WROX, Clarksdale’s first radio station, went on the air on June 5, 1944, from studios at 321 Delta Avenue. From 1945 until 1955 the station was headquartered here at 257 Delta. Legendary disc jockey Early “Soul Man” Wright became the top personality in local broadcasting after joining the WROX staff. Among the notable blues artists who hosted programs or performed on the air at this site were Ike Turner, Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2, Raymond Hill, and Doctor Ross.
WROX featured “the finest broadcast studios in the state of Mississippi” when the station moved into this building in July of 1945, the Clarksdale Daily Press reported. Birney Imes, Sr., of Columbus purchased WROX in the fall of 1944 from founder Robin Weaver, and the station operated under the ownership of the Imes family until 1990, first at this location and later in the Alcazar Hotel building. WROX aired a variety of network and local programs, including drama, comedy, news, sports, commentary, big band, pop, classical, country, and religious, but it would be blues that brought the station widespread fame. Among the bluesmen who performed live from the studios here were Ike Turner, both on his own and as a member of Robert Nighthawk’s band, one-man band Dr. Isaiah Ross, singer-saxophonist Jackie Brenston, and Sonny Boy Williamson & the King Biscuit Entertainers. Williamson’s “King Biscuit Time” program originated at KFFA in Helena but was also added to WROX’s regular weekday schedule in the 1940s when the two stations united in a “Delta Network,” providing the band with the option of broadcasting from either location.
Early Wright was one of several key employees, including Helen Sugg, C.D. Graves, and Tom Reardon, who stayed at WROX for decades. Wright, an auto mechanic by trade, came to the station in 1945 as the manager of the Four Star Quartet, a gospel group that had a 15-minute Sunday morning program. Preston “Buck” Hinman, who came aboard as station manager in 1946, was so taken with Wright’s down-to-earth charisma and wayward way with words that he soon broke the color line of segregated southern radio and offered Wright a regular show as WROX’s first African American announcer. Wright, a born salesman known for his homespun, off-the-cuff advertising patter, sold a full slate of Sunday morning time slots to various local gospel groups and secured a multitude of eager sponsors for his own show among stores that catered to the African American trade “across the tracks.” He developed a dual on-air persona as “The Soul Man” when he played blues and R&B records and “Brother Early Wright” when he switched back to gospel. Wright continued to broadcast to a devoted following on WROX until 1998. He died in 1999 at the age of 84.
Wright’s historic broadcasts paved the way for other African American deejays at WROX, including Roy Messenger, Clarence Monix, Ike Turner, who held court on a “Jive Till Five” show, and saxophonist Raymond Hill, called “chief of the hepcats” by the Press Register. The studios were also used for after-hours recording sessions by various producers and station personnel, including Turner and the white deejay who taught him the ropes in the control room, John Friskillo. In 2004 Clarksdale businessman Kinchen “Bubba” O’Keefe opened a WROX Museum here.
content © Mississippi Blues Commission
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