Al Woody Makes the Paper
A burly frame houses the familiar deep voice and belly chuckle that gets area residents up and moving each morning. Eyes that shine with mischief find humor everywhere they look. Bantering on the air with sidekick Jeff Jeffries, he reminds us that everyday life doesn’t have to be such a serious thing.
Tuesday, QBE’s morning show king marks his 54th birthday.
"I grew up in Raleigh County. The first four years, we lived in a place that doesn’t exist anymore called Packsville, about four miles from Whitesville. When I was 4, we moved to Sophia. The high school I went to doesn’t exist anymore. The elementary school I went to doesn’t exist anymore. My dad was a mechanic for a Chevrolet dealership in Sophia that doesn’t exist anymore. My life is full of it’s-not-there-anymores.
"I had no idea what I was going to be. You should have a plan in high school. I had no plan. When I was in the 10th grade, a friend, Ray Catlett, did a little community affairs show on WWNR in Beckley. The show was for the vocational school and their VICA Club. I went with Ray maybe two times to record the show. In the summer of 1967, Ray called in the middle of the night and said he was moving and I had to take over the show. He couldn’t find anyone else to do it.
"All I knew was what I had seen him do twice. It was a half-hour show. You were supposed to have information about the VICA Club and what was going on at the school. But it was summer, and I didn’t go to vocational school, and I had no idea what they did. So I just played records and said I was there for the VICA Club. I didn’t know what I was doing. It would take a minimum of four to six hours to record this thing, take after take after take.
"But I decided radio was pretty cool, and I should go to vocational school if I intended to keep it up. They had a broadcasting class. Dick Calloway, who worked at WWNR, was the teacher. He would tell me to just be myself instead of trying to be a disc jockey. I was doing the fast-talking, screaming, everything-rhymes kind of stuff. Years later, it occurred to me that Dick Calloway was right. I wasn’t getting anywhere because I wasn’t being a real person.
"Vocational school was a two-pronged thing. There was an electronics part. A lot of entry-level jobs were at night, and you had to do these transmitter readings that you could only do with a certain license. I got real disenchanted with the electronics course. I wasn’t good at it for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m color-blind and we had all this color-coded stuff that I was totally lost about.
"After I graduated, I worked briefly in Pineville at WWYO. I thought I was something, actually getting paid. I made $1.10 an hour. I found out about the Elkins Institute of Broadcasting, another thing that doesn’t exist anymore. This school in New Orleans would prepare you to pass the license test. My parents spent all this money to send me to that school, and all I really learned was how to splice tape.
"But I did get the license, which was really amazing, because I was 18, and you could go to the clubs when you were 18. I had the whole New Orleans experience, and coming from Raleigh County, it pretty much overwhelmed me. I don’t know how I made it through school.
"I worked at WJLS in Beckley about two years, then went to WWNR. I don’t think it exists anymore.
"When you’re young in the radio business, you live for advancing. I sent out tapes all the time and got a job at WKAZ, the Top 40 powerhouse in Charleston. I probably sent 50 tapes to WAYS in Charlotte, which also doesn’t exist anymore. The program director sent me encouraging letters. The program director at WMAK in Nashville asked him if he knew anybody looking for a job, and they hired me. I thought Nashville was just country, and I wasn’t thrilled about going. In seven years in Nashville, I never played the first country song.
"We did some crazy stuff at WLAC. We had a contest to go see Pink Floyd in concert. To win, you had to send in the most bizarre pink thing you could find. We got animal hearts and all kinds of crazy stuff. The woman who won came in wearing a pink body suit and riding a pink horse.
"When that station sold, they got rid of everybody. Bristol Broadcasting offered me a job on QBE. Living in Nashville, I had developed a taste for country. I thought I’d come back for a year or so. That was 1981.
"Until 1977, I did nights. Now I come on mornings, 6 until 10. I’m not a morning person. I’d like to stay up until 4 in the morning and go to work at 4 in the afternoon. For years when I did this show, lots of times I would crawl into the station and still be half shot when I went on the air. I can’t do that anymore. I have to get a full night’s sleep.
"I’ve been through about eight different partners, including Randy Johnson, the funniest radio man in Charleston. Jeff Jeffries is my partner now. He keeps me I check. It’s good chemistry.
"When that shopping center opened in Teays Valley, they told me I was going to throw out cash from an airplane. They didn’t tell me it was an ultralight. All they’re made of is aluminum tubing, fabric wings, a Volkswagen engine and a big propeller. Mine was an experimental two-seater model. I was absolutely terrified. The pilot yelled at me to lean way out when I threw the money or it would get caught in the prop and we would go down. Now that scared me to death. I just threw out the whole sack.
"When we got back to the strip, two actual ultralights landed first. The first one crashed into a tree. The guy wasn’t hurt but the plane was destroyed. I saw this before I came in. When I got back to the station, I told them never to mention me and an airplane in the same sentence
"When I first got into radio, we had 45 rpm records and 33 rpm albums with turntables. The times of the records were written on the labels and were notoriously wrong. If you timed into the news using three songs and that block worked, you had a real sense of accomplishment because it wasn’t all mapped out for you by computers.
"My parents wanted to send me to law school. I don’t think I would have been a very good lawyer. If it hadn’t been for Ray Catlett asking me to take over that radio show, I don’t know what I would have done. If you’re reading this, Ray, I owe you an ass-kicking.
"But I’ve had a big time. I’ve met all kinds of stars. I got to go to Hawaii because of this job. And our station does so many things for the community. I think, what have I ever done for people? But if anyone laughs on the way to work, or got to work safe and on time because of Bob Hamilton’s traffic report, any little thing like that means a great deal to me.
"My youngest son was trying to explain to my daughter what I do. Tyler said, ‘He plays some records, talks about the weather, gives stuff away and plays some more records.’ He pretty much summed it all up.
"This is not a job for someone who wants a stable family life. I gave up on that a long time ago. My marriages? Let’s say I’ve been married more than four times but less than the 12 that Jeff always says. I’ve got four children. Radio pays OK, but not if you’re divorced and paying child support. So I got this extra job selling sporting goods at Wal-Mart. When people come by and talk to me, they expect me to be like I am on radio. I’m always mystified by what they want me to say.”
Geared up for his sunrise shift in the hilltop studios of WQBE, popular radio personality Al Woody gets Charleston ready for the day as co-host of the "Morning Air Show,” his broadcasting assignment since 1983.
"I thought I was something, actually getting paid,” Al Woody says. "I made $1.10 an hour.”
"I wasn’t getting anywhere because I wasn’t being a real person.”
"In seven years in Nashville, I never played the first country song.”
Working at WKAZ-AM in 1973, Al Woody (second from right) was part of a broadcasting team that included (from left) Rick Robinson, Eric Mason, Al Sahley, Frank George and Charlie Cooper (center).
At 9 years old, future radio star Al Woody had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up.
This publicity photo of Woody was taken in 1975 during his seven-year stint as a Nashville DJ.
To contact staff writer Sandy Wells, call 348-5173 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.