Somewhere in a cow pasture in Lauderdale County at the end of a dirt road that crosses a railroad track stands a small, unassuming cinder-block building that to the casual observer looks to be the home of a farmer and his family. But if the observer takes a closer look, they will see a large broadcast antenna about 200 yards away and they will also see large metal letters painted red and leaning against the building spelling out “WMOX.” The four-foot tall letters mark the place where the heart and voice of Lauderdale County lives.
1946 was a good year. It was the year that the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox 4 to 3 to win the World Series, ‘Assault’ won the Kentucky Derby, Notre Dame was the NCAA Football Champion, and “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed played in theaters for the first time.
On March 8th of that year, WMOX was born and Meridian’s second radio station broadcasted it’s first radio signals on 1240 Kilocycles and it has been going strong ever since. Initially owned by Birney Imes and boasting a broadcast power of 250 watts, WMOX began it’s life as a news station with live music. Birney owned a chain of seven radio stations and operated out of Columbus, MS. He purchased the former YMCA building located at the corner of 9th Street and 23rd Avenue on the legendary block occupied by the Hamasa Temple Theater and it became known as “The WMOX Building.” WTOK-TV operates out of the building today. The new station was affiliated with the Mutual Broadcasting System and joined The Mid-South Network, the name of Imes’ chain of stations.
As was the case with new radio stations in those post war years, WMOX presented a lot of live programs, featuring hillbilly music (as it was called then) with various country and bluegrass type bands. Some of those musicians and bands who gathered around to try and get sponsors and or radio time were, “Red” Stanton and his Alabama Jubilee Boys, “Smilin’ Sam” and his “Southern Melody Boys,” The “Big Diamond” (western swing band) and Sonny Burns and his “Blue Sky Cowboys.” In those early low-power days, people would drive their cars to places close enough to pick up WMOX’s broadcast of local sports events on their car radios. They would tune in at work to hear the latest local news, check up on the weather, find out about local events or just listen to the latest popular tune.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the early sixties, Jimmy Skewes who also owned The Meridian Star bought WMOX from Birney, increased the broadcast power to 10,000 watts and began to service a much larger area of listeners. In 1966, the station was moved to 2001 10th Street and made it’s home there for almost 25 years.
In 1989, Houston Pierce, the owner of Q-101, bought the station and moved the studios to Highway 39. Over the years the format changed several times from all news to standards to rock and roll to country to talk and most recently news-talk-sports. No matter the format, WMOX has always been the place to get the latest news and weather, but it has also always had a heart for public service announcements whether local, statewide or national. No matter who the owner was, the motivation for listeners has always been the same: Listen to WMOX and you’ll know “What is going on in Meridian.”
Eddie Smith became the owner of WMOX in 1991 and moved it to it’s current location on Highway 11/80, but that wasn’t the beginning of his relationship with WMOX, it was just the natural next step. After working in radio in Greenwood, MS and then in Columbus, MS, Eddie moved to Meridian with his new wife, Jane, and started working as a salesman for WMOX in 1961. He was promoted to General Manager in the mid-1960′s and started doing a radio show with Steve Holland called “Two For The Road” that would eventually become known as ‘The Morning Show.” The format was simple: Put couple of people who have mastered the art of conversation together and let them talk about whatever interested them. With Eddie’s commitment to public service, this often meant using airtime to promote events around the community. Guests would come in to tout the latest fund-raiser or let everyone know about some Gospel Quartet coming to sing at a local church.
The co-hosts for this revolutionary type of talk radio have included Mike Denton, Steve Holland, Susan Akin, Sidney Covington, Annie Oakley, Holly Thomas, Ginger Grissom Stevens, and the irrepressible Bill Whitworth. This is by no means a complete list, but the focus of the show has always been: “What is going on in Meridian.”
Probably the most important co-host that Eddie ever invited on the show, was the listener. Unlike any other radio talk show host at the time, Eddie knew instinctively that letting listeners call in and give their opinion would do two things: 1) Listeners could give their own opinion about whatever was being said, and 2) It would make the show completely unpredictable. This combination made ‘The Morning Show” must-listen-to radio and everyone tuned in.
Unlike any other radio station in the world, WMOX has never had call screeners nor have they felt the need to censor what anyone had to say. Working “without a net” isn’t for everyone! It takes a brave individual to trust that the person on the phone will be relevant and will conduct themselves appropriately. With few exceptions, Meridianites have always lived up to this unspoken agreement and has always made the show great. This application of the First Ammendment has been a hallmark of WMOX and because of it, listeners have embraced WMOX, encouraged WMOX, supported WMOX and promoted WMOX. Even when listeners didn’t agree, they DID listen and they STILL listen! They listen because when they do, they know “What is going on in Meridian.”
Today, Eddie is semi-retired, but The Morning Show is not, now it is co-hosted by Bill Smith, Eddie’s son, and Dumpster Dog. Bill has made his own contributions to The Morning Show and has made it his own. He has taken the idea of co-hosts to a new level and developed a core group of regular co-hosts who come in and be a part of The Morning Show. The unique thing is that rather than making the co-hosts conform to one format, Bill and Dumpster have allowed each co-host the freedom to be themselves and add their own color to the masterpiece.
For example, there’s Dr. John McEachin, a long-time Meridian pediatrician who dispenses classical music along with medical advice. Jim Myrick sits in from time to time and promotes Jimmy Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman. College Economics Professor, Jim Leggette comes to Meridian from Brandon, MS on a regular basis to parse the economic double-speak coming out of Washington. Silverwolf Recording Artist, Jacky “Jack” White brings his guitar and plays his own songs live in the studio and interviews artists and songwriters. Computer Guru, Paul H. Tarver, joins the show monthly to talk about music and it’s relationship to our lives. A whole bunch of people like Dave Owen, Lindsey Hall, and Scott Gray bring sports to the forefront.
But while the line up may change some things will never change at WMOX. WMOX will always be entertaining. WMOX will always be informative. WMOX will always be a place to express opinions. WMOX will always be a place where friends can sit down, have a cup of coffee together and talk for a little while. We laugh a little bit, complain a little bit, cheer a little bit and occasionally cry a little bit. Whatever happens, when we are done, you’ll know “What is going on in Meridian.“