Only two things ever came easy for me: Running my Mouth and Falling in Love, and the latter would sometimes fetter my progress in reaching my goals. I am amazed and envy people who get all the way through college or even high school unscathed, not bogged down with love. Of course, love and relationships are a wonderful thing, if you can love and not get married or if married not to have children too soon.
Now, as a popular DJ, my dating pool had expanded at least fifty-fold. The temptation was irresistible; I could have fallen in love on practically every date, for no other reason than to have sex. This was not uncommon in the Bible Belt of the early to mid-sixties. Mississippi was not exactly Haight-Ashbury. People actually got married in Mississippi during this period just to have sex.
I, too, was one of those good Christian boys, but not so good that I would have turned down easy sex before marriage. There were a few boys my age who were sexually active (or so they claimed) and man did I envy them! I also knew boys who carried a condom in their wallets for so long that they were rendered useless and kept having to replace them.
Why does mother nature (more like mother evil) make puberty such a driving force? Not for all, I guess, but it was for me and lots of other boys I knew. I remember sitting in study hall — a few times in the tenth-grade — thinking of nothing but sex. I must have been “blessed” with high testosterone levels; on the bright side, I had a “radio voice” at age 15.
Her name was Linda Smith, if you can believe it, and she was a student from Amory, the largest High School in Monroe County. She was my first love. And there was Carolyn (she’s probably relieved, that I don’t remember her last name) from the same school. She was not the next love, but love at the same time, together, simultaneously. Men.
Elvis once said, “I wouldn’t call girls a hobby. It’s a pastime.” As for me, I’d say it was a necessity.
I ventured to Tupelo occasionally and had visited Elvis Presley Park and the shotgun-style house where Elvis was born. Another performer who would later become famous, Herschel Krustofsky (AKA Krusty the Clown) of the fictional and popular TV show, The Simpsons, was said to have briefly appeared in Tupelo as a mime.
The seat of Lee County, Tupelo was the first recipient of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electrical grid in 1934; providing the community with reliable lights and more. What excited me was Tupelo’s twenty-thousand souls, four times the size of Amory. It was also the home to two radio stations.
One day on my way back from Tupelo (around June 1964), listening to Please Please Me by The Beatles, I got a ticket for a rolling stop and returned to Tupelo to pay the fine. I wanted to visit “WTUP high atop the Hotel Tupelo.” After leaving the courthouse, I spotted the rectangular 10-foot-tall lighted “WTUP 1490” logo rotating from the top floor.
When I stepped off the elevator, I saw an entire wing of the fourth floor* dedicated to the studios of “Top Dawg” radio. And it had the ratings to back it up. WTUP operated at 1,000 watts on 1490kh, 24 hours-a-day playing the hits. (250 watts, sundown to sun up.)
At WTUP that day, I made an audition tape, but they hired me anyway. I would be a disc jockey in Elvis’ hometown at age 16 playing his music and lots more Rock ‘n’ Roll! It was a wonderful time to be a disc jockey.
I left WAMY with virtually no notice. I didn’t want WTUP to change their minds. In a scramble to find someone, they replaced me with Mel Webster.
WTUP was the #1 station in a market of two. Elvis had sung on our competing station, WELO, at a very early age, and he was a no-show the first time he was scheduled. By now, WELO was playing a format of easy listening music; now we were the Elvis station. The two were once sister stations whose call letters spelled (w)tup(w)elo.
WTUP operated with state-of-the-art equipment and a full-time engineer. I had no problem adapting to the new set-up, and I was surprised (being the new guy) that the Program Director gave me the 7 p.m. to Midnight slot, instead of the graveyard shift of Midnight to 6 a.m.
WTUP’s modern studio was about 12 x 12 feet, with soundproofing, four turntables, a tall cart machine, and a wide RCA board. A large rectangular microphone and electronic clock was positioned in front of the high-back leather chair where the earphones lay. To the right, records were kept in slots for easy access. A large window behind the console provided a view into the newsroom-live performance studio. Entrance to the control room was a small door with “On Air” light just to the left of where the DJ sat. There was even a small restroom, with an access door on the back wall. Phone calls were announced by strobe lights flashing, just below the ceiling.
I was accepted by the other Jocks, and this was no small feat for a 16-year-old who had not yet finished high school. We were getting all the new records, had a playlist, a music survey, and our own jingles. If there were a record we somehow missed, the station would just buy it locally. I had upgraded to a station just 27 miles north of Amory, but a world away, I sensed.
Trying to shed some of my southern accent and pronunciation of words, Charlie Brewer, the program director, said I might have gone a bit too far when I began pronouncing “again” /e’ geyn/ instead of /əˈɡen/. (Translation: I said a-gain for again). Then a few weeks later, he admitted, “Don, I do believe I head the doggone President of the United States [Johnson] pronounce again, the same as you,” and laughed.
The manager told me I was doing a good job, and he raised my salary slightly above minimum wage after a few months on air. He had two rules for me: “Sound happy and don’t cut any audition tapes.” We enjoyed such a good reputation in the South that a decent air check from WTUP was likely good for a job in a larger market, and the manager didn’t want the turnover.
After my five-hour shift, playing My Girl by Mary Wells, Baby I Love You by the Four Tops, and all the hits on 1964, I usually stayed at Hotel Tupelo (gratis in an overflow bunk) and got up in time to make the 40-minute drive before my first class at Hatley High. This was almost enough to make me drop out. I missed a lot of school, fell asleep in class, as President of Student Body, this behavior was ridiculous. But, I was making good money — had lots of fans, and girlfriends too. Trigonometry just wasn’t doing it for me.
Girls calling my show in Tupelo were much different from those in Amory in several ways. First, there were so many, and they were calling at night. Pre-teens all the way to late teens and beyond were calling me complaining about their boyfriends, lack of boyfriends, and everything about love and sex. A few older ones actually talked about the music: many were just plain horny.
A heavy responsibility indeed for a 16-year-old, I assumed they assumed I was at least a 20.
Back in Amory, Linda and Carolyn eventually realized I was two-timing and learned of my female fans in Tupelo. They handed me my heart, dropped out of my fan club. That hurt for at least a month, and when you’re 16, 30-days is a long time. Linda and I believed that we would be together for a long time.
But Tupelo was brimming with pretty girls and most of them were listening to me play their favorite music like Chapel Of Love by the Dixie Cups; My Boy Lollipop–Millie Small; I Can’t Help Myself–Four Tops; This Diamond Ring–Gary Lewis & The Playboys; Baby I’m Yours–Barbara Lewis & Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me–Mel Carter.
I’d been working at WTUP for about a month when one evening about an hour into my show, I answered one of the request lines expecting a pre-teen girl, but it was a male caller. I assumed it was a jealous boyfriend telling me to quit giving his girlfriend advice. (Usually by me telling her to dump the boyfriend.)
But this mature-sounding fellow began telling me that I was a great DJ, one of those “What are you doing here” kind of things. In fact, he was a scout looking for raw talent for radio stations in larger markets, he professed. He would just need to meet with me briefly, face to face, for a few minutes.
I thought of the Roger Miller song I’d played on the radio many times, Kansas City Star “Better job, higher wages, expenses paid and a car” it goes. But he decides to stay put because he’s a Kansas City Star.
The man was calling from nearby; in fact, he could meet me in the lobby in just a few minutes to discuss the details. I called the desk manager in the hotel lobby and told him I’d be meeting a man down there. And just as the five-minute ABC News feed began, I rushed down to the lobby.
I met him as planned. He was about 30, average looking, and insisted on coming with me toward the studio. I allowed him to take the elevator (with an operator) to the fourth floor with me, but told him under no circumstances were visitors permitted inside the station after hours. Then he propositioned me in the hallway. I made a quick getaway and locked the door behind me. (I hadn’t even had sex with a woman, let alone a man!)
ABC News was wrapping up with the sports report when got back to the studio, with no time to spare. I can’t remember what disappointed me more, the fact that I had been approached by a gay man** (in 1964 Mississippi) who really had no job (well maybe a certain kind of job) or that he probably didn’t even believe I was an especially good disc jockey. I told no one.
One of my fellow DJ’s saw through my “lots of girl’s image” — probably knew the truth — and set me up with a nurse’s aide at one of their party houses. I had talked to scores of horny girls but had never met up with them, and despite my bravado as a Top-40 DJ, all the girls I’d been dating were celibate just like me. My first score was not the girl of my dreams, but Lord knows like in broadcasting, one has to start somewhere. I didn’t completely remove my pants, just down around my ankles, and it was really quick.
I’m sure it was great for her, too. I felt guilty for days and didn’t advertise it.
*Possibility the tallest building in Tupelo at the time.
**I did not then (in 1964) nor do I now have any animus toward gay people. I believe such an incident was a rare occurrence in 1964 Mississippi (and I now understand that “propositioning” is not a typical homosexual practice). I told no one of the event until now; it was no big deal, except that I was really crushed the man was not there to offer me the kind of job I was expecting.