I got an e-mail this morning from some friends of mine in Commerce, Georgia, reminding me that June 27th is a special date in the life of Bill Anderson.
It was 56-years ago today at 10:22 a.m. that I stood in the tiny control room of a wood-frame building a couple of miles outside the city limits of Commerce and watched as an engineer named Bill Evans threw the switch and an announcer named Grady Cooper signed on Radio Station WJJC for the very first time.
A little over an hour later….at 11:30 a.m. to be exact….I sat down in front of a microphone stationed between two turntables and welcomed listeners to the very first edition of a country music radio program called The Dinnerbell Jamboree.
At least I HOPED there were listeners. Nobody knew, but I decided in all of my nineteen-year old exuberance to test the waters. “The first person who sends me a postcard or a letter will receive a prize, ” I announced somewhere within that first show. The next day I got seven letters, and had to pick the winner by the earliest postmark. The only prize at my disposal to give away was a small package of duplicate 45rpm records that I didn’t need.
Two months later, on August 27th, I went up on top of the tallest building in Commerce, the three-story Hotel Andrew Jackson where I lived, and changed my life forever. I wrote a little song up there called “City Lights.”
The times have certainly changed over these past 56-years. Can you imagine a radio program today called The Dinnerbell Jamboree? I could hardly imagine it back then, and jumped for joy a few months later when I was allowed to start calling my hours on the air The Bill Anderson Show.
Can you imagine a disc jockey on the radio asking for fan mail today? Before someone could find a sheet of paper and a pen, someone else would have already sent in twenty “tweets.” Most of all, can you imagine someone being thrilled to win a “grand prize” of a half-dozen or so 45rpm records? Best as I remember, our winner was ecstatic.
Commerce became an important part of my life. I refer to it today as “my adopted hometown.” There is a granite monument on the sidewalk next to what was then the Hotel Andrew Jackson commemorating the fact that “City Lights” was written there. And there is a Bill Anderson Performing Arts Center in the local high school along with a Bill Anderson Scholarship presented annually to an outstanding graduating senior who wants to further their education in an area related to the performing arts.
And this fall…..here I go letting the cat out of the bag….I’ll be going back to Commerce for a fundraising show inside the auditorium that bears my name.
It sometimes overwhelms me. Like right now….sitting here remembering that it all started 56-years ago today.