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Gainesville radio station marks 60 years on the air
Jay Jacobs, left, and Jon Jacobs stand in one of the Jacobs Media studios. Their radio station, WDUN, signed on the air 60 years ago. - photo by Tom Reed

On April 2, 1949, John Jacobs intoned the first words ever uttered on WDUN. He then introduced Madame Marguerite Ringo, an opera singer who sang the station's first song, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Much has changed in 60 years.

Two decades ago, John Jacobs turned the reins of his radio empire over to his son, John W. "Jay" Jacobs III.

In the postwar era, the senior Jacobs had assembled a group of World War II veterans to invest in what would be Gainesville's second radio station.

The other, WGGA, was owned by Charles Smithgall, who founded The Times in 1947.

"What we did back then was try to be all things to all people," said John Jacobs. "We would play every kind of music under the sun, from classical to hillbilly to popular music. Now, there is one niche for every station, whether it's talk radio or a particular kind of music."

Today, the flagship radio station, WDUN-AM 550, is a news-talk station, airing a combination of locally produced and nationally syndicated talk shows. Its call letters come from the last name of James A. "Bubba" Dunlap, one of the founding stockholders of the station who remained a part owner for many years.

Jay Jacobs said talk radio - and talk show host Rush Limbaugh in particular - kept AM radio stations like his alive at a time when FM radio became a dominant force.

But it wasn't always that way. When it signed on, what was then WDUN-FM was only the second FM station to begin operation in Georgia. The first was WSB-FM in Atlanta.

"When we would sell an advertiser a spot on the FM, we would have to take him an FM radio so he could hear his commercial," said the senior Jacobs.

In the 1980s, Jacobs sold his regional FM station to a company who later moved it into the Atlanta market. The station, first known as Y-106 FM, is now an oldies station broadcasting at 106.7 FM.

Jay Jacobs brought the company back into the FM business in 1989 when he and Clara Martin built WMJE-FM, which is known as Majic 102.9.

John Jacobs is writing a book about his media and business career that has included his pioneering cable system and a travel agency in addition to broadcasting.

"It will be somewhat of a history of the community, as well as those things that have happened in my lifetime," he said.
While his stations have enjoyed success, Jacobs admits the early days were tough.

"I went into competition against WGGA, owned by Smithgall," Jacobs said. "Here you had a true professional. I started out big. A year later, I reduced my staff in half and hung in there until I could get on my feet."

Both father and son say that one of the highlights of the company's 60 years was in 1993 when FCC regulations changed and they were able to purchase WGGA, their longtime competitor. The station now broadcasts a sports talk format.

The senior Jacobs admits that the station is much different from the one that went on the air in 1949. Audio tape, once the lifeblood of the station, has been replaced by digital recorders and computers. The same is true for vinyl records, which once took up multiple rooms of the radio complex on Thompson Bridge Road. Songs are now played directly from the hard drive of a computer.

The family owned enterprise is a rarity in today's broadcasting business. The company is now held by Jay Jacobs and his sister, Elizabeth Carswell.

The younger Jacobs joined the family business after college in 1983. He is a believer in the strength of local radio, despite competition from satellite and other sources of entertainment.

"I think as a 60-year-old company it is unique in some ways," said Jay Jacobs. "I hope one day someone in my family will be able to take over the family radio operation."

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