We Lose A Great American

| June 23, 2009 @ 9:16 am | 24 Replies

I just found out from my friends at WTBC in Tuscaloosa that Bert Bank passed away last night. Many of you know Bert’s story; a true American hero that was a survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II. Major Bank retired from the Air Force in 1947, and came back to Tuscaloosa to dip his toe in the new broadcasting business.

Bert put WTBC-AM (1230) on the air in Tuscaloosa, and later WUOA-FM (95.7).

My mom and I moved to Tuscaloosa in 1966, when I was 10 years old, and that is when I discovered WTBC. You see, the “Big 1230” was the rock and roll station in town, and it was there you could find the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, and all the other greats. Best of all, they had the cool disc jockeys like Tiger Jack Garrett. I have no idea how many how many hours I spent with the transistor radio listening to Bert’s radio station.

Jump ahead to September 1973, when I was beginning my senior year at Tuscaloosa High School. Bert called the school asking if there was a kid interested in working some bad hours for him at minimum wage. The principal, Doug Killough, gave Bert my name, and the minute I got the call I was all over that job. It was my foot in the door, and nothing could keep me from it. I would have paid them the $1.95 an hour (If I had the money!) to work there.

My first responsibility was running the new automation system that was WUOA-FM. Truthfully, I really didn’t care about that FM station; I read some news and weather, and loaded those tapes into the automation decks. But you see, nobody my age really listened to FM back then, AM was the place to be. Just to be close to the WTBC studio was an incredible experience. It was the “15th Street School of Broadcasting”; the AM and FM stations were together. Working at the FM station gave me the chance to meet some of the AM greats, including Greg Bass, Russ Davis, Gaylen Horton, and none other than Dave Baird (yep, the ABC 33/40 news anchor… you can see we have been together for a long time). I figured I would never make it to the AM station, but just being there was exciting.

Then, on Sunday night, November 11, 1973, it happened. I was actually asked to work the 6 to midnight shift on WTBC. YES! My first song out of the top of the hour ID was Jessica by the Allman Brothers, followed by Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John. The night was pure magic. Nothing since then has come close to the excitement in my career. And, it happened on an AM radio station running only 250 watts at night. But, it felt like the world was listening. And, for my world, they were. All of the young people in Tuscaloosa. I have done network and top 10 market TV, but this was the best.

I would go on to work 5 years for Bert at WTBC; I left in the summer of 1978 to go to WCFT-TV, Channel 33, which started the TV career I have enjoyed for the last 31 years. But, those 5 years at the BIG 1230 were the ones that shaped me and got me on the road. I will never be able to thank Bert enough for the opportunity.

Funny, I was afraid of Bert when I worked there; but a little fear can be a good thing. You see, I am a fatherless child, and he filled a role that was very important to me at the time. I honestly knew deep inside he was looking after my best interests, and he did care for every young person he hired at the station. Later in his life, as he watched our careers, I know he was proud of us, and he told us so. Over the past decade, when I saw Bert, instead of the radio station owner that frightened me a bit, I saw a man who looked at me almost like his own child. He would hug me, and I would see tears in his eyes when he asked about “his boys”.

Bert was 94 years old at the time of his death last night. I will be forever grateful for what he did for me.

Learn more about Bert and his life here.

Category: Pre-November 2010 Posts

About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

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