WJLD-AM (AM 1400) is a radio station licensed to Fairfield, that serves most of the Birmingham area. The station offers talk and music programming targeted towards African-American listeners, including a mixture of locally originated talk programming and urban oldies music. The station and its sibling, WJLD-FM, are the sole broadcast properties operated by Midfield mayor Gary Richardson's Richardson Broadcasting Corporation.
WJLD was founded as an affiliate of the Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) by brothers J. L. Doss and J. R. Doss, who already operated WJRD-AM in Tuscaloosa. They began broadcasting from a studio in the Gary Hotel in Bessemer on April 19, 1942. The transmitter site was on the Bessemer Super Highway near 31st Street. Engineer Ben Franklin manned the broadcast tower and the station hired part time announcers from the speech classes at Bessemer High School.
It was the fourth station licensed to serve the Birmingham area, following WAPI, WERC and WSGN. Programming on WJLD initially consisted of popular music, news programs and radio adventure shows such as Superman and Tom Mix. In 1943, the station began selling airtime to people who sang or played urban contemporary gospel music. Gospel show host Sadie Mae Patterson was the first to put singer Alex Bradford on the air.
In 1944 George Johnston and his son, George Jr formed the Johnston Broadcasting Corporation and purchased WJLD. They pushed the station's focus toward black audiences. On weekends they allowed gospel groups to book time on the station for $15 per half hour. Host Trumon Puckett eventually dropped country music for additional gospel and blues music and the station earned the nickname the "Old Gospel Ship". In 1944 pastor W. A. Clark of St Peter's Primitive Baptist Church became the first preacher to broadcast on the station. From 1945 to 1947 the station's studio was located inside Bessemer City Hall.
Starting in 1946 host Bob Umbach's "Atomic Boogie Hour" expanded to take up six hours a day with jive, jam boogie woogie and blues. In 1947 the station moved to a newly-constructed studio building on the Bessemer Super Highway. In 1948, the Johnstons launched a high-power FM station on Red Mountain. WJLN-FM (FM 104.7) later became WZZK-FM and was sold off. WJLD moved its transmitter to Red Mountain in 1952. Roy Wood took over as host of the ever-popular Atomic Boogie Hour program. The station began using an outdoor patio as the setting for its Sunday gospel shows. Other WJLD personalities included Willie McKinstry and Shelley Stewart.
In 1954, WJLD began exclusively targeting African-American listeners with a mix of music and talk programming. A cooking program hosted by Robelia Pope, a veteran of WEDR-AM, debuted on WJLD that year and Ed "Johnny Jive" McClure brought his popular "Platter Queen" beauty contests over from WCBO-AM.
In 1961 the station was upgraded to 1000 watts in the daytime and 250 at night. Two years later, under station manager Otis Dodge, WJLD began broadcasting at 1,000 watts 24 hours a day while its sister station, WJLN, became the first 24-hour FM station in the state. "People's Choice" talk show host Jesse Champion added an "All Night Show" to his schedule, co-hosting with Pat Williams. The late-night program was later taken over by Ardra "Sonny" Woods a few months later.
The "WJLD Singers" were formed in 1965 for promotional appearances. In 1966 the station relocated to 109 19th Street North and Rose Johnston, George Sr's wife, took over management. The transmitter, still in use, was relocated to Garrison Avenue. On February 28, 1972 WJLD moved from downtown to a new building at 1449 Spaulding Ishkooda Road in Mason City. The move was carried out by station engineer Jimmy Jones. During the 1960s and 70s the station's staff formed athletic teams to challenge other businesses, including the WJLD Microphones baseball club.
Bob Bell bought the station from the Johnstons in 1982. With the increased popularity of FM stations during the 1970s and early 1980s, WJLD began adding more talk programming to its format and decreased the amount of current music in its rotation. State Senator Earl Hilliard bought the station in 1985 and sold it two years later to station manager and engineer Gary Richardson. Richardson pioneered a short-lived experiment in delivering WJLD's jazz programming by cable FM radio.
In 1989, the station dropped current music entirely and became a full-time urban oldies station, using the "Heart and Soul" format delivered by the Satellite Music Network. Local hosts included Tall Paul in the mornings, and Bob "Bobby D" Friedman, who hosted a Sunday night "Doo-Wop Shop" program as well as the "Sound Off" talk show. He was later joined by Gary Richardson when it moved to morning drive time. Frequent caller Shelley Millinder was recruited to host his own afternoon program, called "Let's Talk" in 1996.
In 2000 the station switched to another satellite-delivered music format, "Party Blues and Oldies" from the Mississippi-based "American Blues Network".
The station presently programs a blues and Southern soul music format six days a week, with both local personalities and the syndicated Mississippi-based "American Blues Network". In keeping with tradition, Sunday programming consists of gospel music and church broadcasts. In 2002 WJLD became the first station in the United States to broadcast on "high definition AM". Engineer Leciel Hubbard worked with HD Radio creators Ibiquity to make the change.
WJLD partnered with the UAB School of Public Health to produce the weekly radio drama "Body Love". In 2008 Richardson Broadcasting acquired the license for W281AB, a 250-watt FM translator at FM 104.1. WJLD-FM began simulcasting its sister station's programming soon later.
- "WJLD Radio Now Round-The-Clock Station" (July 16, 1963) The Birmingham World - via The Birmingham Black Radio Museum - accessed October 7, 2019
- Friedman, Bob (May 4, 1989) "WJLD Starts Doo-Wop Shop" The Birmingham Times / Showtime magazine, p. 8 - via The Birmingham Black Radio Museum - accessed October 7, 2019
- Friedman, Bob (February 2006) "The history of WJLD AM 1400 Fairfield/Birmingham". Birmingham Black Radio Museum - accessed May 16, 2009
- "WJLD" (April 19, 2009) Wikipedia - accessed May 16, 2009