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Down Home with WMOQ

Traditional country music and old-school, on-air personalities evoke memorable experiences for radio listeners

Operations Manager Julio on the air, photo by Hank Segars

Story and photos by Hank Segars

Before the shift to FM broadcasting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, AM radio stations ruled the airwaves of today’s Lake Country. Animated disc jockeys provided lively stories, humorous banter, breaking news and weather while playing the latest Billboard hits. Cheesy jingles, store promotions, and community announcements were sandwiched between chaotic segments.   


Eatonton's WXPQ, Madison's WYTH, and Milledgeville’s WMVG entertained local listeners while the big Atlanta powerhouses included WSB, WPLO and WQXI ("Quixie in Dixie"). Atlanta DJs “Big Hugh Baby” Jarrett, "Skinny" Bobby Harper, Tony "the Tiger" Taylor, and Dr. Don Rose, became legends in their markets.   


When AM signals faded at sunset, listeners in Lake Country turned their illuminated dials to a handful of faraway, clear-channel stations such as Chicago’s WLS, New York’s WABC, and, Ft. Wayne, Indiana’s WOWO. For late-night broadcasts, Nashville’s WLAC ruled the airwaves with a 50,000-watt blowtorch signal that bounced across the ionosphere into Middle Georgia with pioneering rhythm and blues.    


While this earlier chapter of radio history has faded with the passing of time, a new chapter is being written by a small station in northern Morgan County--WMOQ, 92.3 FM.  

* * *

Traveling northwest on Georgia Highway 83 and passing tiny Bostwick, I turned onto Launius Road and saw the aged WMOQ sign. A nondescript modular building rested at the end of a gravel road near a tall broadcast tower, satellite dishes, and fenced transmission equipment. This back-country scene was everything I hoped for and, with pickups parked out front, it could easily be mistaken for a deer camp.

Climbing a few worn steps, I knocked briefly and then decided to let myself in. Entering the station, I was reminded of a scene from the movie “American Graffiti”—when one of the characters named Curt, played by Richard Dreyfuss, visited a remote radio station to converse with Wolfman Jack. My visit to rural WMOQ seemed similar.

Studio located at the end of a gravel road. Photo by Hank Segars

I could hear the booming and familiar voice of Julio, the lead radio personality and operations manager, drifting from back of the studio. He met me with a warm greeting and the station was all I had imagined with microphones attached to sound boards, earphones at their stations, CDs resting on shelves, and papers pinned to bulletin boards. Best of all—numerous photographs of famous country stars, on-air characters, and friends of the station, were attached helter-skelter on the studios’ walls.  


Julio entertained me with his experiences on the job.


“One of the best interviews I ever did was with Mel Tillis,” he offered. “He had some good stories about playing in Athens several years ago. I’ve interviewed Bill Anderson, originally from Avondale, about five or six times and he has never turned me down. John Conlee is always good for interviews and, in recent years, he performed in Eatonton and Social Circle. The older artists are the ones I cherish the most like Jack Greene and Jeannie Seely, the people who made the Grand Ole Opry.”


The studios were unpretentious and down home . . . exactly like the station’s announcers and format.

* * *

The walls of the studio are adorned with photos of country music stars and on-air characters. By Hank Segars

The broadcasts truly are a throwback to earlier times with traditional country music (old and new), breaking news, up-to-date sports, and live, on-air shows that mimic radio programming from the past. I had a lot of questions for Julio and his sidekick, Joel D. The pair had just finished their lively “Morning Madness” show that runs weekdays, 5:30-9:00 a.m.


“I know you get asked this a lot,” I questioned, “but please explain why you are called ‘Julio, the Midnight Chef’”?


Julio explained that his real name is David Malcom. When he was in high school, his buddies made plans for him to cook some barbecue, but his daddy had him working on a tractor in the cotton fields instead.


“Since I would not be finished until late, everyone started calling me ‘The Midnight Chef’ and only my 84-year-old mama, Sherrell Malcom, calls me David,” he shared.


Program Director Joel D on air, by Hank Segars

Born and raised in Walton County, Julio continues to farm and maintain greenhouses on his

property. It was easy to see that this radio personality has a strong work ethic, solid faith, and believes in the traditions of an agrarian society.    


Providing the station’s history, Julio said WMOQ went on air September 1994, which makes the station 30 years old this year. The originating owner was B.R. Anderson, and the original offices were in downtown Monroe. At that time, the station broadcast 3,000 watts. “And today we’re at 5,900 watts,” Julio noted.


In the station’s early days, the listening population of Walton and Morgan counties was 44,000 and 18,000 respectively. Today, there are over 100,000 in Walton and 40-50,000 in Morgan, Julio surmised.


“Aside from our regulars, there are truck drivers and new people who have moved into the region and are trying to keep up with news--people who are on vacation and those out of state like the format,” Julio clarified. “Our signal currently reaches out from Gainesville down to Eatonton and from Conyers up to Danielsville. We have many listeners who live out of the area and faraway locations such as Montana and South Dakota; they catch us online.”


* * *

Julio on Live Remote from Covington

Weekly lineups, according to Program Director Joel D., include Julio and Joel’s “Morning Madness” show 5:30 to 9 a.m. daily with authentic country music, local farm and news reports, and a string of humorous call-in characters. Birthdays and anniversaries are mentioned daily with prizes going to a winning listener.


The rest of the day is filled with an abundance of “Real Country” music, longtime radio host Les Lane’s “Afternoon Road Show,” and Sherrell Malcom’s daily devotionals.


In addition to live remotes with Julio, weekends bring Loran Smith’s Sports Conversations, Lindy’s Football report during college football season, Ben Bridges High School Sports Minute, and Bill Brew on the Braves, Hawks and Falcons. Saturday night’s popular “Old Country Jukebox” show provides music from the ‘40s through the ‘70s, and Sundays bring church services and gospel music hosted by “Tall Paul.”

 Whew! Something for everybody.

* * *

 Sharing his thoughts on his station’s old-school broadcasting style, Julio said, “Most radio stations have been bought up by corporations. Most morning shows are voice tracked and programmed. We are here live every day, sitting in stations giving you information. Some of our programming is recorded, but most is live.” 

Julio inducted into Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.

“We are a throwback to old time radio. Our format is basically traditional country music, but we play some new stuff, real country,” Julio continued. “We still open at 5:35 every morning with a rooster crowing, and my mama, Sherrell Malcom, comes on with a prayer, a devotional, and a gospel song. We honor patriotism with children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. That starts your day off, the way every day ought to start. We try to keep it on the light side as today’s world has so much gloom and doom.” 

The popular on-air personality also had something to say about the changes to the country genre. “Country music began to change in the 1980s and I call it watered down country—it’s bad rock and roll with cowboy hats. I enjoy meeting and greeting all the old acts when I go to Nashville. The last time I went with Buster Peters, who helps me on Saturday nights, we went to only see and meet the old acts, not the new ones.”


When asked about the future of WMOQ, Julio’s replied in a serious tone.


“If we don’t keep this tradition of the older country music alive, the next generations are going to forget it and not appreciate it,” he opined.


Julio’s efforts to preserve traditional music earned him a place in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018. “Country music stars like Bill Anderson have stopped by the station to thank me for keeping the traditional music alive,” he said.


“I want people to know there is still a radio station they can listen to that is family oriented, funny, witty, and entertaining and there is never a dull moment whenever you are listening,” he added, noting WMOQ is one of the last few independently-owned stations in America operating in its style.


“I think that’s the way God wants it and the Good Lord has a hand in this—I know he does because it seems to work,” he affirmed. “And that is what we must have, to put God first in everything we do.”

 Leaving the confines of WMOQ, a smooth Ronnie Milsaps tune flowed from my truck’s radio, and I could only hope that there would be another visit to this little station . . . and soon.    

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 18, Issue 1 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.


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