A Look at the Station that Brought Christian Radio to Birmingham
Fifty years ago, April 22, 1968, WDJC signed on the air for the first time from its penthouse studio on the 13th floor of The Tutwiler Hotel in downtown Birmingham. At that time most people didn’t even own an FM radio. The 20,000-watt transmitter was so low-power that the neon sign on the building would go out when the late Wayne Wallace of “Dixie Gospel Caravan” played music for his listeners. The frequency 93.7 FM had been purchased by Don Crawford, President of Crawford Broadcasting, a pioneer in faith-based broadcasting. Crawford set the stage for WDJC to offer Birmingham listeners programming not available on the airwaves before: preaching, Bible studies, hymns, and gospel quartets.
As the popularity of FM stations rose, the announcers at WDJC became household names. Wallace went on to win the prestigious Singing News National Southern Gospel Announcer of the Year award several times, hosting the “Dixie Gospel Caravan” for decades. Ronnie Bruce, Doug McCain, Hank Erwin and Bob Ratchford were all popular hosts. Since then, the now all-contemporary Christian WDJC has been named one of the Top 25 Christian radio stations in the U.S. and is the only station in the market with the same ownership and call letters for the past 50 years. Long-time General Manager Larry Adcock played a crucial role in the station’s success. “I remember mom saying that the day WDJC went on the air, dad was driving all over Birmingham so he could hear it,” says son Lamar Adcock, who spent much of his childhood at the station. “My dad loved that station and he loved that ministry. WDJC enabled him to capture all his heart desired. My sister, Lori, and I used to go there after school…I remember sitting on the control panel table as a child and recording the Roy Buckner Chevrolet commercials with my dad. Nothing like hearing your dad’s voice on the radio.”
As the station celebrates its longevity of spreading the gospel, three of the station’s on-air personalities share their memories of technology changes, popular programming, and music with a powerful message.
Terry Patilla serves as host of WDJC’s popular “Sunday of Praise” and as a creative writer and producer. He is celebrating 40 years in the radio industry and 20 years with Crawford Broadcasting. Growing up in Walker County, Patilla remembers that when WDJC signed on in 1968, only a few FM radio stations were on the air in Birmingham compared to today. “Most vehicles only had AM radio, so WDJC joined a few other FM stations for the “Summer of FM.” They partnered with the old Western Auto Stores to promote and sell FM radios [and grow the listener base].” When he first started working in radio in the mid-1970s, Patilla played records, albums and singles. He used reel to reel tapes and recalls a time when commercials and music were stored on what industry professionals called “carts.” “Now we don’t even play CDs. Everything is digital,” he says. “I prefer today’s technology in production rooms and when producing programs and commercials. However, I really miss the days when I played records and tapes on air.”
Justin Brown started in broadcasting in 1990 at Jacksonville University and by 1996 was hosting events in Birmingham for Magic 96. His career took him to Amarillo, Texas and Rome, Ga. before he settled in at WDJC as host and music director. For him, what is special about his involvement in radio broadcasting has been watching music with a message take center stage and change lives. “It truly gives you a platform where the music can minister and inspire just as much as what we get to say on the air,” he says. “I love the motto ‘Music That Matters.’” Reflecting on the artists whose messages have most impacted listeners, Brown says Casting Crowns has been one of his favorites. The band started its career when Brown first began at WDJC, and they became fast friends. Brown still stays in touch with members who are no longer with the band. An interview he recently did on air highlighted another special relationship he’s developed over his broadcasting career. In a nod to the new film “I Can Only Imagine,” lead singer Bart Millard credited WDJC with being the first station in the U.S. to play the song. The station is even mentioned in the movie.
Lisa “Roxanne” Richardson has her own memories of when the MercyMe hit song, “I Can Only Imagine,” hit the airwaves. “I was not a believer, but I knew Millard was singing about Heaven,” she recalls, noting that remembering that experience sheds light on the way she has seen Christian music speak into the lives of listeners. Before she began sharing the mornings with WDJC listeners in 2010, Roxanne was the news director on 14 different radio shows in the Birmingham market including the “Rick and Bubba Show.” Her WDJC show, “Rox and Friends” is peppered with prayer and powerful testimonies like a former marine, injured in combat and severely depressed, who opened a Bible given to him and heard a “still small voice” urging him to live life to the fullest and a woman who detonated her sister’s home with a meth lab and later came to know Jesus, to speak “life into others.” “Financial struggles, wayward children, relational difficulties and health issues plague people. But changed lives and an on-time God that is still in the miracle business has people praising Him and surrendering to Him daily,” Roxanne says. What makes WDJC unique in the modern radio industry is that it has had one owner, invested in the local community, Roxanne says. In a time when many big radio companies are going bankrupt, Justin Brown adds, “it has proven that doing radio in a ‘cookie cutter’ fashion has not worked, and being a true part of your town and being really invested really matters.” Roxanne continues, “The competition for listeners is more intense with podcasts, satellites and apps. That said, people realize the value of hosts that live among them, experience their communities, share their lives…I have listeners who are family. They’ve seen me struggle and shared in triumphs. Those relationships are enormously important to me.”
“We need the hope and stability of Jesus Christ. He is the answer! We need comfort in times of uncertainty, knowing that the Lord loves us, and He is for us!” says Roxanne. “Christian radio allows us to worship, grow closer to God, and realize that there’s more to life than the daily grind. I have heard from listeners on the brink of suicide, who have surrendered their lives to Christ and found comfort, purpose and joy in Him.”
- Camille Smith Platt