Editor’s note: Following is one in an occasional series about historic signs and landmarks in the Shoals.
MUSCLE SHOALS — For half a century, “Mic” marked the location of WLAY radio on Second Street with bright neon on a 14-foot metal sign.
Today, “Mic” rests in a grassy yard.
“The sign is in disrepair. It needs paint and the neon put back on it,” said Kevin Self, whose father, Mitch Self, was one of the principal owners of WLAY for years. “But structurally, it’s in good shape.”
WLAY radio dates back to September 1933, when it was licensed as WNRA (National Recovery Act). It was where Sam Phillips, the Father of Rock ’n’ Roll, got his start in the radio business in the 1940s, and it’s the site of the first commercial recording session in Muscle Shoals, with Bobby Denton’s “A Fallen Star,” in 1957.
WLAY, AM 1450, continued to play an important role in the development of the Muscle Shoals music business in the ’60s.
“They worked with us closely,” said Rodney Hall, president of FAME Music and FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, which were started by his father, legendary producer Rick Hall.
“They would play test acetates over the air so my dad and other producers could hear what they sounded like over the air.”
Rick Hall has said he frequently took just-finished recordings to WLAY and would sit outside in his car to study how it sounded on the radio, then remix the recording, if necessary, to improve the sound for AM car radios.
“Back in the day, Rick would bring two acetates of a new song to the radio station with a different mix on each one,” Self said. “We would play one, then half way through, fade over to the other mix to see which one he thought sounded best on the radio.
“It was a good thing for us because we got to play new stuff before anyone else in the world,” he said.
“Those days were magical. It was a lot of fun.”
And WLAY, with its iconic sign, was the source for new music for many of the people who would go on to become world-renowned musicians and songwriters.
“It was the station that played the rock ’n’ roll when AM radio was king,” said David Hood, bassist with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
“It played everything, from country to rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll. Everything I heard, I heard on WLAY. The other stations were old people stations.”
When Hood and the other members of the Rhythm Section — Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins and Jimmy Johnson — opened Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in April 1969, they, too, took test pressings to WLAY.
Self said the sign with the microphone man was added to the station in the 1950s and remained there until the station was sold in 1999. The new company moved the studio to another town and did not take the sign with them, he said. So, it has remained in the possession of the Self family.
Self said the sign is 14 by 8 feet and weighs about 1,500 pounds. He said it would cost about $3,000 to restore it.
Rodney Hall, a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame board of directors, said he would like to add the sign to the museum’s collection.
“That sign is memorable, as much so as the WOWL-TV sign and the Coca-Cola sign,” he said.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|