At some point over the weekend, I heard mention of an all-women’s radio station with the call letters WHER. The reference was just in passing, but I did some time as a college radio DJ, and I knew I had to look into it.
WHER was begun in 1955 (!) in Memphis by a couple of dudes, Sam Phillips, who owned the station, and Kemmon Wilson, who supplied rooms at his Holiday Inn (then a small family business). But other than that, this wee, 1000-watt station was staffed and run almost entirely by women, including:
- Becky Phillips, 1955 Disc Jockey, News, Librarian. Auditioned music.
- Rena Franklin – 1956-1958. Disc Jockey, Station Librarian, Publicity Coordinator.
- Janie Joplin, 1959 Disc Jockey. Had a morning show & wrote commercials.
- Denise Howard, 1955 Promotion Director/Designer/Account Exec.
- Bettye Berger 1957 & 1962. Disc Jockey & Sales.
- Dean Duvall, Sales Manager. Her nickname was “The Hat.”
- Marge Thrasher, 1960 – early eighties. On-air personality; first to bring the call-in talk show to the radio in the Memphis area in 1967.
- Donna Barlett, 1965- 1971. Disc Jockey, Copy Writer.
- Jaine Rodack, 1967 – 1971. Disc Jockey & Host of Talk Show.
- Jackie Kelly – 1967 – 1971. Disc Jockey & Copywriter & Traffic.
- Wanda Martin (Price) – 1965- 1970. Disc Jockey & Bookkeeping. She used to say while on-air “I love you whole bunches.”
- Sylvia Black – 1960s. Radio Announcer & Board Operator.
There were a lot of cutesy-poo trappings about the enterprise that prompt vigorous eye-rolling today (although I don’t know who was responsible, the male managers or the female staff) : DJs were “jockettes,” the recording/broadcasting studio was “The Dolls Den” (barf), and the entire place was tricked out in “feminine decor,” which might sound really awful, but seriously, if you’ve ever been inside a radio station, was probably preferable.
WHER, the first “all-girl radio station,” lasted sixteen years, closing in 1971, and even though it certainly wasn’t intended as a feminist project, I’ve got to think that it opened a lot of doors for women in broadcasting–it was even racially integrated in the ’60s.
You can read more about WHER and listen to an entire story originally put together for NPR by the Kitchen Sisters (another lady-run media group worth knowing about and supporting) here (Real Audio required) or here (which I think has a little added material). It’s nearly an hour, but so So SO worth it. The last 10 minutes, which deals with the addition of men to the station and the de-girlification of WHER just as the Women’s Liberation movement was really taking off.