Media Scene

How Jack Daniel made a name for himself in Charlotte radio

Jack Daniels, who has more than 40 years in Charlotte radio, in his studio at WRFX-FM.
Jack Daniels, who has more than 40 years in Charlotte radio, in his studio at WRFX-FM. mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

Small beginnings, big career: He got hooked on radio while a kid at Concord High School and working at the school station, which broadcast through the speakers in the cafeteria.

“I immediately thought, ‘I love this,’” says Jack Daniel, midday host and program director at WEND-FM (“End” 106.5), who is now in his 40th year of Charlotte radio.

In a business where longevity is often measured in months rather than years, Daniel is one of the best-known names in Charlotte radio.

He studied computer science at East Carolina University, but spent most of his time and energy at the campus radio station. He dropped out in his junior year in 1975 before he got a degree.

“All I wanted to do was radio,” says Daniel, who started doing it at a small radio station in York, S.C., driving down every morning from his native Concord.

A year later, WPEG-FM (“Power 98” 97.9) offered him a job – the studios were in Concord then, and that meant he could skip the long drive. WPEG was a top 40 station then but in 1977 switched to a disco format to cash in on the music craze.

In just weeks, the station’s audience grew tenfold. Riding the wave of “Saturday Night Fever” and bands like the BeeGees, disco was hot.

And in just two years, disco died. WPEG-FM went to “soul music” and later to hip-hop R&B. Daniel was swept out with the format and landed at the old WROQ.

He was still going under his real name, Shane Atwell. But program director Jim Ballard thought he needed a snappier radio name. They were talking it over in a bar when someone nearby ordered a Jack Daniel’s and Coke.

That’s it, said Ballard. You’re Jack Daniel.

Daniel wasn’t too sure that was going to catch on, but at the end of his first shift, dozens of motorcyclists showed up to welcome him to the airwaves. And they brought along a fifth of his namesake whiskey. That was the end of Shane Atwell on the air, and the beginning of the Jack Daniel era.

Daniel continued his odyssey to various stations over the years and in April 1995 was hired to program alternative rock WEND-FM. He’s been at it for 22 years.

Alternative rock reached a fork in the road about four years ago, Daniel says. Active, harder rock went one way and new artists joined the genre with poppier music.

“Alternative has always been ebbing and flowing, a natural cycle,” says Daniel. WEND-FM continues to rely on the mainstays like Pearl Jam and Nirvana but more contemporary artists are getting airplay too, groups like Twenty One Pilots, Blink 182 and Cold War Kids.

Daniel turned 62 in August. “I’m constantly accused of not acting my age,” he says, “and I think that’s a good thing.”

WEND, with its strong morning team of “Woody and Wilcox,” continues to maintain popularity in the region, and Daniel hopes to keep doing radio.

“I still love going to work,” says Daniel, who also programs iHeart sister station WLKO-FM (“Lake” 102.9). “It still beats anything else I might have chosen.”

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, @WashburnChObs

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