This is not totally about KAAY. It’s about another 50,000-watt former rock’n’roll audience giant that just went dark, a station that meant a lot to me just as KAAY has.
WFLI(AM)-1070, Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga TN, went off the air for good
last Friday evening March 31, after 56 years of broadcasting. Like KAAY, they dared to go fulltime
rock’n’roll in the early 1960’s, rose to top ratings and stayed there for years. The combination of their power, their personalities,
the promotions, and the music, turned them into a legend known as “The Great
Jet ‘FLI”. They were huge, seemingly
unstoppable. I was a DJ there from
1975-76, just a blip in their long top 40 history. And now, they’re gone.
Sure, there were differences between WFLI and KAAY.
WFLI dropped power to 1,000 watts at night, so it didn’t have the
clear-channel impact and reputation that KAAY had. WFLI was family-owned for its entire life by the Brennan-Benns
family of engineers ( https://brennanbenns.wordpress.com/about/
). They knew how to keep a used,
monster-sized Western Electric 50kw transmitter alive, and how to provide their
audience with homespun local talent. In
contrast, KAAY was owned by a series of corporations, with more money to spend
and access to some of the best technical engineering consultants, and brought a
big-city sound to a smaller market.
But eventually, both WFLI and KAAY were swept up by the same changes in
audience tastes, technology, and in how to maintain profitability on AM. WFLI’s rock audience drifted to FM,
resulting in a change to a country format in 1979. Only a few years later, the Benns family threw in the towel on
trying to compete in the secular radio world, and went to a Southern Gospel and
paid religion format that required only a small staff. KAAY’s new corporate owners made a similar
switch to Southern Gospel radio in 1985.
Over the next 30 years, both stations went downhill. They saw declines in audience, let their
technical facilities degrade with age, saw profitability slip, all while listeners
gradually gave up on AM. In
Chattanooga, Nielsen market #88, the only AM station currently rated in the top
17 is in 10th place and it’s not WFLI. In Little Rock, market #83, there are no AM stations in the top
13. Details of KAAY’s technical
decline are noted elsewhere on this Blog.
WFLI looks like a radio museum with its 60’s/70’s-era equipment, except
for a relatively new 50kw Harris transmitter that replaced the old Western
I posted the sad news about WFLI’s demise on a Facebook AM radio group and
comments flooded in. Some people were
amazed that a 50kw station just couldn’t make it anymore. Others suggested creative ways to save the
station. And then other people berated the
save-the-station folks, told them to face reality about the state of AM radio,
and said the owners shouldn’t be blamed for wanting to shut it down, sell the
equipment, and enjoy their retirement.
In short -- celebrate WFLI’s former glory days, but it’s time to let it
I bring all of this up just to raise the possibility that, perhaps someday,
the owners of KAAY may also decide it’s not financially worth it anymore, and
pull the plug on the formerly Mighty-1090.
That would have been unthinkable several decades ago, maybe even just
one decade ago! But, look what has
happened to WFLI, where the march of time, technical neglect, and just the
nature of change eventually caught up with them.
Photos by Greg Barman and David Carroll