Blow that horn, swinger, because The Big Dig has returned to Dothan.
After decades of residing elsewhere, the local 1450 AM station has reclaimed the WDIG call letters that made it famous when it played rock 'n' roll music in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Larry Williams, who purchased the station after the previous owner switched the call letters to WWNT, endeavored for years to recapture the iconic call letters but was not successful — until about a month ago.
"They had the call letters WDIG — which, to me, being a rock 'n' roll station, how much better can you get?" he asked. "Can you dig it? That was an expression we used (years ago)."
Williams, widely known by his radio name Larry McKee, recalls Dothan had three major radio stations when he moved to the area in the late 1960s — WOOF-AM, WAGF, and WDIG. The Wein family from Phenix City utilized jingles and other forms of promotion that other area stations weren't to attract bigger audiences, he said.
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That, coupled with the music format and good on-air talent, resonated with teenagers and young adults, said Pat Thomas, former Dothan mayor and fan of the station.
"You'd go to school, and the discussions were always about what was on the radio the night before — who said this, who played what," Thomas said. "It was the center of conversation. Back on the day, radio was what kept everyone entertained."
One of the station's most popular disc jockeys was Preston T. Duckett, better known as Preston T. He coined the phrase "Blow that horn, swinger" after people would honk their horns as they drove past the studios near the intersection of Ross Clark Circle and Cottonwood Highway.
Duckett said the music and listener participation — like blowing horns — were what made his show locally famous.
"The music was what the teenagers liked," he said. "They also participated in it. Somebody would call me from a pay phone and make a request. Inevitably they would lay the phone down without hanging it up, tying up my phone line.
"I would get on the air and say, 'Swinger, somebody's got me messed up. You can't make a request. They didn't hang up the phone. Eventually someone would find it and say, 'Preston, I found it' and hang it up for me."
In the 1970s, though, Lamar Trammell purchased the station and converted both the format and the call letters. The Big Dig disappeared.
Williams eventually bought the station from Trammell with the intention of operating a news talk station. He kept the WWNT call letters — noting that WNT represented Wiregrass News Talk — and aired The Rush Limbaugh Show.
He also conducted his own news talk shows, something he still practices today even though the station mainly broadcasts that classic rock 'n' roll everyone expects from The Big Dig. Eventually, though, a bigger station siphoned The Rush Limbaugh Show away, and Williams decided to make a change.
"At that time I had decided I'm getting pretty old now, and I think I want to do what I want to do until I get ready to go either to the happy hunting grounds or whatever," the 77-year-old said. "I wanted to go back and start playing old rock 'n' roll."
Williams wanted to reclaim the WDIG call letters as part of the change, but another station in the country owned the rights to them.
"They didn't want to get rid of them. You can't make 'em," Williams said.
Williams picked WDYG to mimic WDIG and eventually broadcasted from a studio in a business incubator on Foster Street called The Nest. He also decided to venture into FM — a move soon to be completed on the 102.1 frequency — which led to a vital discovery.
"We had filed for an FM (license) here," he said. "We had an attorney working for us in Washington, D.C., and he called me one Sunday afternoon. He was going through the database, and he said, 'WDIG is back in the database, man. If you want it, you better file for it.'"
"A friend and I got together on Sunday afternoon, and we sat a computer and filed for it."
Duckett said the previous WDIG station experienced a leadership and format change. The new leadership there opted for new call letters, allowing WDIG to re-enter the database.
The Federal Communications Commission approved Williams' request for WDIG about a month ago, something Thomas and Duckett celebrated.
"I thought it was a brilliant idea," Duckett said. "I'm thrilled he got it back."
"It's great to reconnect with that era," Thomas added.
Williams said he plans to promote the new version of The Big Dig heavily once he starts broadcasting on the FM frequency. In a season of change, including a location switch to Columbia Highway, one thing will remain the same — people will hear the classic rock 'n' roll sound that recently wafted through Foster Street and in cars around Dothan decades ago.
"It's skewed to Baby Boomers, and we do that on purpose. A lot of people tell me that I'm playing music that's too old. They're so popular (though)," Williams said. "I want to try to make (WDIG) as famous as it was back then because that would be a good statement if I did."
If accomplished, the swinger could then blow his own horn.