WBT (known on air as News Talk 1110) is a radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina, broadcasting on the AM dial at 1110 kHz. A 50,000-watt clear-channel station, it can be heard across most of the eastern half of North America at night. It simulcasts on WBT-FM, at 99.3 MHz in Chester, South Carolina. It is owned by Greater Media. The station's studios are located at One Julian Price Place on West Morehead Street, just west of uptown Charlotte, while its transmitter is located in the southern part of the city.
On weekdays, the station offers a four-hour morning drive-time newscast with Bo Thompson called "Charlotte's Morning News", along with local talk show hosts Keith Larson, John Hancock. Syndicated programing includes Rush Limbaugh, Dave Ramsey and Coast to Coast AM with George Noory.
From 2009 until March 31, 2011, Pete Kaliner hosted a local program in the 9-midnight slot, but was fired in a cost-cutting move by Greater Media. Neal Boortz's syndicated show was heard on tape delay from 9pm-1am; however, this was a temporary move as nationally syndicated host and former WBT personality Jason Lewis began to be heard on the station from 9-midnight (on a three-hour delay from his live broadcast) beginning in May 2011.
Nearly two months after Kaliner's departure, Tara Servatius' contract was not renewed; Doug Kellett and Wayne Powers filled the 3-6pm slot on an interim basis while the station searched for a replacement. On June 22, 2011, former WSOC-TV lead anchor Vince Coakley, who had done fill-in work at WBT before, was named Servatius' replacement in the 3-6pm timeslot. Coakley left after a little over a year and was replaced on July 2, 2012 by Brad Krantz (a former WBT host) and Britt Whitmire, formerly of WZTK. Krantz and Whitmire, in turn, were fired by the station on June 11, 2014, and were replaced by John Hancock, who moved up from evenings (6-9pm) and a 6pm local news hour hosted by Mark Garrison and a local show with former WFNZ host Brett Jensen from 7pm-10pm.
In December 2012, morning co-host Stacey Simms left Charlotte's Morning News to spend more time with her family. On January 14, 2013, Charlotte native Doc Washburn, most recently a morning host at WFLF-FM in Panama City Beach, Florida, debuted in the 9pm-1am slot, bringing local talk to the timeslot for the first time in nearly two years, replacing Lewis and the retired Boortz. The show would be replaced by the nationally syndicated America Now with Andy Dean in May 2013; Washburn remained with the station as a fill-in host.
Since 2005, WBT has been the flagship station of the Carolina Panthers. It also was the Panthers' radio flagship from the team's 1995 inception until 1999. It was the flagship of the Charlotte Hornets from the team's debut in 1988 until the team moved to New Orleans in 2002; when the North Carolina Tar Heels and the NBA Charlotte Hornets played at the same time, WBCY aired the Hornets. It was also the Charlotte home of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels from 1977 to 1991 and again from 1995 to 2006. During the Hornets' early years, whenever the Tar Heels played on the same night as the Hornets, WBT often aired the Tar Heels while bumping the Hornets to WBCY/WBT-FM/WWSN/WLNK. From 1991 to 1995, it was the Charlotte-area home of the Duke Blue Devils.
The UNC Tar Heels returned to WBT in 2012.
Don Russell is the station's longest-tenured personality, having worked at the station on six separate occasions since the 1970s. He currently hosts the weekend version of Charlotte's Morning News.
The station dates to December 1920, when Fred Laxton, Earle Gluck and Frank Bunker set up an amateur radio station in Laxton's home. Four months later, the station received an experimental license as 4XD. The trio decided to go commercial in 1922, and incorporated as the Southern Radio Corporation. On April 10, the station signed on as the first fully licensed radio station south of Washington, D.C. WSB in Atlanta was the first station in the Southeast to actually broadcast, a month before WBT. However, the Commerce Department only authorized WSB to broadcast weather reports until it received its license a few months after WBT. (Gluck was later a partner in competitor WSOC, and was the first president of WSOC-TV when it launched in 1957.)
In 1925, the original owners sold WBT to Charlotte Buick dealer C.C. Coddington, who promoted both the radio station and his auto dealership with the slogan "Watch Buicks Travel." Coddington built a transmitter at a farm property he owned on Nations Ford Road in south Charlotte, where it remains today. He sold WBT to the two-year-old CBS network in 1929; CBS wanted to make WBBM in Chicago full-time on 780 AM, which was a shared frequency with KFAB in Omaha, Nebraska and in order to do that they moved KFAB to 1110 AM. That was accomplished by directionalizing the signal of WBT. A series of power increases brought WBT to its current 50,000 watts with the 50,000 W transmitter being dedicated August 12, 1932. In July 1947, a satellite station, five miles northeast of Shelby, North Carolina, was authorized "for benefit of nighttime listeners west of Charlotte."
New Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations forced CBS to sell the station to Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company, forerunner of Jefferson-Pilot, in 1945, though it remained a CBS affiliate. Jefferson Standard signed on Charlotte's first television station, WBTV, as well as two FM stations. One operated for five years ending in the early 1950s. The other eventually became WLNK.
In 1925, Freeman Gosden and Charlie Correll started a comedy show carried by WBT that was a forerunner to Amos and Andy. Russ Hodges, later famous as the radio voice of the New York/San Francisco Giants, was sports editor of WBT for a time in the late 1930s, leaving in 1941 for Washington, D.C.
For much of its history, WBT aired a variety of programming including news, sports, soap operas, and musical programs such as "Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks." Smith, best known for writing the song that became the Deliverance theme "Dueling Banjos", went to work at WBT at age 20 at the invitation of station manager Charles Crutchfield. He played guitar and fiddle for musical programs on WBT before getting his own show. Crutchfield believed that Charlotte, not Nashville, could have ended up being the country music capital because of the station's early "Briarhoppers" and "Carolina Hayride" shows, which may have inspired The Grand Ole Opry.
Grady Cole was WBT morning host for 32 years, replaced in 1961 by Ty Boyd, who hosted the morning show until 1973, playing such artists as Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee and Petula Clark. Then he moved to WBTV. He returned to WBT in 2008 to co-host the morning show while its regular hosts took time off.
WBT was the number one station in Charlotte for many years; among its employees were Charles Kuralt and Nelson Benton. But by 1970, WBT was down to number nine, and national advertising representative Blair Radio Network wanted ratings to improve. Jefferson Standard did not like the idea of change, but Blair enlisted Mel Goldberg to research what programming Charlotte needed. Even Crutchfield gave in, and WBT let go 28 staffers and spent $200,000 on changes that included new studios. It also canceled many programs that advertisers supported but which didn't attract enough listeners.
On March 15, 1971, WBT switched to adult contemporary music during the day; Rob Hunter and H. A. Thompson were new DJs. Bob Lacey started at WBT in 1972 with a nighttime talk show "Lacey Listens". Two years later, WBT had reached number one again, reaching the highest Arbitron numbers on record to this day. Around the same time, the station dropped its longtime affiliation with CBS Radio and joined ABC. WBT won Billboard adult contemporary station of the year in 1976 and 1978. In 1979, "Hello Henry" Boggan began his nighttime talk show.
In 1978, Marty Lambert became Jeff Pilot, the traffic reporter for WBT and WBCY. Lambert became assistant program director and music director in 1982.
WBT dropped its ABC affiliation in favor of NBC Radio in 1987. Talk programming continued to increase on WBT through the 1980s, mostly at night. Larry King moved from WSOC and stayed on WBT until 1987, when WBT decided its new NBC affiliation needed to take priority over Mutual Broadcasting System requirements. Bruce Williams' NBC show, part of the Talknet block, replaced King. WBT expanded "Hello Henry" and its "Sports Huddle" program.
WBT made changes to its format on December 10, 1990, hoping to attract more women. The station dropped James K. Flynn, Thompson and Tom Desio, generating numerous protests. Don Russell had hosted "Russell & Flynn" in the morning; the show was renamed "Russell & Friends." John Hancock became midday host, and WBTV personalities Mike and Barbara McKay began an afternoon program. Boggan, whose show had run in the afternoon, returned to his evening slot, replacing Desio, but was sometimes pre-empted by sports programs. WBT also switched its network affiliation from NBC back to CBS on December 21
On September 3, 1991, WBT dropped the McKays and became the 400th station to air The Rush Limbaugh Show, which had already aired in the Charlotte area on WADA in Shelby, WSIC in Statesville and WHKY in Hickory.
In 1995, the Sigmon family sold WBZK-FM to Jefferson-Pilot.
Lincoln Financial Group bought Jefferson-Pilot in 2006. The merged company retained Jefferson-Pilot's broadcasting division, renaming it Lincoln Financial Media. In January 2008, Lincoln Financial sold WBT-AM-FM and WLNK to Greater Media of Braintree, Massachusetts. It sold its three television stations, including WBTV, to Raycom Media—thus breaking up Charlotte's last heritage radio/television cluster. Greater Media had long wanted to expand into the fast-growing Charlotte market; its owner had wanted to buy WBT after hearing its signal at night on Cape Cod.
Also in 2006, WBT lost the North Carolina Tar Heels to WFNZ. Sales director Steve Sklenar said the games pre-empted John Hancock's show and, during the ACC Tournament, Rush Limbaugh. WBT wanted the games, Sklenar said, but the pre-emptions cost the station a lot of advertising revenue. The Tar Heels had aired on WBT from 1977 to 1991, and returned to the station in 1995. According to Cullie Tarleton, who ran the station at that time, putting the Tar Heels on WBT was largely the idea of longtime coach Dean Smith, who wanted to tell recruits from New England that their parents would be able to listen to the games.
On May 5, 2012, WBT signed back on with the Tar Heel Sports Network to be Charlotte's main carrier of the Tar Heels. After WRFX carried night basketball games for several years, WNOW-FM took over up until this year. With this switch back, games can now be heard all up and down the Eastern Seaboard at night, as WBT's clear channel signal can be heard from "Maine to Miami."
On June 8, 2012, WBT announced that The Brad and Britt Show, hosted by Brad Krantz and Britt Whitmire of WPTK in Raleigh, would be taking over the afternoon slot from Vince Coakley effective July 2. Krantz and libertarian Richard Spires had a show on WBT prior to 2003. In June 2013, the show moved to 6pm-9pm; Hancock would take over the 3pm-6pm afternoon drive slot.
On November 15, 2013, both WBT and WBTV were dedicated with a North Carolina historic marker at the corner of Tryon Street and Third Street. The Wilder Building, which was demolished in 1983, hosted the WBT's studios from 1924–1955. The sign reads "WBT/WBTV – Oldest broadcast stations in North Carolina established 1922. WBT radio long hosted live country music. WBTV sign-on, July 15, 1949. Studios here until 1955."
WBT again dropped CBS and returned to ABC News Radio on March 3, 2014. In making the move, the station cited the stronger resources ABC's reporters provides to WBT's local programming compared to CBS and Fox News Radio.
WBT's diamond-shaped antennas account for three of only eight operational Blaw-Knox towers in the United States. In the morning hours of September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into Charlotte. The storm severely damaged two of WBT's towers and nearly killed a station engineer. The FCC approved WBT to operate on a full-power non-directional pattern for the next year while the two damaged towers were rebuilt.
Despite its clear-channel status, WBT's signal is spotty at best in some parts of the Charlotte metropolitan area at night (particularly the western portion) because it must adjust its coverage at sundown to protect KFAB in Omaha, Nebraska, which also operates on 1110 AM. Even though WBT must direct its signal north-south as a result, its nighttime signal still reaches parts of 22 states (including much of the country east of the Mississippi River) as well as portions of Ontario and Quebec. It can also be heard in some Caribbean islands. Its daytime coverage area is not as large as that of other 50,000-watt stations due to the area's poor ground conductivity. Even so, it provides grade B coverage as far as the fringes of the Columbia, Upstate and Piedmont Triad areas. Under the right conditions, it can be heard as far east as Fayetteville and as far north as Durham.
To improve its nighttime coverage in the Charlotte area, WBT first tried a synchronous booster signal in Shelby. Finally, in 1995, then-owner Jefferson-Pilot bought WBZK-FM (which signed on August 30, 1969 and was once called WDZK) in Chester to provide a better signal to the western part of the market at night. WBZK's calls became WBT-FM. The transmitter is located 40 miles southwest of Charlotte. WBT-FM almost always simulcasts its AM sister, although the two have occasionally carried different programming. In 2012, sister station WLNK added a simulcast of WBT on its HD subcarrier.