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by Empish J. Thomas, Lithonia, Georgia
"You are listening to WTWZ AM 1120, The Tradition, bringing you some of the best bluegrass music in Mississippi," is the typical opening line that roughly 500,000 listeners hear as Terry Wood, the radio owner, reiterates with his smooth baritone voice before the beginning of his on-air program. WTWZ is nestled in Jackson, Mississippi and has been owned and operated by Wood since its inception in 1982. The station has a variety format, with inspirational programming in the morning and bluegrass music the rest of the day, hosted by Wood five days a week. The station also has a sprinkling of news, weather and a drive show from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Wood began his career in radio in the early 1970s as an on-air personality, eventually breaking out and starting his own station. Even before that though, Wood had a huge fascination with radios. "I did not play with other kids growing up," Wood, who was born blind, recalls. "I was given a radio when I was a kid and would turn the knobs up and down the dial all the time. I knew back then that one day I had to work in radio." During his last few years of high school, Wood got an opportunity to do exactly that. He started at a local country music radio station as an on-air personality working swing shift and doing anything that was available. In the late 1970s the station was flooded, and when it was rebuilt, Wood was asked not to return. "The station was taking a new direction, and I was not a part of that change," said Wood. He felt that his blindness played a key role in that decision, and from that point on, he decided to launch his very own station.
Starting a radio station is not a simple matter. Wood had a lot of groundwork to do before actually going on-air. "You have to do a frequency search and complete an application with the FCC," said Wood. "You donít just buy a transmitter and put up a tower; you have to find what is available on the dial and apply for that frequency. You also have to show that your station will serve the public." In addition, there were expenses for the equipment, a building and land for a tower. Wood used money from his personal savings, secured a small business loan and eventually received assistance from vocational rehabilitation, but it was a painstaking process. "The real work begins after the paperwork is done," Wood said, "but that part is never done, because every year or so, you have more paperwork to complete to keep the station going." The process took a couple years, but Wood notes that things are different now, and it does not take as long. "There are always fees and paperwork to do and reports to submit," said Wood. "This is the part where the discrimination against the disabled comes in." To combat some of that, Wood hired an attorney and people to do the paperwork. "I got a trusted friend to help," said Wood. "I have developed a sixth sense and know when people are taking advantage of me; and I have learned some hard lessons along the way that have taught me well."
At the station, Wood is a one-man-show. He hired a secretary who handles phone calls, correspondence and other administrative duties. For other duties he can not perform, Wood hires people on a retainer and calls them as needed. Owning a radio station is a seven-day a week job. "There is not a day I donít check in even when I am off," said Wood. "I am very fortunate that I live about five minutes from the station, and my wife can take me, or I can take a cab."
When Wood arrives at work at about 5:30 in the morning, the first thing he does is a walk-through to check equipment and make sure things are working properly. Then he grabs breakfast and starts doing product work, which entails loading music into the computer using a screen reader. "This allows me to run the music and not have to physically be there," said Wood. "After that, I add to the computer library, which I can do manually or put on automatic." Wood uses a 600 gigabyte drive to store his music selections. He gets his music repertoire from record companies who find his station listed in radio and trade magazines. During the day, Wood also cuts commercials, handles numerous phone calls and sells ads. When his secretary arrives, they read mail, label and index music, type up charts, pay bills and complete administrative tasks. To keep things in order and take notes, Wood uses a handheld tape recorder but relies heavily on his memory.
The station has six large rooms with a phone in each room. "I am all over the building and it is a big space," said Wood. "I need a phone wherever I am to handle business calls and music requests."
Wood uses a basic console that he finds easy to navigate. "Once you go over it, it is very predictable; no turntables or tape decks because of the computer, and I also use two CD players," said Wood. "The radio station industry has advanced with technology; you really had to be on top back in the day."
When asked about opportunities for blind people in radio, Wood honestly said, "Most people donít want to hear this, but I need to say this. The radio industry is not personality driven like it used to be; the computer takes over. There are not many operations that will set up a computer for a blind person to use, especially in a control room where screen readers can get in the way." Not to be discouraging, Wood suggests to people who are interested in the radio industry to look at the sales or copy writing departments. To get experience Wood recommends working at the public radio station or at a radio reading service. "Working some type of volunteer or internship opportunity would be a good way to get in the door," said Wood. "Working a swing or weekend shift would be good, too." Wood explains that he started in a different era and is being honest and realistic with his advice. "This market has changed over the years, and there are not many people, in general, working in radio," said Wood. "What I did back then, I could not do today. I am 54 years old, and I will keep going for as long as I can."
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