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WLAF: 60 years of broadcasting

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By Brent Schanding

 LaFOLLETTE—Locally-owned and operated 1450 AM WLAF celebrates 60 years on Friday with tributes from past on-air personalities, local bands and more from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Old Regions Bank Building, downtown.

In the early 1950s, a group of LaFollette businessmen decided the community needed a radio station. 

The group — including Ed Balloff and Ed Wheeler — eventually signed Campbell County’s first radio station, 1450 WLAF, on the air May 17, 1953. 

The 100-watt station broadcasted a dedicatory program that day, which featured congratulatory statements and messages from local citizens and officials of various agencies — including Sen. Albert Gore, Gov. Frank Clement and Rep. Howard Baker —  according to a front-page report published in the LaFollette Press that week. 

The station’s original studios were in the Fleet building, also known as the former Piedmont Hotel. In 1966, WLAF opened its new studio on North Fifth Street, where it remains today. 

Ownership of the station changed at least a couple of times through the decades. 

In 1989, it was purchased by Jim Stair, Bill Waddell and Jim Freeman. 

Freeman, who came to the station in 1971, is the longest-tenured announcer at the station. 

Today,  he says the station employs about 12 part- and full-time workers and continues to be a source for local news and information with on-air reports and a website.

Among the personalities at WLAF is Trading Post host, Big Josh Etter, whose radio show airs live on 1450 WLAF beginning at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

“We have a faithful crew who follow us on there way to work every morning,” said Etter, who reads local news, school bus delays, obituaries and other information on air. 

While the station’s signal offers limited range for those outside the immediate area, Etter said listeners from as far as Columbus, Ohio, often stream the station live from their computers.  

“It’s their way of keeping up with what’s going on here,” he said.

Etter said he’s sometimes approached by local listeners who immediately recognize his voice from the radio. 

“They say, ‘I can’t see you, but I know who you are,’” he said. “After awhile, you become a part of people’s lives.” 

But on-air or off, Etter says his personality isn’t really that different. 

“If you hear me at Walmart it’s the same as what you hear on the radio,” he said. 

For more information about WLAF’s anniversary line-up, www.1450WLAF.com.