WLAY – Two remarkable people who shaped Broadcasting – Dick Biddle & Jack Voorhies

by Steve Wiggins
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MUSCLE SHOALS – In this week’s story about Radio Station WLAY 100.1 FM, we talk to Kevin Self about two very special people who helped define Broadcasting as we know it. They are Dick Biddle and Jack Voorhies.

After World War Two, radio and television moved into a new period of bringing entertainment and information into homes around America. New radio stations were springing up everywhere and here in The Shoals, WLAY, which was one of the first five AM stations in Alabama, introduced two exceptional pioneers, Dick Biddle and Jack Voorhies,

Kevin Self  gave us some interesting details about Broadcasting legend, Dick Biddle. “In 1947, Dick Biddle became the general manager at WLAY, and little did anybody know, it would ignite a stellar career in broadcasting. From his time at WLAY, Biddle went on to own his own radio station in Florence, WOWL, and later started the first TV station in the Shoals area, WOWL TV Channel 15.”

Richard B. Biddle – Broadcasting Pioneer

“He was quite influential in shaping WLAY in those days,”, Self explained. “He was not only a visionary into the workings of radio, but he was a master at leading people in the ways of getting stuff done, while projecting a genuine sense of the importance of building a legacy of care for all people. Dick stayed at WLAY for only a relatively short period of time, He left the station in 1949, likely because he found a better opportunity in starting his own radio station, WOWL AM, and later, WOWL TV. He became well-respected in the broadcast community both locally and statewide, eventually becoming the President of the Alabama Broadcasters Association.”

Dick Biddle’s impact on the community was not limited to broadcasting. He also did a lot of charitable work through his TV and radio stations and was a true patriot, having served in World War Two. Biddle’s influence extended beyond just broadcasting, as he was one of the earliest figures in the area to begin editorial pieces on his TV station. Others in the local radio broadcast world picked up on this trend. Biddle’s editorials always ended with his memorable line, “Be a good American. Be an informed American.”

Kevin finished his assessment of him, “Dick Biddle’s legacy lives on in the people he helped to begin their careers. Whether they continued in broadcasting or not, Dick had a positive influence on them, and almost all of them would say that he was a great boss. Biddle’s vision and leadership in broadcasting, that started at this radio station, paved the way for future generations of broadcasters and professionals, making him a true pioneer in the industry.”

Then, in our conversation, we moved on to Jack Voorhies. Most people who remember Jack, remember him as that superbly entertaining announcer at Tuscumbia’s WVNA. Jack’s voice and his presentation, not to mention the many fanciful characters of his imagination that appeared in so many radio commercials, was extraordinary. And his work would be heard all over America in the form of syndicated radio programs and commercials that he produced. But Jack Voorhies got started at WLAY AM 1450 right after WWII. He was there along with Dick Biddle and Sam Phillips (we will feature Phillips in our next article, along with Quin Ivey).

Kevin Self remarked, “Jack Voorhies was one of the most talented individuals to ever come out of the area.”

Jack Voorhies

Voorhies attended Northwestern University where he majored in English and became a master of the language. He used his talent to create comedy and drama around Southern culture and people, never making fun of the Southern way of life but exalting it in his own way. He created characters like Irving Loblolly, a sportscaster who predicted the outcomes of college football games, which was syndicated all across the country in about 60 or 70 markets.

Self explained, “Jack loved the South and Southern people, and it was evident in all of his work. His characters, though often with Southern accents, were good-natured and wholesome, making them relatable to all audiences. He never portrayed any negative stereotypes about the South or its people. And he was much beloved.”

Voorhies’ voice was also a tool he used to make a living, and he had one of the best voices to come out of The Shoals. He eventually left WVNA for Birmingham and had his own studio there. His voice was heard on hundreds of commercials for national brands.

Self finished his assessment of Jack in this way, “Despite his remarkable success, Voorhies remained humble and beloved by all who knew him. He is greatly missed by his friends, family, and fans, who will remember him as a true Southern icon.”

You may listen to WLAY, by CLICKING HERE.

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