- This article is about the former Birmingham radio station. For the current station in Oxford, see WVOK-AM (Oxford).
WVOK-AM was a radio station that broadcast on AM 690 in Birmingham from 1947 to 1992. It was owned by brothers members of the Benns and Brennan family, who went on to launch WBAM-AM in Montgomery and WAPE-AM in Jacksonville, Florida. WVOK's studios and transmission tower were located on Bessemer Super Highway.
At its launch, the station was a joint venture of the Brennans and their long-time friends, the Benns family. They incorporated Voice of Dixie Broadcasting in January 1946. Iralee Benns was president with a 20% stake. Cyril M. Brennan was vice-president with a 50% stake. William Benns (20%) and William Benns Jr (10%) rounded out the original ownership group.
The company won a Federal Communications Commission charter for a 10,000-watt broadcast transmitter in February. Held up in the postwar backlog, further approval for the directional antenna was not received until August. During that review, the FCC determined that the proposal could violate the North American Radio Broadcasters Agreement by competing with stations in Canada and Cuba that used the 690 kilocycle frequency. Billy Benns amended their application to limit their broadcasting hours to daylight only. As the process proceeded, WSGN-AM became concerned that a higher-power station just up the dial would hurt their audience, and submitted an application to move to from AM 610 to AM 690 at 50,000 watts. That proposal was dismissed in December, allowing WVOK to move ahead. The FCC's permit was issued in February 1947. J. E. Reynolds served as the first general manager. The youngest Brennan brother, Dan moved to Birmingham right out of high school to work as an announcer and advertising manager.
Bill Brennan and Billy Benns designed the station's transmission equipment, using surplus tubes from a military radar station. Cyril Brennan and George Blaskow worked on constructing the equipment while still serving in the army. They shipped components to Birmingham to be assembled. A fountain outside the studio building served as a reservoir to keep it cool. After another permitting cycle, WVOK was awarded the right to increase its broadcast power to 50,000-watts, the most powerful in the market, in July 1949.
The station had made another splash by hiring Joe Rumore away from WAPI-AM in 1948. His popular "family style" morning show anchored the daily program. Other personalities included Jim Allen, Dan Brennan, Alan Burns, Johnny Davis, Johnny Mack Driskell, Johnnie Hayes, Hal Hodgens, Don Keith, and Johnny Poer.
Initially, WVOK's format was mainly country, and it heralded itself as "The Voice of Dixie," boasting in 1950 that it, "carries more 'live' hill billy music than any other Birmingham station." WVOK and WYDE-AM both began airing top-40 music in the late 1950s in imitation of the explosively popular WSGN-AM. They were soon joined by the newly-launched WAQY-AM. WVOK's broadcast power gave it an advantage in outlying areas.
The station sponsored the "Shower of Stars" concert series that filled Municipal Auditorium with teeny-boppers and later brought the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys to the same show at Legion Field on May 7, 1965.
In 1976 the new 100,000-watt WVOK-FM "K-99" album rock station hit the air. WVOK switched to a country format similar to the successful WYDE-AM. In 1979 the Brennans sold the station to a Nashville conglomerate. Rumore retired from the station in 1984, after which it turned to an oldies format. In 1985 the station switched to a lower-power directional transmitter. Over the next few years the station's line-up of live disc jockeys transitioned into a broadcast of the "Pure Gold" stream from the Satellite Music Network.
WVOK was also known as the home of Alabama Crimson Tide football broadcasts, and it also carried broadcasts of NASCAR events at the Talladega Superspeedway. In 1992 WVOK sportscaster Herb Winches made the suggestion that the station adopt an all-sports format. The suggestion was well-received and the new station adopted the call letters WJOX-AM.
- Colurso, Mary (April 21, 2017) "The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis: For Alabama radio pioneer Dan Brennan, life was a Shower of Stars." The Birmingham News