recording studios at varying points in their careers.
Each deejay's program lasted from one to two hours per evening Mondays through Saturdays, occupying roughly (with adjustments over the years) the period between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. Central Time. On Sunday nights, Richbourg or Allen hosted programs featuring black gospel recordings. Richbourg and Allen took credit for helping to start or boost the careers of artists like James Brown, Ray Charles, B. B. King, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin; Nobles helped the likes of Little Richard.
Other than the famous late-night shows, WLAC followed a fairly conventional news/talk and popular music format in the daytime until the early 1970s, when new management attempted to program a Top 40 format, competing against ratings leader WMAK (now defunct) for the Nashville-area teenage audience. This move in particular is believed to have prompted Richbourg and Nobles to retire, as they had no interest in conforming to a predetermined, pop-oriented playlist arranged by an outside consultant.
In addition to this, most markets in WLAC's night-time coverage area now had black oriented stations of their own, most of which attracted the demographic groups that formerly listened to Allen, Richbourg, and Nobles' shows as their only source for R&B and soul music. Furthermore, musical tastes among younger listeners in particular changed in divergent directions as the 1970s approached, as white youth began to prefer the hard rock that initially modeled itself on the blues (especially on the upstart FM stations that began playing it), while African-American kids gravitated toward the grittier edges of funk or early disco and, eventually, rap. This made the Motown, Muscle Shoals, and Memphis sounds favored by the DJ trio seem passé, and the hosts' audience, unsurprisingly, began to age, something almost always unattractive to radio station managers. Changing tastes also brought about an imminent demise to record labels such as Stax, which were major suppliers of music heard on the R&B/Soul shows.
To replace the retiring jocks, the station recruited young Spider Harrison, a native New Yorker who at the time was an afternoon urban air personality and program director at WTLC-FM in Indianapolis. Harrison steered the nighttime format into a blend of soul and rock, in an attempt to target an entire new generation of young night-time listeners throughout the country. However, WLAC appeared to gain little Arbitron improvements from local listeners, this despite nonstop promotional events staged throughout the Nashville area. Only Hoss Allen kept his program, which he converted sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s to a black gospel format, by moving it to the overnight slot before morning drive-time; despite his complying with management wishes (unlike Richbourg and Nobles), WLAC never promoted Allen's shows actively again.
The station finally pulled the plug on its unsuccessful run as a Top 40 outlet and changed formats to news and talk in 1980, making it one of the first stations in the Southern U.S. to adopt that format exclusively. It continues to fill that niche of programming, and in 1986, WLAC pioneered the now-burgeoning format of sports talk in Middle Tennessee, when it began a two-hour-long afternoon drive-time sports talk show hosted by record company executive and sports fan Rick Baumgartner, along with former WSMV-TV sportscaster Charlie McAlexander. Also, former WSM, WSMV and WKRN-TV personality Teddy Bart launched his critically acclaimed "Roundtable" interview program on WLAC's morning schedule in 1985. The show, which featured newsmakers in Tennessee politics, later moved to several other Nashville stations before discontinuing production in 2005.
Much in the same manner as in years past when network programming gave way at sunset to R&B music for a different audience, for many years after WLAC changed to news and talk, the station abruptly switched, at 8 p.m. Central Time (when the clear-channel signal settled into place) to an all-religion format. The nighttime line-up included paid broadcasts of many evangelical, fundamentalist, and Pentecostal preachers, seeking donations for their ministries, with the news/talk format resuming at daybreak (after the Hoss Allen show). This practice was discontinued shortly after the station's purchase by Clear Channel Communications (now iHeartMedia).
For many years until 2010, WLAC was the Nashville home of the Tennessee Volunteers, beaming Volunteer games to most of the eastern half of North America at night. Since 2012, WLAC serves as the flagship of the Vanderbilt Commodores IMG Sports Network.
On September 21, 2018, translator station 98.3 W252CM dropped its classic country format The Big Legend and began to simulcast WLAC on FM, with the station's branding changing to TalkRadio 98.3. Via this translator, the station is also simulcast on WSIX-HD2. The station also announced the addition of a new morning show, The Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill, beginning September 24.
The WLAC callsign once also applied to a Nashville FM station (105.9, now WNRQ) and TV station (Channel 5, now WTVF). They, along with the AM station, were once owned by the Life and Casualty Insurance Company of Tennessee (hence the callsign). The FM station is now owned by iHeartMedia, and remains a sister station to WLAC. The TV station left the family in 1975, when it was sold to the Hobby family of Houston and is now owned by the E. W. Scripps Company.