When WGNS first hit the airwaves in the 1940’s, one of the popular DJ’s heard on a daily basis was Bill Barry…
Mr. Barry was a very close and dear friend to WGNS owner Bart Walker. Barry employed Walker at WAMB for many years and offered him guidance numerous times over the years. Mr. Barry will be greatly missed. Barry gave Walker his very first job in radio at the age of 14.
Walker said, "Mr. Barry was the most thoughtful and caring person I have ever known. He lived by the Golden Rule and was always ready to help others."
Barry was Walker's lifelong mentor and he recalls the morning that the WGNS radio tower was downed by a tornado. "It was 7:30 Easter morning 2001, and when I saw the tower on the ground--my first call was to Bill Barry. He did not hesitate, 'I'm on the way', and was here in less than an hour."
WAMB was founded by Barry in 1971. He was a Vanderbilt grad and his engineering genius enabled him to grow that station from 250 watts up to 50,000 watts, which is the maximum output allowed with AM stations in the United States.
He was the first in the continintal states to get special approval to run WAMB's programs on an FM repeater. This was due to Cuba's jamming of the AM frequency at night. WAMB built an exceptionally loyal listening audience over the years with big band live Tea Dances and talents such as Snooky Lanson, Buzz Benson, Ken Bramming, Bob Sticht, Jack Gallo, Ron Johnson, Dave Eastman and others. WAMB was also the last Nashville radio station to carry Teddy Bart's Roundtable morning discussion program.
In many circles he was regarded a modern day pioneer in the field of radio broadcasting. Much of his life was about music and much of that was focused on what is recognized today as the “big band” sound.
William Oval (Bill) Barry, a World War II veteran, owner of multiple radio stations, a nationally recognized leader in the broadcast industry, and a community stalwart died peacefully Monday, September 16, 2013 at the home where his family had lived since 1931 on West Spring Street. He was 88.
Services for Mr. Barry are scheduled for 1:00 PM Thursday, September 19, 2013 at College Hills Church of Christ.
He was the son of the late Allen and Martha Francis Barry. Also preceding him in death were two special aunts, Tabitha Arrington Ferguson and Elizabeth Arrington Kennedy.
He was so proud of his large family and is survived by wife Joyce Bobo Barry, the “love of his life;” two daughters, Janice (Larry) Lloyd, Franklin, and Susie (Ed) James, Lebanon; a son, Bill Hunt, Lebanon; six grandchildren, Tim (Susan) Lloyd, Adam (Shelley) Lloyd, Christopher (Trish) Bay, Chelsea Bay, Shane Craft, and Shelby Hunt; and five great-grandchildren, Joshua, Caleb, Rebekah, Benjamin and Andrew Lloyd.
The Barry name in Wilson County is synonymous with a number of business institutions including the prominent Barry-Carter Milling Co., which following World War II became a business division of Martha White Flour. Started in 1929 and located on South Cumberland Street, Barry-Carter Milling was co-owned by Mr. Barry’s family. The business is now operated as Shenandoah Mills.
A lifelong resident of Lebanon, Mr. Barry was a graduate of Castle Heights Military Academy and Vanderbilt University where he was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. Enlisting in the Army at age 18, he served with the 13th Armored Division, the “Black Cat Division,” as a radio operator in a Tank battalion during World War II and was deployed to the European theater serving initially in France and later in Austria. He recalled in a 1995 newspaper article that on “the day before V-E Day, our division had taken Braunau, Austria, birthplace of Hitler. On V-E Day, I had the luxury of sleeping inside a chicken coop. It was so much better than sleeping outside on the ground as usual.” Even before his service in the military Mr. Barry had begun to develop an interest in the big band sound of dance music. While a cadet at Castle Heights, he organized his own orchestra that played at several academy formals. And later at Vanderbilt University, Mr. Barry again compiled an orchestra that performed at university dances and other events. Returning home after the war, Mr. Barry began his pursuit of what became a successful career in the radio and broadcasting industry.
His first efforts to join the radio industry as an owner came while he was a student at Vanderbilt when he attempted to secure an AM radio station for Lebanon. At the time he was working on-air at WGNS radio in Murfreesboro. In 1957 he and a business partner acquired WSOK-FM in Nashville and later changed the call letters to WFMB. In 1965 the station was sold to the Life and Casualty Insurance Company which subsequently changed its call letters to WLAC-FM. Mr. Barry played a key role in launching Nashville public radio station WPLN-FM and maintained ownership in other Nashville area stations including WAMB, WMAK, and WZEZ. He also helped others acquire radio stations and licenses for operations. His daughter Susie James owns and operates Lebanon stations WANT-FM and WCOR-AM. Remembered for his knowledge of the entire business from the microphone, to the engineering room. In 1994 Mr. Barry was presented the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters “Distinguished Service Award,” the organization’s highest honor. His accomplishments were again recognized in 2012 when the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame presented him its first “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Mr. Barry often took lead roles in a number of local causes. He believed an education to be a precious gift and supported public education locally and also supported Cumberland University and Friendship Christian School. Always a dapper dresser, frequently donning plaid sport coats, dark blue and camel blazers with accompanying brilliantly colored silk ties, he remained engaged in his profession and the community until shortly before his death. He was a lifelong, faithful and active member of College Street/College Hills Church of Christ.
Visitation with family is scheduled to be at Ligon and Bobo Funeral Home on Wednesday from 3:00 until 7:00 PM and at College Hills Church of Christ on Thursday from 12:00 Noon until service. Dr. Larry Locke, College Hills Church of Christ, is to preside at the service.
Serving as pallbearers are Larry Lloyd, Bill Hunt, Ed James, Randy Newman, Tim Lloyd, Adam Lloyd, Christopher Bay, Gary Brown and Martin Silva. Honorary pallbearers are Jay Barry, Allen Barry, Sedwin Kennedy, Dr. Jim Hundley, Randall Newman, Bart Walker, Miles Smith, Hubert Clemons, Dr. John Hamilton, the staff of WAMB, WANT and WCOR radio.
It is requested that in lieu of flowers that contributions be made to College Hills Church of Christ or the Castle Heights Alumni Association.
For more information contact: Ligon and Bobo Funeral Home, 241 West Main Street, Lebanon, Tennessee 37087, (615) 444-2142
Photo Below: This is a photo of Joyce Barry (left), Bill Barry (middle) and Susie Bay his daughter on his right.
Photo Below: This is a photo of the WAMB studio locacted in Nashville, TN. Entering the studio is like taking a step back into history. Some of the old, yet very good sounding microphones, are still in use today.
Photo Below: WAMB still hosts and helps with a number of local dances and Big Band performances in Davidson County, TN. This photo is from an event that is organized by the Metro Parks and Recreation Department. This picture was taken at Centennial Park.