Sextons move WKVL AM-850 to Alcoa

Couple switches format from talk to “Real Country”

Johnnie and Jim Sexton stand in front of their new radio station on Gill Street.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Johnnie and Jim Sexton stand in front of their new radio station on Gill Street.

“Blue Ridge” Bob Lewellyn entertains the listening audience at WKVL AM-850.

“Blue Ridge” Bob Lewellyn entertains the listening audience at WKVL AM-850.

“Swangan Deacon” Eddie Beacon is all smiles while working a shift at WKVL AM-850.

“Swangan Deacon” Eddie Beacon is all smiles while working a shift at WKVL AM-850.

Jim Sexton has an opinion about today’s country music.

So strong is his opinion that today’s country isn’t the kind of music that made country music great that he and his wife, Johnnie, bought a radio station. The former owner of Knox Air said AM 850 WKVL will share only “Real Country” music with its listeners.

“Johnnie and I love music of all kinds,” said Jim, “but I’m distressed about the state of country music. I think it has gone to the dogs, and I want to do what is right by essentially going back to the old country poets like Merle Haggard.”

Jim Sexton said country music has changed from a poetic blend of words and acoustic instruments to head-splitting “heavy metal” hammering on electric instruments with head drum rhythms.

“The poetic artistry of such greats as Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Gene Watson, The Carter Family and Tommy Collins is something that in my opinion should not be lost to the past in the horrible hammering of today’s mislabeled country music,” he said.

Sexton, who sold Knox Air to TAC Air several years ago, said when he discovered that WKVL was for sale, he pursued the station with the intent of converting it from a talk format to one of music. “The 850 kilohertz is the old original WIVK frequency and permits 50,000 watts to be used on a daytime only basis,” he said. “This makes for the most powerful daytime AM station in East Tennessee.”

Sexton said the signal also is good across Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, across North Georgia and the Western Carolinas. “I rebuilt the station, correcting technical problems and built a new station at 261 Gill St. in Alcoa. The daytime only operation is somewhat of a handicap, but it creates a whammy of a signal during those daytime hours,” he said. “No other AM station in East Tennessee compares with the coverage area.”

Jim Sexton said they also use live announcers, and they plan to play country music from the 1950s through the 1980s. “We are calling this music ‘Real Country’ because of the overuse of ‘Vintage Country’ or ‘Classic Country’ to describe mostly ’70s and ’80s music,” he said. “There are some songs by current artists such as Alan Jackson and George Strait that are included in our music selection because they fit our description of ‘Real Country.’ We try to include acoustic guitars, mandolins and fiddles and minimize drums on our music play list.”

Sexton said they encourage song requests and will feature local performers on specials and scheduled programs. “We have no automated operation and no music from satellite. All music is produced from vinyl albums and CDs inside our studios,” he said.

Johnnie Sexton said the building where the station is located on Gill Street was formerly a real estate office and jewelry store. “Originally this was built by Harold King and the upstairs was a model for the Regal Towers. He built it as a real estate office,” she said. “It required very little conversion. We put in sound-proofing. We put down special carpet and carpet on the walls in the studio. These tiles are sound-proof. Essentially, looking at the building before and now, you would not tell much difference (on the outside), but on the inside is where we converted it.”

Jim Sexton said they are using a combination of experienced announcers and newcomers.

“Bob Lewellyn is a local Blount County guy who has been an entertainer for years. I’ve known him 25 or 30 years. Eddie Beacon worked for WIVK and WNOX,” Jim Sexton said. “The other veteran announcer is Tee Blackman, an expert Knoxville radio announcer. Tim Byrd, he is a newcomer, a recent UT grad and did an internship with Horn Radio.”

Jim Sexton said AM radio is mostly “drive time” radio. “Really ‘drive time’ is where we look to make the most contact. It is day time only -- from 6 in the morning to 9:15 at night,” he said.

The history of the station is that it was owned by WIVK, who gave it to the University of Tennessee. UT sold it to preacher J. Bazell Mull, who in turn sold it to Horn Radio. Horn changed the call letters, said Sexton. New owners include the Sextons and Alice Kolbe. “WKVL intends to provide good music for the many listeners who have been ignored and abandoned by today’s automated radio,” Jim Sexton said. “We at WKVL hope you enjoy our programming format, and we would like to hear from you.”

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