AM Memories fly as the disc jockeys who made WWWS — W3 Soul — a voice of Saginaw’s black community reminisce about the radio station’s 40 years on the air. “We were like movie stars,” says Dante Toussaint, 63, who still spins jazz from 7 p.m. to midnight on the station, now WTLZ-FM, 107.1. “We brought something that was catchy and different,” remembers Kermit Crockett, 59, of Saginaw, who now monitors airplay on stations around the country.
Former W3-Soul disc jockeys, from left, Howard W. Sharper, 59, Herb Charles Williams, 54, Dante Toussaint, 63, and Kermit Crockett, 59, will reunite at the W3-Soul reunion party. “I find myself teaching my students the same things you taught me back then, like, ‘If you don’t know what you’re going to say, don’t open the mike,’ ” adds Howard Sharper, 59, of Saginaw, now program and production manager of Delta College’s radio station, WUCX-FM, 90.1. “What I do today is a direct result of the training I received from Kermit and Dante.”
A lot has changed since W3 Soul first hit the airwaves in 1969, coming from a studio across from the Bancroft Hotel at South Washington and East Genesee in Saginaw. Before then, people who wanted to hear music by black artists had to park their cars in a certain direction on a clear night to catch signals from stations in the southern states. Suddenly, disc jockeys with names such as Don Juan, Sweet Meat and Lolita quickly became celebrities in Saginaw’s black community, and it was a responsibility the broadcasters took seriously. When listeners weren’t bringing food and gifts to the studio — “It was quite pleasant,” remembers Herb Charles Williams, 54, of Saginaw — disc jockeys were out and about, championing causes from health issues to job training and encouraging local talent. “We did a lot of community service,” Williams says, listing work with the Opportunities Industrialization Center and the annual Family Fair at Ojibway Island . “We drew 30,000 people, by word of mouth,” Toussaint says. And 40 years later, “people still stop me at the grocery store. They don’t forget.” The station will celebrate its anniversary with a pair of events, a dinner and award ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, at Horizons Conference Center, 6200 State in Saginaw Township, and a party at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, at the CAC Hall, 2824 Perkins in Saginaw. Tickets to Friday’s dinner cost $20; tickets to the party cost $10, both available at Creative Computers, 817 E. Genesee in Saginaw, and at Leroy and Tonya’s Ballroom Dance Class at the Buena Vista Community Center, 1940 S. Outer Drive. Toussaint remembers his rather unorthodox entry; he lived near the station, and Don Wiggins said he had a job for him and put him on the air. “It was the Fourth of the July, and I remember playing the Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back.’ Don said he’d be right back, and he was gone. I think I played that record four times, and when he didn’t come back, I just started playing everything.” He was on the air for eight hours and met the station’s owner, Earl Clark, who greeted him with a ‘Who the heck are you?” “Then he said I had some potential, and he left,” Toussaint remembers. Crockett got the job in the conventional way, and then crossed paths with the man who hired him on his way out. “When I got here, Don Juan and Sweet Meat were like gods. They walked on water,” he says. “We did this show at Vet’s Park, and they were like movie stars, everybody cheering when they came out. Then I was introduced, and you could have heard a pin drop. The station reinvented itself a few times through the years, moving into disco, embracing rap and then moving back to R&B and jazz. The studios literally moved, too, to 2721 S. Washington and then to Dixie in Bridgeport before settling in the upper reaches of Saginaw’s Bearinger Building on Federal near Johnson for years. As WTLZ, it’s now part of the NextMedia complex at Tittabawassee and Interstate-675 in Saginaw Township. Technology changed as well; few disc jockeys have to splice tapes anymore, as Crockett did so well. “When we were Power 107, playing disco, it was fun,” Crockett remembers. “We were like family.” “I was just going to say that,” Toussaint says. “It’s not like radio is now. When one of us was cut, all of us were bleeding.” Could a station like W3 Soul exist today? “It would work,” Toussaint says. “Music wouldn’t be the problem. It’s just that most stations today are owned by corporations, playing the same songs. We had bosses to answer to, but we really did our own thing.” “You don’t really have the personalities anymore,” Crockett adds, remembering veteran broadcasters Petey Green, Alice D, Leroy McMath, Dave Rosas, Dr. Boogie and Tish O’Rae. “We were diverse,” Williams says. “And when we changed shifts, people knew it. I replaced Claude Bell when he left, and people would call, asking me ‘Who are you?'” Crockett laughs. “I remember sitting in for him, and people would call, asking, ‘Hey man, when is Claude coming back?'” “Dante had that distinctive voice, too,” Williams says, “and the men didn’t have a problem when I filled in, but the women!” “They’d call up and say, ‘You’re not Dante,'” Sharper says. “I’d try to talk real deep, real slow, and they’d tell me, ‘You’re no Dante.’ ” With these three — Toussaint, Crockett and Sharper — “it would work,” Williams says. “It could happen again.” [source]