, , , ,

Radio studio interview“Talk With Bette” went on the air on radio WOLS-1230 in the fall of 2000. Every Friday morning I interviewed three interesting people for twenty minutes each. Medical and business CEO’s, housewives and politicians might be on the morning’s agenda.

College deans, mayors, businessmen and women came to talk with Bette about whatever might be going on in their world or coming up in the community. Subjects ranged from health care to gospel concerts, from Boy Scout projects to Red Cross blood drives.

My motto was – and still is – “If it interests me, it will interest you.”

Established here in my hometown of Florence, South Carolina in 1937, WOLS-1230 was a family-oriented station featuring nationally syndicated shows such as Focus on the Family, as well as local programs hosted by churches or civic groups. Talk shows were interspersed with golden oldies, beach and gospel music.

For many years WOLS aired the Holiday Show, named for the Holiday Inn Restaurant where the program first aired. For 90 minutes a day, Doug Williams and a co-hostess greeted folks around the breakfast table. Local residents or national personalities traveling through town, politicians to movie stars would stop by to chat informally with Doug about any and everything.

In between interviews Doug tuned into music while new guests got comfortable with a cup of hot coffee. The Holiday Show was hugely popular. Anybody who was anybody throughout South Carolina and many just traveling along the East Coast sought to be Doug’s guest. For a few years he switched to television, but eventually Doug returned the Holiday Show to WOLS, sometimes broadcasting remotely from a local restaurant, sometimes directly from the studio.

In the late 1980’s Tim and I signed up as grass-roots volunteers for several conservative, prolife causes and candidates. We always looked for time slots on radio stations where we and our candidates could discuss the issues of the day.

No Lottery 2000 was one of those issues. Working to defeat the lottery in South Carolina, we supported like-minded candidates for local and state-wide offices. And, as the campaigns progressed towards the fall election, Tim called WJMX-970, a radio station that had always welcomed candidates to be interviewed by Tom Kinard on Kinard and Koffee, a morning drive-time show that reached a wide segment of our state’s population.

Tim confidently called Tom to arrange interview times. But Tom had bad news – the station had a new manager with a new policy for Kinard and Koffee: nothing political, nothing controversial. Definitely nothing anti-lottery.

Well, there was still WOLS. A lower signal station, it had a smaller listening audience – but every voter counts, right? Except that Doug Williams had retired just the week before. After forty years on the air, the Holiday Show was no more.

We were very unhappy, to say the least. One candidate wasn’t just unhappy, he was thoughtful, and determined. He called WOLS himself to ask – suppose we find a replacement for Doug Williams? Would you put the Holiday Show back on the air? The station manager okayed the idea. All we’d have to do is find a host, find the guests, and find the sponsors. Simple.

The candidate enthusiastically called me. “You’d be perfect, Bette. You could do this, no problem. Will you?”

But the Holiday Show was daily, 90 minutes each day. It wasn’t feasible for me to leave working in our business that long every day. And Doug had a program manager, plus someone to handle the technical end of remote broadcasting. I had no expertise, no experience, not even a basic working knowledge of radio broadcasting. It’s impossible, I argued.

“We’ll get all that done, just say you’ll do it!” He and Tim urged, nagged and pleaded.

Reluctantly I agreed to host a one-hour show, one day a week. No music, just talk. Friday mornings, the slowest day of the work week for me. No remotes, we would broadcast from the sound booth in the station. Okay? The station manager said okay and made plans to begin the show immediately, even before we rounded up some sponsors.

But what to call it? We couldn’t keep the Holiday Show name, not without Doug. Talk With Bette was born. A fellow who worked for the station would be my on-air engineer. The station manager selected some intro music, recorded a professional-sounding voice-over for it, and by the next Friday we went on the air – all within a week of my saying yes. I still don’t see how we pulled that off…

Tim proved to be an excellent program manager. Well known throughout the Pee Dee himself, he had no problems whatsoever persuading people to come talk with Bette, live on the air. Our very first guests were candidates, naturally. To avoid troubles with the FCC and FEC, we invited all candidates, no matter the party or the issue. (The strangest thing: only the candidates we supported agreed to come.)

From band concerts to college enrollment, from fund-raising for the United Way to Little Theater plays – not to mention the lottery and the elections, of course – people came to talk about it. If someone wanted to air their opinion, advertise their event, plug their new business or promote their candidate, they called Tim. Several sponsors soon came on board, and now we had commercial breaks for guests to swap chairs.

My nosy nature and extensive preparations for every single interview kept things interesting. The atmosphere was laid back and casual, like visiting with a neighbor across their kitchen table. People who had been nervous about filling up twenty minutes were amazed how fast the time went. They often wanted to come back and continue the conversation another day, and we often scheduled just that.

One of my first guests on the lottery question was Armstrong Williams, who called in from his own studio in Washington, DC. One early program included two invited guests, Bill Monroe, pastor of the largest church in Florence, and former Governor David Beasley. I asked one opening question about the upcoming lottery vote, but for the rest of the hour they chatted with each other, asking questions and discussing that subject and other issues of the day.

I had to reschedule our third guest, who really didn’t mind – he was sitting in the room with us, enjoying the conversation. It was wonderful.

Of course, glitches and hitches arose occasionally. (Not often, thankfully.) One day my first guest was a lady who operated a private, no-kill animal shelter out in the county. She arrived early and we chatted quite easily about her love of animals, how the shelter operated and their constant need for donations. I took notes as we talked.

The moment the show went live, however, she froze up. She became terrified of the microphone and could not speak above a whisper. It was a good thing I had just asked her everything I really needed to know, so my on-air questions became lengthy and full of information. She could basically just say “yes” or “no.” When the segment ended, she apologized profusely, I patted her shoulder and said it was okay – and it was, but she never came back.

Another day a guest didn’t show up until the very end of the program. She’d had car trouble and no way to let me know.  But my prepared notes had enabled me to do her segment without her, introducing her topic and discussing it as though I was talking to a class of students.

One state senator running for re-election turned his face away from me as soon as I introduced him. Puzzled, I could not catch his eye to ask any of my questions. He just began to talk, and talk, and talk – spouting a canned campaign speech. He didn’t even seem to take a breath the whole time. When his twenty minutes were up, he rose, said thank you and walked out. I never invited him back.

As the program’s listener base grew, we acquired regular guests who appeared on a monthly basis, and Talk With Bette became fairly well known throughout the Pee Dee.

Then one day in 2003, the station management changed and with it, so did the format. Family-oriented no longer, WOLS would become “The Sports Animal,” switching to an all-sports format. Some local shows would be maintained, the new manager informed me, but with new time slots. Mine was one of those.

I could come in on Friday and interview guests as usual, he said, but the program would be recorded, not aired live. It would be broadcast on Saturday, perhaps in the early morning hours, perhaps the middle of the day, “We’ll let you know when.”

Unsure how such a drastic difference would be received by our listening audience, I said I’d have to think about it, talk to Tim about it, and let him know.

The next Friday I overheard the manager say to one of my guests that WOLS now had a website, something he’d never mentioned to me. Checking it out at home later I found many questionable “adult” images. Sports-related though they were, to me they bordered on x-rated.

That was my last program on WOLS. Tim and I thanked the new station manager for the offer, but felt it would be better for Talk With Bette to end while it was ahead.

Soon thereafter, at Tim’s instigation and the invitation of Brenda Harrison, Editor of the News Journal, I began writing a weekly newspaper column titled Family Memories. Some articles were a result of interviews I had done with local personalities, others contained my own memories of life growing up in South Carolina. The time I had spent talking, I now spent writing.

The column had an excellent few years before gradually slowing to a natural conclusion after Tim died in 2006. Two of my current blogs, Talk With Bette and S.C. Family Memories, are media outlets of a different sort to share information, thoughts, ideas and opinions.

I enjoyed my days on the radio, meeting and talking with so many fascinating folks from around the state and nation. I enjoyed writing the column, and I still enjoy writing the blogs as you may have guessed. Thanks so much for reading this post, if you’ve gotten this far… it’s been really good to reminisce.