WLAY… A modern day renaissance radio station

By  | February 6, 2023 | Filed under: News

Kevin Self with a photo of his Father, Mitch Self

MUSCLE SHOALS – In the previous article about Singing River Media Group, L.L.C., operators of several radio stations here in Northwest Alabama, we talked to Operations Manager, Kevin Self. He gave a thorough history of the flagship radio station, WLAY 100.1 FM. As we continue the history, which will include the other radio stations in the Group, especially WVNA 105.5 FM, this week’s article stays with WLAY and the transformation of the historic studio on 2nd Street into a modern, 21st Century facility.

“As a kid, all I wanted to do was to follow in Mitch Self’s footsteps. He was my dad and part owner of WLAY. So I was here all this time, and as I matured, I got to live my dream of becoming  DJ. I did my board-shifts in this very room!”, Kevin Self explained. I grew up, and after having worked here for years, in 1986, I bought my own radio station down in Russellville with a partner, Dave Morrow. We operated that station for a few years before Dave Bought me out right after my Dad died. My Brother, Mike, and I had some other ideas which were the kernel for what we have now. We subsequently got back to this station after a while… Then did a few other things in Media… The radio stations changed hands a couple of times before we had them back. We actually worked for the stations from the late ’90’s onward over at WVNA’s historic building in Tuscumbia. We purchased the equity in WLAY and got hold of Dave’s 97.7 so we were radio station owners! that was pretty cool.” Then the stations were sold to a couple of radio group operations for a while.

It is often said that luck happens “when preparation meets up with opportunity”. So these guys were lucky, because they were really prepared and knew to “strike while the iron is hot”.

Kevin continued, “While we were working there. we kept trying to get the stations back from their owner, but it took a lot of persistence. We had tried for ten years to buy the radio stations from him. Finally, it was in 2019 that we got hold of them, along with the other stations in the Group”

At that time the stations’ facilities and equipment were starting to show their age, and the Self’s began the process of looking for new property. The first thing that came to mind for them was the old, and empty former home of WLAY. The process of acquiring the building didn’t take long. Kevin went on, “We were  friends with the owner of this building. He had tried to sell it for a decade. He had it even tried to auction it, not even any bids. Nobody wanted because it wasn’t suited for a lot of things… But it was suited for a radio station. Of course it was, because it was built for radio station! So we bought it in 2020, and started to work on the facility that Summer.”

But it was a big job. When the Self’s took ownership of the building, it was pretty disheveled. It needed paint. It needed new power, air conditioning and plumbing improvements. And it was completely empty.

He went on, “So we started redoing the building, putting everything back, because everything that was left had to go! From Zero to fully operational, yeah… It took a year and a half for diligent work and attention. We moved in back in January of 2022, after we finished it out and had installed all the wiring, cables and equipment for multiple radio stations. It’s sort of strange, this feeling… It feels strange in that everything looks new and functional and shiny and clean, while at the same time, it feels like we’ve never left.  Feels like coming home in some way. We managed to save some of the equipment. But it was all refurbished like new by us! And, of course, there’s tons of shiny new tech in here as well.

Kevin Self at the “Board”

Feels like coming home in some way. But think the reason I feel like I never left is because my engineer and I built this thing from zero. There was nothing here but walls. We built the whole thing! We pulled all the wires. We made all the connections. We built, built this furniture, put this stuff all together. And so I feel like I’ve never left because it pretty much looks the same and it is mine, you know?”

Kevin was justifiably proud of the accomplishment. He and his engineer, Robert Williams rebuilt this really nice facility from scratch. “You know, I like it when people come in here. Then I can say just what I’ve told you. I started my radio career right here where I am today in this control room. He pointed to a photo of a teenager sitting at the console. “And if you want proof, it’s right there on the wall. That’s me sitting in this chair. I was a 17 year old kid.”

He pointed to a photo on the wall of the studio, “Yeah. And then you look up there at that other picture of that newspaper clipping, that’s a picture of me with my daddy in the background. He had just gotten an award from The Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Yeah. And the picture, well that’s, that’s all about Radio. Not us. That’s not about him or me. That’s about Radio! And so it’s just, it’s just everything connects right back here.”

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