Athens musicians benefit from WUOG’s playlist

Athens musicians benefit from WUOG’s playlist

Neil Williamson (AB ’00), then general manager, in WUOG’s control room in 1979.

Photo by: Mark Hafer

Turn on WUOG 90.5 and you’ll hear music that commercial radio would never touch—jangly poppy music, hardcore metal music, folksy bluesy music, music with weird lyrics, music with screaming—followed by a youthful voice announcing what local band was just played: Allison Weiss, Hope For Agoldensummer, Puddin’ Tang, to name a few.

Since 1972, WUOG has supported local music. Like all college radio stations, it often plays bands that start local but make it big nationally, sometimes becoming mainstream.

But unlike all college radio stations, WUOG is in a thriving music town. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, when Athens’ music scene took off, WUOG played a pivotal role in getting that music heard on a grand scale.

“From the very beginning, WUOG had a tie to the developing music scene,” says Manfred Jones (BBA ’87, MA ’90), who started at the station as a DJ and later became program manager. He is now the host of “The Mighty Manfred Program” on SIRIUS Satellite Radio.

When Neil Williamson (AB ’00) was general manager of the station in 1978, bands played backyards, not downtown clubs, and recorded themselves on reel-to-reel tape, which WUOG accepted.

“The great thing was how many bands we broke, which all college radio stations were doing, and how much variety there was,” says Williamson, now the managing director of Cox Marketing Services and local radio personality. “For anybody who ever wanted to be in a band, it was one of the greatest times, because college radio would play your music. You had a chance to break out.”

Jones remembers how the early dance music of the B-52s and Pylon gave way to the tunes of R.E.M. and Dreams So Real, which in turn led to the harder sounds of Mercyland or Porn Orchard.

Sometimes, the lines between the radio station and local bands blurred. Jones and other station workers formed The Woggles, taking the band name from the station’s call letters, in 1987. Before then, Williamson and other DJs formed The Wuoggerz to play at the station’s fifth anniversary. Membership required no musical talent; for his part, Williamson played a beer can with a wiffle ball bat. Yet with a then-unknown Bill Berry on drums, they opened for The Police at the Georgia Theatre. They also begat the short-lived backup dancers The Wuoggettes, which featured soon-to-be Pylon singer Vanessa Hay.

Kurt Wood (ABJ ’80), the station’s music director in 1979, always had the radio station in mind when he went to shows. When someone put out a record, “We’d put it in rotation, even 45s,” says Wood, now a local DJ, record collector and Taco Stand manager. He recalled hauling Pylon’s equipment on a long-weekend tour to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

“My senior year I pretty much stopped going to classes,” Wood admits with a laugh. “There was so much going on. It seemed like things were just exploding.”

—Mary Jessica Hammes is a writer living in Athens.