By the end of the month, the Mobile airwaves will be minus perhaps their most recognizable baritone voice as FMTALK106.5’s Wayne Gardner retires.
With 44 years in this market alone, calling Gardner a Mobile radio legend is hardly hyperbole. He was one of the forces behind making WKSJ-FM into a national powerhouse station in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and has also been part of the team that has helped turn FMTALK106.5 into must-hear radio.
Gardner got his start behind the mic right out of college at a station in Spartanburg, South Carolina, followed by a stint in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was that first job that sowed the seeds for him landing in Mobile.
“Ken Johnson’s dad owned that station in Spartanburg,” Gardner explained. He said that relationship led to him being offered a job with Ken Johnson, who at that time owned WKSJ in Mobile. He arrived in the Azalea City in 1973.
“I actually started out at WKSJ-AM, 1270. The FM was an automated station at the time. I did that for about a year and a half or two,” he said.
It was at that time Johnson asked Gardner to help him move WKSJ-FM from an automated “adult station” playing easy listening classics to a country music station with live on-air talent.
“We turned it country and I engineered that. He also said ‘I want you to do a morning show.’ I did that for 20 years. Eventually I moved to program director then to general manager,” Gardner said. “It just took off. For a long, long time, WKSJ was one of the top five stations in the country. Not just country stations, but all stations nationally.”
When he left WKSJ, Gardner worked across the bay at a station in Daphne for a while, then Johnson brought him back to work in Mobile. By that time Johnson had sold WKSJ and purchased WZEW-FM and WNSP-FM. Gardner began working a morning sports show with co-host Lee Shirvanian.
But Gardner’s radio résumé took one final twist in 2008 when Sean Sullivan, who had worked for Gardner at WKSJ and also worked in the same building at WZEW, approached about starting a talk-format station. Gardner came on board and has been doing the morning talk show with Sullivan since 2009.
“It’s been a terrific ride,” Gardner said of FMTALK, noting that the station routinely performs very strongly in the local talk segment.
Sullivan called Gardner a local radio legend and said it’s going to be tough to fill his spot behind the mic.
“Wayne is going to be missed by so many radio listeners and I count myself among them. On a more personal level, I will miss working with my on-air partner, mentor and friend,” he said.
As for why he’s decided to hang it up, Gardner said simply, “It’s time.”
“It’s been 44 years in this market. It’s time to find something else,” he said.
He says he’ll probably spend time in the wilds of Perry County where his girlfriend, Rebecca, owns property.
“I’ll just be hanging out in the country with the turkeys,” he joked.