National Top 40 Radio Station Launched

National Top 40 Radio Station Launched

By Barry Courter, Staff Writer

The late Tommy Jett promotes the Winter WFLI Spectacular in November 1967 in Chattanooga. Jett was a popular DJ on the station, which is now also home to the National Top 40 Hall of Fame & Radio Museum. Jett is a member of the National and Tennessee radio halls of fame. Contributed Photo/David Carroll, Steve Hill.

On a recent morning, Rick “Ringo Van, The Music Man” Govan, Johnny Eagle and Ben Cagle gathered on Cagle’s back porch to talk about the National Top 40 Radio project they’ve all been involved in for the last several weeks. Talk quickly turned to the songs that make up the online station’s playlist.

When the song “Homegrown Tomatoes” comes up as an unfamiliar tune, Cagle quickly launches into reciting the lyrics:

“Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes

Wha’d life be without homegrown tomatoes

Only two things money can’t buy

That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes”

“Guy Clark,” Cagle said.

This goes on for a good 20 minutes as the three semi-retired radio veterans play a game of name that song, which they do with ease, adding details such as the year it came out, the label it was on and any other trivia they can think of. Any of the three would be a good partner for a trivia contest. Each worked at WFLI-AM 1070, which is home to the NationalTop 40 Hall of Fame & Radio Museum, and now the radiostation , in the 1960s when it dominated the local airwaves.

Eagle started at The Jet-Fli in ’61 when it signed on and later served as its general manager before leaving in 1982. Cagle also worked in television (he was the general manager at WDEF-TV 12 in the late ’70s and early ’80s before buying several radio stations in East Tennessee), while Govan was on the air at WFLI from 1964-69 before moving on to other stations around the country.

Eagle is now president of the museum and hall of fame.

The new station plays hits from the ’50s to the ’80s, and Cagle is responsible for picking and programming most of them, but he relies heavily on people like Govan and Eagle, as well as local current and former on-air personalities such as Darrell Patterson, Earl Freudenberg, David Carroll and Dale Deason. What binds the group together is a love for music and radio.

“It’s both,” Eagle said. “For sure.”

Cagle also gives WFLI co-owner Marshall Bandy a lot of credit for being supportive of the station.

“Everything I’ve asked for to make it sound great, he’s OK’d,” Cagle said. It is that shared passion for radio and music that makes the station different, and interesting, they say.

“I’m hearing songs I haven’t heard in years, and I haven’t heard anything like this anywhere,” Govan said. “I remember playing most of them when they came out, but you just don’t hear them anywhere any more.”

“One thing about this music, people can’t always remember the title or the artist, but they know every word,” Cagle said. “Like ‘Homegrown Tomatoes.’”

Cagle said a software program called Digital Jukebox handles selecting the tracks, as well as the promos provided by local personalities touting the station’s mission statement that play each hour, but he is responsible for filling the six categories — ’54-’59, ’60-’64, ’64-’69, ’70-’71, ’72-’75, ’76-’80 — with classics from The Who, The Beatles, Elvis and even Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Some categories might have 100 songs and some might have 700. Cagle said he is selective about what he picks based on several factors including how popular they were at the time.

“You can’t just pick what you like or don’t like,” he said. “I finally put ‘The Name Game’ [Shirley Ellis, 1964] on there last night. I hate that song.”

Cagle also tries not to overload it with novelty songs like “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (Camp Granada Song),” [Allan Sherman, 1963] which he admits is a fun song, “but not one you want to hear too often.”

To date, he has uploaded more than 2,000 songs into the system and is adamant that listeners will not hear the same song twice in a three or four-day period. The songs cross genres and eras, so you might hear a Dean Martin track followed by Marty Robbins or The Temptations and then a Johnny Cash hit.

“That’s where we are different than some other oldies stations,” Eagle said.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.


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