TOP PHOTO: Smith “Smitty” Rea, left, was one of the first voices heard on WLAF when it signed on the air 70 years ago today on Sunday afternoon, May 17, 1953. Smitty visits with WLAF’s Bill Waddell.
LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – “It was WLAF’s first live sports broadcast. We promoted it and promoted it. The Owls of La Follette High were set to open the football season at Sevierville,” said Smith “Smitty” Rea. The station had barely been on the air three months in 1953 when football season started.
HERE is a memorable story and wonderful recollection from one of WLAF’s many alums, Smith Rea, Jr. He’s affectionately known as Smitty.
“Marvin Paul, the engineer/color announcer, and the play-by-play announcer, Olen Morris, made the trip to Sevierville and were ready to go with the broadcast,” said Rea. Rea, who was one of the announcers first on the air at WLAF on May 17, 1953, was behind the controls at the WLAF studio in the Piedmont Hotel that Friday night.
“This was in the day when the connection was set up by the phone company, and all we did at the station was flip the switch, and the remote broadcast was on the air. There was no talk back with the broadcast team at the game; no phone call capability,” said Smitty.
When it came broadcast time, Smitty flipped the switch, and there was nothing. He tried several times to make the connection, and the game never made it on the air. “Olen was there in the stands broadcasting the game, and he had no idea it was never on the air,” said Rea.
“Cars were driving by the station with folks wondering what was wrong. People were not happy. And we’d promoted the hound out of that game,” said a laughing Smitty.
“We later found out that at the South Central Bell switching center in Knoxville, the technician at the center did not make the switch,” said Rea. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 05/17/2023-6AM)