Progress 2023: WKLF celebrates 75 years as a radio station
Published 2:26 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in “Progress 2023: Behind the Scenes.” Copies are available at The Clanton Advertiser office, 1109 Seventh St. N in Clanton.
STORY BY SCOTT MIMS
Clanton-based radio station WKLF celebrated 75 years on the air in February.
In today’s era of digital downloads, Spotify playlists and YouTube channels, one might be tempted to argue that radio has lost its relevance — but in WKLF’s case, that argument would be way off target.
In recent years under new owners Chris Johnson and Robert King, WKLF (95.5 FM, 1000 AM) has found its way onto the Internet and offers three different streaming services operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week — Gospel, oldies and most recently classic country music, all accessible from WKLFradio.com. Upgrades have also been made to equipment with plans for remodeling the studio and replacing equipment related to the AM station sometime in the future.
“WKLF has served our community with entertainment, news and information for 75 years,” Johnson said. “We’d like to thank the community for their support over 75 years, and it has been and is our pleasure to support them.”
The station continues to offer a variety of programming exclusive to the Chilton County community, such as Johnson’s new program, “This is Our Town,” which features a different community guest on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m., immediately preceding Johnson’s daily oldies show “Drive at 5.” Listeners can also tune in to regular daily and weekly programs, which are accessible both on the dial and via WKLF’s streaming services. These include primarily Gospel programs during the day, then the focus shifts to oldies, ranging from the 1950s to the 1990s, as well as classic country music in the evening.
By tuning in, listeners may also hear goings-on at Chilton County Commission meetings, regular weather updates from meteorologist Jerry Tracey, and broadcasts of high school athletic events from longtime announcers Zack Bates and Larry Reeser.
WKLF also engages with the online community on its official Facebook page as WKLF Radio.
“We remain focused on our local community,” King said. “That’s really why we bought the station, so that it would remain a hometown station.”
King joined WKLF in the early 1980s and has remained involved in some capacity ever since.
“Back then it was owned by Jack Dennis, and we had Buck Littleton, Billy Lawrence, Al Headley and Craig Rogers,” he recalled. “Marion Easterling was here mid-days for ‘America’s Favorites,’ and within the first month here at WKLF we hired another guy that you may know by the name of Layle Samford.”
King and Samford became close friends over the years, with the duo running the Sunday program for many years. Samford would host the morning portion, and King would take over in the afternoons. King also hosted the 4-10 p.m. shift Monday through Friday.
Unfortunately, in 2021, Samford was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed
away within six weeks of the diagnosis. The news of the diagnosis came as a shock to even those who were closest to Samford, King indicated.
“Layle was loved by the community, and I’m sure that many people are still feeling the loss of his special personality,” he said.
Roger Mims, known by his radio name Craig Rogers, who hosts the weekly program “Roger’s Rockin’ Oldies” on Saturday evenings, has many memories of working at WKLF from 1973 to 1987. He recalls being able to write record companies and receive duplicate 45 rpm records of then-current radio hits. But one of the days that stands out to him the most was Aug. 16, 1977, the day Elvis Presley died.
“I was on the air the day they released the story that Elvis had died,” Mims said. “The old Associated Press machine was like an old typewriter. It had a bell on it that would ring when they sent an important bulletin. I remember that machine going crazy when that bulletin came over.”
Johnson reminisced about the original WKLF stage, which is still intact at the old Second Avenue North location, and was used from the station’s inception up until its relocation to Alabama Highway 22 in 1952.
“The stage from the auditorium, it’s still up there, and the original desk that the original control console was sitting on is still there. It’s like going in a time machine when you go up there,” Johnson said.