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MIke Tussey: A founding father and visionary legend, my boss — Connie B. Gay

The year was 1967, I was continuing my radio career with AM 1420 5,000 watt-WTCR radio of Ashland, Kentucky. WTCR in a sense was a historic station that began its legacy in 1954 as WWK0 playing nothing but “country music.” The early voices of WWKO were Mac Allen, Eddie Walters, Cousin Johnny, and Texas Jimmy Oakes.

The years passed and WWKO became WTCR with the “TCR” meaning – Town and Country Radio. I came to WTCR as the station’s new Program Director under a new owner – a Legend in the making – CONNIE B. GAY.

Connie B Gay (Photo provided)

Gay was a visionary who certainly knew where he was going, and he knew how to get there.

I found that out first hand. The order of the day was changing WTCR to a new and exciting format and sound. My meeting with Mr. Gay covered his vision for an “All New” WTCR that would have an incredible impact on the Ashland-Huntington radio market. I remember him giving me 18 months to become a force in the market with a new option – The Nashville Sound.

I told him it was going to take time and money to pave the way and create a new and exciting image with Billboards, a broadcast remote trailer, jingles, top on air personalities, a news department etc. After some discussion, I got the green light and the All New TOWN AND COUNTRY RADIO would indeed make a huge splash in the Huntington-Ashland market.

WTCR’s new On Air personalities included my “Mike in the Morning Show” 6-10, Ron Mastin 10-2, Greg Elliott 2-6, 6 to sign off – Ron Lowe. Weekends – Wayne Bowman. News Director was Terry Goller.

WTCR Top 50 chart (Provided)

So, who was CONNIE B. GAY?

Connie Barriot Gay was born in 1914 in Lizard Lick, North Carolina. In time, he would become a Country Music entrepreneur and media mogul. He used his musical insight into a highly profitable empire that sailed into the modern era. After graduating from North Carolina State in 1935, he became a soil surveyor. By 1938, he worked in the US government in the Farm Security Administration. Then, in 1941 he became a broadcaster – hosting The National Farm and Home Hour. Five years later in 1946, in a very bold move, he left for the private sector with subsequent success in the field of country music at WARL in Arlington, Virginia He called his radio show – “Town and Country Time” which really was “a little bit of town – an awful lot of country.”

Of course, there were skeptics to it all, but Connie surprised everyone by staging a sold out Country Music Show starring Eddie Arnold. Gay thought it would be a prudent move to register his program’s name as a trademark. This insight later became a huge factor within in his financial success. The calendar moved to 1954 and he began broadcasting a television version of “Town and Country Time” on WMAL TV in Washington, DC. The show’s audio portion was syndicated to more than 1800 radio stations nationwide.

Along the way, Connie discovered Jimmy Dean and Patsy Cline – both of whom became regulars on the show. After a short while, the TV program was syndicated to 40 stations.

By 1956, “Town and Country Time” was airing in 50 urban markets which included Houston, LA, and Detroit. He dissolved all ties with WARL and gave 100% to his own enterprises and became a leading contender of Billboard’s Tycoon of the Year Award with an estimated gross of $2 million. He became a promoter, talent scout, manager and eventually owner of multiple radio and TV stations. The dividends included promoting new talents through his wide array of broadcasting mediums. By this time, Patsy Cline, Jimmy Dean and Roy Clark became inductees in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 1958, Connie founded the Country Music Association known today as simply the “CMA” and he also served as its first President. Another vision came about when he assisted in organizing the Country Music Foundation which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. In 1963, the CMA instituted a very prestigious award known as “The Connie B. Gay Award.” Today, it’s known as The Founding President’s Award” and was awarded to recipients such as Roy Acuff, Johnny Cash and Martina McBride.

The preceding events and accomplishments are certainly a microcosm of his incredible career.

Moving on to 1967, I became one of Mr. Gay’s Program Directors and the solid success we had through 1968 was astounding. It became a matter of pride with him in every way. I received a call from Mr. Gay at WTCR in the fall of 1968 when he instructed me to meet him later in the week in Nashville and to bring a Tuxedo as I would need it.My orders were to call him when I arrived in Music City as soon as I was in my hotel. My call went directly to him and after a short conversation he invited me to have breakfast the next morning with him at the Andrew Jackson Hotel dining room in Nashville.

The next morning, I arrived at the hotel and approached the dining room and asked for Mr. Gay’s table. The host directed me to the dining room and as I approached his table, he was sitting with 3 guests. He stood up and said: “Gentlemen, this is Mike Todd, Program Director of one of my newest station – WTCR” – Town and Country Radio. All of his guests stood up and Connie introduced them as I shook their hands. Those 3 guests were – Movie Stars – TEX RITTER and CHILL WILLS along with Decca Recording artist – JIMMY WAKELY.

Tex Ritter (Photo provided)

I stood there in complete awe. I certainly knew of each one’s incredible career and legacy. Tex Ritter – actor and vocalist, and well known for singing the theme song to the 1952 movie “HIGH NOON.” Chill Wills – famous actor in hundreds of movies including many with John Wayne. Jimmy Wakely – country music vocalist and member of the Grand Ole Opry.

During breakfast, Connie gave me four tickets for the very first CMA Awards Show that would be held in the Ryman downtown Nashville. They were in the 2nd row. NBC was televising it all “Live” that evening on the Kraft Music Hall Show.

This is when it became apparent why Connie had told me to bring a Tuxedo as we attended CMA parties throughout Music City that night after the CMA Awards show.

At breakfast, he mentioned that my name would now be on the “Back Stage” visitor’s pass log at the Grand Ole Opry. The idea was that he wanted me to spend time with the artists back stage of the Ryman and on Music Row (16th Avenue South) as one of his staff members.

What an honor that turned out to be spending time with legends such as – SKEETER DAVIS, LITTLE JIMMY DICKENS, JERRY REED, and CHET ADKINS.

Connie B. Gay retired a few years later in 1972 selling his business assets with his gross earnings estimated to have been $50 million.

He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980.

Today, I am proud that Mr. Gay and I share the Hallowed Halls of the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame as he was inducted in 2006, I was inducted in 2010.

He passed away in 1989 at the age of 75.

Today, his legacy lives on as he will always be a pillar of the very foundation of country music, but he also touched the lives and careers of so many legends of County Music.

Mr. Gay, it was a distinct honor to have been on your team while you were paving the way to an incredible legacy. Thank you sir, for a million memories.

Mike Tussey has “retired” from a 60-plus-year career as a legendary play-by-play announcer for over 2000 football, baseball, and basketball games, including most recently for ESPN+. His career also includes a stint in law enforcement, teaching and coaching, and writing books, including the “Touchdown Saints.” He grew up in Eastern Kentucky and now lives in Florence with his wife, Jo. He has opened another “Door of Opportunity” and is now a regular columnist for the NKyTribune.

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  1. Ric Robinson says:

    You left out a story about the backlash of bringing country radio into the modern era. Country music legend, Grand Ole Opera star and “Hee Haw” regular Grandpa Jones spotted you back stage at the Opera and told you in very salty terms how you were destroying country music with radio’s new uptown country sound! That night on WSM with Ralph Emery you told listeners the story, but kindly left out who cursed a blue streak at you!!!! LOL!!!!

  2. Charlene Cooper says:

    Quite a success story … for both of you!

  3. Jack L Varney says:

    What a fantastic and informative article of radio in my “home” market of Huntington/Ashland.
    Congratulations Mike!

  4. Mike Tussey says:

    Ric…lol that meeting with Grandpa was really a sad meeting laced with profanity from him..I mentioned the meeting and told Ralph not to mention it on the air, he brought it up anyway. I never mentioned it on the air at all…The story was passed on to Ralph OFF THE AIR…he just related to it. when he got back on the air…..Looking back at it 56 years later..it almost funny…lol

  5. Mike Tussey says:

    Charlene…Many Thanks…!! So glad you enjoy the columns…!

  6. Mike Tussey says:

    Thanks Jack so much ! Glad you enjoyed the memories of a Legendary Station..I am honored to have been a part of Mr. Gays Vision..! Thanks again !

  7. Don Stewart says:

    I had forgotten about this article. It was so refreshing to read it again. You have a great and storied career in radio. I will always revere you as ‘ Mr. Tri-State Radio’ . You and Jim Schneider were my two radio Idols of all time. Praying you are doing well.

  8. Mike Tussey says:

    Don…my sincere Thanks for your kind words! So glad you enjoyed my column as well. I was very blessed to have had the success I had during my broadcasting career..really was. Jim became my protégé back in the early 60’s when he was just 14…and you know the rest. Thanks again..and keep reading…Each Wednesday my column is there for you..Love to hear from you too ! Thanks…!!

  9. Charles says:

    Thanks for sharing this with me and everyone else! Great article!

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