Joe Dentici

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Joseph A. Dentici Jr (born May 25, 1945; died June 29, 2006), also known as Russ Knight was a highly-regarded broadcast engineer, a disc jockey for WSGN, and the operator of a pirate radio station.

Dentici, the son of Joseph and Clara Dentici, grew up in Mountain Brook, graduating from the Birmingham University School and the Elkins Institute in Texas. He began his radio career working with WYDE in 1965 and WYAM in 1966. He joined WSGN in 1967 as that year's version of "good guy" Russ Knight. He also worked with WAQY.

After graduating college in 1969 he went to work McClendon Broadcasting, the Jackson, Mississippi-based owner of several Southern stations formatted for African American audiences. He helped to build the equipment that got WENN-FM 107.7 on the air in 1969. In 1975 he took over chief engineer duties when Carl Martens retired.

The next year WENN went into receivership after McClendon died. Manager Joe Lackey formulated a plan for the staff to buy the station. After a few unsuccessful attempts to secure a loan, they approached A. G. Gaston, owner of Citizens Federal Bank. Instead of approving a loan, Gaston bought the station and relieved Lackey of his duties. This provoked a walk-out of the staff, including Tall Paul White, Erskine Faush, Shelley Stewart, Maurice King, Pat Williams, and Weldon Clark. After White read an announcement, Dentici shut down the transmitters. The incident made national news, with black employees striking over the firing of a white manager.

Later that year Lackey was offered management of WATV-AM, which had a 1000-watt transmitter and operated from a room on the 20th floor of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. After refusing to sign after the owner's rejection of "black music", Lackey countered by offering to run the station for 90 days at his own expense, after which the owners could do as they wished. In one 12-hour overnight span, Dentici and WATV's chief engineer overhauled the broadcast equipment for a relaunch, with Tall Paul opening the show with Maxine Nightingale's "Right Back Where We Started From".

The publicity generated by the ordeal helped WATV become the number one rated station in the period immediately following the relaunch and WATV is now owned by Stewart and Faush.

In 1987, after WSGN had closed shop, Dentici began recreating the WSGN show for oldies-format WCRT-AM. He spun singles from 45s, provided his own patter, and aired archived promo spots and period advertising. When he left WCRT the next year, pleas from the Alabama Record Collectors Club and Birmingham Record Collectors Club convinced him to keep the broadcast going on pirate radio.

Dentici's pirate station operated on Tuesday evenings from 7:00 to 10:00 on AM 1610 and FM 100.1 from radio equipment in the attic of his Mountain Brook home. Club members would gather at the Shoney's outside Eastwood Mall every week to listen in on the broadcasts. During the day Dentici worked as an engineer for WBHM-FM and the shortwave broadcast (WEWN) for the Eternal Word Television Network.

He helped Ray Edwards, the chair of the mass communications department at Jefferson State Community College, re-engineer WJSR-FM. Dentici's WSGN recreation went legit with permission from Gadsden State, who owned the rights to the WSGN call letters, and a Saturday night time slot on WJSR. Meteorologist James Spann chanced upon the broadcast and became a fan and friend of Dentici's, contributing weather reports to the station.

In 2000, Dentici retired from EWTN and he and his wife, Suzi, moved to a house on Neely Henry Lake where he began airing 60s music from his home-built station to his Ashville-area neighbors on Saturday evenings. His home station is on display at the Alabama Historical Radio Society in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

He and Suzi divorced in 2001. On June 28, 2003 Dentici remarried. He died in June 2006 of complications from leukemia and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery. Dentici was posthumously inducted into the Birmingham Record Collectors Hall of Fame in 2016.


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