Country Music The Way It Used To Was
Some people driving American streets and highways see trucks as lumbering roadblocks. Others see them as a necessary evil. Still others believe they should be banned from the freeways.
It's true: trucks are getting bigger, drivers are getting younger, and loads are getting heavier. It’s also true that lines are getting longer, tempers are growing shorter, and patience is ebbing quicker. But it’s also accurate to say that if you wear it, eat it, drive it, or assemble it, a truck almost certainly brought it to your table, your closet, your yard, or your garage.
What I often think about, in the shadows of passing big rigs, are the characters of trucking music history. A rookie trucker in 1978, I was already a veteran of the midnight radio show called “The Road Gang”. They played country music “the way it used to was”, as host Charlie Douglas described it, from the studios of AM 870, WWL radio in New Orleans.
WWL had 50,000 watts of power, in the days before XM radio, and we could hear “The Road Gang” from coast to coast, some nights. The show catered to truckers, for the most part, but was also a favorite on riverboats, drilling rigs, and police car stereos. From midnight to 5:00 AM, every night, it brought country music and homespun humor to the highways and byways of greater America.
It had national weather forecasts, twice an hour, and border-to-border road reports just as often. There was also the “comedy corner”, 29 minutes after every hour, where we were introduced to Justin Wilson, Jerry Jordan, Lewis Grizzard, and Wendy Bagwell. Douglas rarely did ‘remotes’, broadcasting from off-site locations, but always made the listener feel like a friend, and companion. He was always on time, yet never in a hurry, and told excruciatingly long stories, but with unforgettable endings.
Charlie’s success spawned other trucking radio shows including “The Bozo” Dale Somers on 700 WLW in Cincinnati, Eric Harley’s “Midnight Radio”, as well as Dave Nemo of XM’s Road Dog Channel, but Douglas’s only real competition was Bill Mack on WBAP in Dallas. Mack, who must be 150 years old by now, talked slower than democrat in Austin, but did write the song “Blue” for country superstar Leann Rimes. Oh, and just for the record, Bill Mack is 85 years of age, as of this writing.
It was Douglas, however, who created the landscape of trucking radio. A story teller, not just a broadcaster, much of Charlie Douglas’s humor and personality came from growing up in Ludowici, Georgia with his best friend, “Dammit” Ray Ferguson.
Douglas, whose real name was Doug China, was inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame in 1994. He died 17 years later, at age 78, in his Picayune, Mississippi home. Colorful, opinionated, patriotic, and sometimes daring, Charlie Douglas used “The Road Gang” to spread a message of safety, sanity, humor, and respect to—and for-- the American trucker. Better late than never, Charlie, let me thank you!