My name is Jim Davis, and I live in Durham North Carolina which is where WNCU, the radio station that runs 8 Track Flashback is located. I am WNCU’s chief engineer and have been involved with the station since its beginning around 1991. The station went on the air in 1995 and I began doing 8 Track Flashback in 1996.

My background is in engineering and I have done radio engineering for a number of AM and FM stations in the area since 1975, and have made that my full time career after retiring from Duke University in 2002 where I was involved in heart research in the Department of Surgery.

My interest in radio goes back much further to my youth in Philadelphia where I grew up. Electronics was one of several hobbies and I began working in radio in 1965 during summer vacations and school breaks. I came to Durham to Duke in 1967, and began a long association with the Duke campus radio station, WDBS at that time, doing air shifts and engineering on their carrier current AM station (real old school). I also started working weekends at WTIK, a local country and western station. By 1971, WDBS had gone FM, and I was doing a weekend jazz show there, and spinning country music on WTIK.

In the spring of 1973, Buddy Poole, the station manager at WTIK, asked if I would be interested in doing an oldies program on the station Saturday nights. He had been impressed with the success WBT in Charlotte had with their Sunday night program and wanted me to give it a whirl. The station even offered to give me a small budget for music. I started out mixing ’50s rock and roll with some country, but Buddy soon said, “drop the country, just play that old rock and roll stuff”. So I did. And the phones lit up. I soon learned that even though I had been collecting records for about ten years, there was a lot about the music from the 50’s into the sixties that I was completely unaware of, given my primary exposure had been to northeastern pop music/top 40 stations. The only “One Mint Julip” I knew was the Ray Charles instrumental. And what was this song “Work with me Annie?” But the audience was patient with me, and I did play a lot of records they liked as I added more Fat Domino, some Frankie Avalon and Patsy Cline (yes this was a country station) to my collection courtesy of the station budget and trade deal at the local Record Bar (Durham folk remember the Record Bar…). On a business trip to New York I took a want list I had compiled and picked up about fifty records at a couple of the classic record stores up there (yes…Time Square Records was on the itinerary) and added those to my playlist. An invaluable resource was Joel Whitburns’ Record Research book, purchased in paperback in 1973, covering the Pop music billboard chart from 1955 to 1972. But it all came crashing down in the summer of 1974.

Buddy Poole was fired, and the station owners who were based in Salisbury NC started looking into what was going on with their radio station in Durham. Being died in the wool country programmers of the old school, they did not consider Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and early Elvis Presley rock and roll as appropriate fare for WTIK, and my oldies show was cancelled. I requested a meeting, and tried to make the case that with all the influences of that music on country music circa 1974, the country audience for the station would easily accept a 50’s music based oldies program such as mine, and the listener reaction had been good. They did not buy it, and told me my services as a disc jockey were no longer required (ie, I got fired too…).

Somewhere along the way I had dropped out of working for WDBS at Duke and for the first time in a while I was no longer involved with radio at all! It felt rather strange, but not long after leaving WTIK I was contacted by the management of WDBS at Duke to come back doing engineering for them since their engineer had left the area. So I started doing contract engineering with WDBS, about a year later in the spring of 1976 I began doing work as well for WDUR, which was Durham’s old rock and roll/top forty station WSSB rebranded as a middle of the road automated music station. I had a day job by this time, working for the Institute for Parapsychology.

In the fall of 1976 I was contacted by the program director for WDNC, Joe Nuchols. Now WDNC was the big dog station in Durham with a much stronger signal than WTIK, and was currently doing rock and roll during the day and a disco/R&B flavored format in the evening after WSRC which was the main station formatted toward the African American community went off the air. Joe had heard about my show on WTIK and wondered if I had any tapes (I did), he wanted to hear them (ok…), and later on wanted a demo tape of how I would put together a similar show for him on Sunday evening at WDNC. So I came by the station one night with a box of records, went into their production studio and cut a demo. The show debuted on WDNC Sunday evening December 5th starting at 8:05 pm following the CBS news. It was called the Sunday Night Special. The first song played was “At the hop” by Danny and the Juniors.

Now the working conditions at WDNC were primitive by today’s standards. At the time all my music was coming off 45 rpm singles and album cuts. Because the main air control room at WDNC had only one turntable I did the show out of a production room where there were two old 16″ transcription turntables. These turntables would take a good three seconds to get up to speed so I either had to slip cue the records (holding it still with my finger on the rotating turntable and letting it go when I wanted it to play on the air) or allow the three seconds for the record to get up to speed before potting it up onto the air. The control board was a 1966 vintage unit known in the industry as the “snowplow” due to it’s curved lines, it had big knobs and lots of them, and would break down from time to time on the air. So from time to time I would break out the burnishing tool and clean the microphone switch or something during a news break. Commercials were played on cart machines back in those days, and since this was the production studio, there were only two of them in the room which made playing three commercials and a jingle a challenge. But I was pumped and ready to go, just worked hard through the challenges as small market DJs have all done through the years and put the show on.

The show took off like a rocket. Calls came in for requests and in spite of WDNC’s 1000 watt night time signal as compared to competitor rock and roll WKIX the show garnered 33% of the audience. In the spring, the station management added the 105.1 FM signal from country station WDCG, which extended the show’s reach into southern Virginia. The music for the show was positioned as “hits of the fifties and early sixties” which meant only early Motown, and many of the artist I currently play in the first hour of 8 Track Flashback were simply not played. At the same time, I was still building a music library and did not have much material from the early 50’s and 40’s to start with.

In these days of the Internet, CDs and digital music it can be hard to remember that old music was hard to come by in the ’60s and into the 70’s. The music on 45 rpm records was considered as disposable and little attention paid to marketing older R&B, the focus being on the new stuff. The exceptions were Art Laboe’s Original Sounds records, which started the “Oldies but Goodies” album series and a multivolume set of releases by Roulette Records, which was heavy on End, Gee and Gone label releases. Motown did the occasional oldies album in the early sixties with the pace picking up as they developed more of a catalog. But early Atlantic (Joe Turner), King (Wynonie Harris, Midnighters), Decca (Louis Jordan) did not appear until the latter part of the 70’s. So it was combing thrift shops (Fine Brown Frame by Nellie Lutcher was one notable find), the WDNC back rooms at the Herald-Sun building (No One can Take your Place by Sam Cooke a notable find on a box of fifties and early sixties material put aside from the record library in the late sixties) and mail order from a company call Aardvark Records out of California which published a list of thousands of reissue 45s (primarily for the jukebox trade) at $1.25 a pop (Wynonie Harris, Roy Milton, Pentagons, lots of early Atlantic groups such as the Clovers and Cardinals from them..). I also got to know Victor Pearlin and Val Shively, Victor published (and still does) a set sale list which makes good reading if for no other reason than getting information about various labels that artists recorded for. Val also published lists a little more informally, but was always helpful in trying to locate something in particular. A publication called Goldmine provided additional contacts for locating music and over the time period I worked for WDNC I bought the majority of the vinyl I own today.

No recollection of that period would be complete without my thanks to the late John Swain. I first met John at the Raleigh flea market in the 70’s at his record stall. He always has a good collection of 45’s, and you could play them on the spot to see what they sounded like. The quality was so so, but this was AM radio we were talking about. He was always ready to talk , sold me a lot of records and we became good friends. He then opened the Record Hole on Hillsborough Street and became active in record auctioning. He would go on record buying trips up North, concentrating on the basements of Mom and Pop record stores where unsold 45’s would pile up and he could buy large numbers of records at good prices. The strategy would be to scan through and see if there was anything good (meaning a reasonable number of $10 to $50 records at auction) and then offer a large lump sum for everything in sight. John was pretty good at sizing up an inventory, would turn them around at auction (generally through Goldmine or the like..) and turn a profit. From time to time he would bring material he had for auction over to the station and we would put them on cart for me to play on the air on my show, he would help me with attribution and information about the artists, and then we’d go out and drink beer! Good times and I miss him.

One difference from the old show on WTIK was that I started programming part of the show in advance, a practice I follow today. During that time, I would program the first hour, ask for requests the second hour, program some sort of special the third hour and go back to requests for the final hour. The show continued on WDNC until May of 1982. During that time there were several changes, the program moved to Saturday for a while, the hours were changed for a while to accommodate the ’70s classic CBS Mystery Theater at 10pm, with my show running from 7 to 10pm, followed by the Mystery theater show and then I would come back for a final hour from 11pm to 12midnight. For a while I featured Big Band music during the final hour, building up a reasonable library and doing research to gain some knowledge about the swing era from the 20’s to the start of WWII, but never got much response. WDNC subsequently dropped Mystery Theater and I went back to my original 8-12 time slot.

Times change, WDCG became the highly popular station it is today with a format change in 1981, the production room I had been broadcasting out of for almost four years became their new air control room, and I had to move to another production room which was physically very different and did not really have the facilities I needed. I did two shows out of that room and in May of 1982 hung it up. Another factor was that WDNC had some staff changes and I took on a large engineering role for WDNC and G105, which also took up a lot of my time, as by the early 80’s my day job had changed from the Institute for Parapsychology to the Department of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center. So I was off the air, but not out of radio. Little did I know that it would be 14 years before I returned to the airwaves.

Through all the intervening years I had kept my record collection, stored away in specially constructed drawers in my electronics shop at one house and then carefully in boxes in a dry cool location in a series of houses, and then transferred to a wooden record storage rack salvaged from a radio station that had junked all it’s vinyl (a country station alas). I had picked up a few items along the way, some interesting 45s in particular when WSRC moved out of the building they had been in from the fifties. But the big change came around 1992 when I bought my first CDs. I was intrigued by “The Doo Wop Box”, and after looking over the track listing, I bought it. I had an old CD player junked as too unreliable for broadcast use from a station I contracted for, and spun the set up. The sound was very good. The liner notes were very good. Here was “Sorry, I ran all the way home” by the Impalas in stereo. Here was “Gee” by the Crows without George Goldner’s reverb. I was hooked and bought more CDs over the next four years just to listen to the music and get material that 20 years ago I had only heard of, never heard. And I was building a radio station….this time at North Carolina Central University.

I really was not planning on going back on the air, but an opportunity arose where there were some open slots during a holiday over the summer of 1996 at WXDU. I decided to fill one playing some oldies out of my comparatively modest collection of CDs and some 45s, since they had three (yes!! three) turntables in the control room. I had a blast and a number of folk called the station to let me know they appreciated the music. So maybe this something I wanted to pick up again after some 14 years go back on the air.

24 Responses to “About”

  1. Have you ever thought of adding additional videos to your site to keep the viewers more engaged? I just read through the whole page and it was quite good but since I learn visually, I find videos to be very helpful. I like what you guys are always up too. Keep up the good work. I will check out your site daily for some new post.

  2. Jim Davis says:

    I don’t have any video to post (and don’t have facilities to do it) but I do have some pictures which might be of interest, I will look into getting them posted.

    Jim

  3. Wayne Hunter says:

    Mr. Davis this is Wayne from WPJL and I just wanted you to know that you are the human equation for Energy = mass times Light squared. Keep up the great work, sir.

  4. Steve Ely says:

    Jim,
    I did a google search for John Swain and The Record Hole tonight, just out of curiosity to see what would come up, and I found your touching comments about John, as well as many other comments by a number of other people too which brought back many great memories for me. So thanks so much for the thoughtful tribute to John. John was one of my very best friends and my greatest music mentor back from when he started out at the Raleigh Fairgrounds Flea Market, thru the various incarnations of The Record Hole, all the way up until he passed so suddenly in the early 90’s. I miss him alot and still think about him fondly to this day, and based on the number of internet comments about John that I found tonight it is very clear that John was loved by many, and that he touched alot of peoples lives in a very positive and productive way. You never left The Record hole without being just a little bit wiser. I know that I would spend at least a couple of hours at “The Hole” every single week, just hanging out with John and soaking up his vast knowledge and kind friendship. I still remember him saying “Will you watch the store for me for a few minutes while I walk across the street to get a drink and some aspirin” as John unfortunately suffered from many frequent severe headaches. Of course being a 17 year old kid, I was always touched by his trust and I was always honored to do so for my friend. We all miss you John, and thanks for the great memories, and for so openly sharing your incredible wisdom, your caring and your friendship. It was a privledge to know you John, and a once in a lifetime experience. Regards, Steve Ely.

  5. Jim Davis says:

    Since I was off the air most of the 80’s and into the ’90s I didn’t see as much of John then as I did when I was on the air and John and I did promotional things together. There are many times I’ll look at a 45 or LP now and think, “I got that from John Swain!!”. Good to hear from you, Steve.

  6. Mac Walker says:

    Hello,

    I visit my girlfriend in Durham quite often, yesterday July 17th in fact. I tuned in around 1pm on my drive back to Winston Salem and heard just a plethora of great music. Is there any way I could get a play list from yesterday?

    The music you played was just awesome, some I had never heard. However I tuned in as Brook Benton was going off and next up was Etta James. From there on, through the monsoon of a storm I listened till I couldn’t get your signal anymore.

    It was great! If you have that play list available I would really appreciate it as I would love to look up some of those tunes!

    Sincerely

    -Mac Walker

  7. Jim Davis says:

    Hello Mac–

    Glad you enjoyed what you were able to hear of the show. WNCU streams on the Internet, so you can hear it by going to http://www.wncu.org. I normally do a running playlist while I am on the air, but yesterday was just a zoo with all the weather alerts and we are in the middle of building a new studio for our HD2. Since you asked specifically, I will try and get it on the “current playlist” page of the http://www.8trackflashback.com site in the next day or so. In any case, you can find playlists from past shows which will give you an idea of the type and range of music we play.

    Jim Davis

  8. Bonnie Cox says:

    Dear Mr. Davis,

    I just finished listening to your show and what a refreshing few hours it has been! I first learned about 8 track flashback in 2008 when I moved to Raleigh after attending the University of SC. My father, who is an R&B enthusiast, happened upon your show one day on a trip through Raleigh, and told me about it. On my moving day to Raleigh we tuned when we could and heard Nappy Brown, the Dominoes, Ruth Brown, and “Jump It With a Shuffle”, as I recall. As a young R&B enthusiast myself, I just thought it was the best find! I got interested in the Blues and R&B from the 40s-60s because of the Carolina Shag. Some people think that the kind of music associated with the Shag is “beach music” sung by groups of men from today. However, most “true” shag enthusiasts most enjoy the sounds of the old blues from the 40s-60s. Many times when I am listening to your show, I hear a song that would be great for the Shag and I try my best to locate the songs and add them to my library. Today I especially enjoyed Big Mama Thorton’s “Let Your Tears Fall Baby”. What a great tune! At shag events sometimes we have “Vinyl Parties”, and I have really gotten interested in Vinyl, but that is about as far as I have gotten! Are there any locations in the area Vinyl can still be found, or is it primarily over the internet now? One artist that I have only been able to locate on Vinyl is Jon Thomas- his music seems to be a bit obscure, but the few times I have gotten to her him play his organ, it has been great to hear. His tunes “Hey, Hey Baby” and his cover of “Flip, Flop, and Fly” are some good ones. If you ever have a chance to play Jon Thomas, I would love to hear him! Well, I just wanted to let you know how much I love your show and thanks for playing such great and hard to find music every week! I always look forward to hearing “new” music and learning something new as well.

    Bonnie Cox

  9. Jim Davis says:

    Bonnie–Thanks for the support. Jon Thomas is one of those artists that just got lost. He did some sides for Mercury, moved to ABC Paramount and hit big with “Heartbreak, it’s hurting me” (covered by Little Willie John) and then vanished from the charts. He continued to record from what I can see, and I’ll be on the lookout for more of his material to play on the air. On the subject of buing records, I was in Asheville a few years ago, and there were a couple of vinyl oriented stores there with 45s and LPs, bought a few, but the good stores are few and far between. I do in fact get most of my stuff over the Internet, though Val Shively outside of Philadelphia and Victor Pearlin in Massachusetts have a wide selection of vinyl by mail order.

  10. Jeff says:

    I listen to eight track flashback whenever I can; it’s my favorite radio show. Can you tell me the the artist and song you played Saturday Feb 12, 2011, right after Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 during the last hour? I was in my car and went out of range just as you were announcing this. The female vocalist has a beautiful voice. I checked the archive, but there isn’t a complete one yet for Feb 12, 2011. thanks

  11. Jim Davis says:

    Hi Jeff–

    The song was “I Feel So Good” by Ruby Jackson, backed up by Maurice King. This was unreleased at the time, around 1952 or so, recored for Okeh. It’s on the Okeh Record Story 3 CD set.

    Getting playlists up is a little slow this week and next, because we are doing Sound Exchange reporting for our webstream, and that is taking up a good bit of time.

    Thanks for listening and commenting…Jim Davis

  12. Bob Graves says:

    I love your show, what was the first song you played Oct 1, 2011, Thanks

  13. Jim Davis says:

    Sorry this took so long. The first song was “Take care of your homework” by Johnny Taylor, with the classic line “the downfall of too many men is the upkeep of too many women”…

  14. kenju says:

    I love the music you play and try to listen every week.

  15. Dave Crotts says:

    Hi Jim. Once again I am amazed that I heard 4 jump blues songs on Saturday, Feb. 18 that I had not heard before after listening to the 2-4 portion of your show for the last 12 years or so. Started with james brown and ended with roy brown. We might be able to sneak a couple of the songs into our blues show over here at WSHA on Thursday night. Your whow is a treasure for us roots rock and blues folks.

    A couple of deejays I talk to who have lived in large cities (SF, NYC, Miami) say that in the Triangle, including Fayetteville (WFSS), we have more great public radio music than most anywhere in the U.S. and WNCU is a key reason. We music lovers are blessed.

    Dave Crotts

  16. Gary says:

    Very interesting..Now I know your life story..

  17. Jim Davis says:

    Hello Gary–Well you know some of my DJ history from the 1970’s until I started with 8 Track Flashback in late 1996. I haven’t written about that yet.

  18. Bob Graves says:

    I love you show and as a fellow DJ, I think you have the best show on radio. Can I get a copy of your recent playlist Feb 16,2013. You played a song at 12:52pm right before “Blues Had a Baby” I would like to get the title and artist. Thanks Bob Graves

  19. roger nicholson says:

    I been trying to find out who made a song talking to black America.i donot know the name of the song I heard it on wsha in the 70s I remember some of the lyrics it said maybe you are not black maybe you don’t know what it is to be black then he goes in senaros like have you ever went to jump rope and when you started to starting jumping they moved the rope and you fell this never happen to you then maybe you are not black maybe you don’t know what it is to be black then he says a boy had a dog and the boy wanted to play so he tired the dog but didn’t tie him well and the rope fell and the dog stayed there whingnind and crying he says the dog could have played to but he thought he was tied then he say almost got you told if you know this song and title and artist please e mail me the info I been looking for years

  20. Jim Davis says:

    I am afraid you have me stumped on that one. The ’70s is a liitle past the era I am really most familiar with. Have you tried Googling the various parts of the lyrics? You might hit upon the title and get some info.

  21. James Oates says:

    During the mid ’70s while a student at NCSU I “remember” listening to WDNC in the evening. Was there a time that comics were read ‘on air’. As a comic fan at the time I thought it was so cool hearing Conan the Barbarian. I was in the suite with “Harry Hippie” a DJ for WKNC and listened to a lot of EWF and AWB.

  22. Jim Davis says:

    Radio needs to be fun.
    some of the best times I had in college at Duke was working at WDBS. Got the radio bug well before that, and after that stayed in radio, working at WTIK in Durham (where I started doing ’50s and ’60s music) and then between 1976 and 1982 on WDNC, sometimes on Sundays and sometimes on Saturdays. Thaks for writing.

  23. Paul Furr says:

    Your show is a mainstay at my house on Saturday afternoons, whether it’s on the radio/website/app. I’m 47, a former radio guy but a TV photographer for the past 21 years. My education at CCCC in Sanford was based in traditional radio. Transmitters, logs, carts, turntables, all the good stuff. Your show is what it’s always been about, good show prep, little known songs, covers, it truly is a good solid show. It’s also fantastic to hear my former classmate and colleague Travis Gales fill in for the past few weeks, which was a surprise. Keep this show going! Rock and roll, blues and soul live on!

  24. Jim Davis says:

    Thanks for the nice comment. On the engineering side WDCC at CCCC and their other FM WUAW have been clients for years,and I think their educational programs are great. Also they are a great group of folk to work with. I must say though I am glad the turntables and carts are gone, less room for mistakes now on the air, so when they do happen I have no one but myself the blame. 🙂

Leave a Reply