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WHER -- 1000 Beautiful Watts, Part 2

Marge Thrasher hosted a call-in program the day MLK was assassinated.
Marge Thrasher hosted a call-in program the day MLK was assassinated.

Our story of WHER, the nation's first all-girl radio continues.

From 1955 through 1971, a team of women ran the station; they worked in almost every position from on-air disc jockey to copywriter to sales manager. Dottie Abbott was WHER's first manager, a pioneering position for a woman in those years. But when she left, a man named Charlie Sullivan, a former wrestling announcer, replaced her.

There was a womanly spin to the station. The décor was feminine, with pink and white silk walls adorned with lipstick and mirrors. On-air subject was filled with lush romatic music. The DJ's favored Sinatra, Ferrante and Tiecher, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormme , Henry Mancini, Percy Faith, Eddy Arnold, The 5th Dimension and Ray Coniff... News and weather were featured at the top of the hour and a daily call in talk show, "Hollywood Highlights" and celebrity interviews.

It was on the talk show, "Open Mike" that Marge Thrasher announced the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. That was a memorable moment for the women of WHER.

Donna Barlett: "I remember standing at the news machine and watching the news tap out that Martin Luther King had just been shot. Marge was on the air and I took her the paper and I could not talk and tell her what I had in my hands...I couldn't talk."

Marge Thrasher: "He was killed in the late afternoon. I was on the air. And they chose 'Open Mike' because of a big listening audience to pay respects. I can remember reading the prepared statement. Then played a Mahalia Jackson hymn. Then I said, 'Now we'll take calls.' I said, 'Good afternoon, this is Open Mike.' And it was a lady and she said, 'Are you a nigger or a nigger lover?' and hung up the phone. And I thought 'what?' I was stunned. Charlie Sullivan was stunned. We had nothing on the air, I mean this is dead silence. And I got up and walked out."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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