WLIL Radio Station History


WLIL-AM 730 was founded by Lenoir City businessman Arthur Wilkerson. In his early days, Arthur Wilkerson did construction work in various parts of the country. On one such trip he was working a construction site in Louisville, Kentucky.

From his job site, he could look across the street into the windows of a radio station. In the evening after work, he would go to the station and sit in the audience, and watch the various live shows that were going out over the airwaves.

He wondered if a radio station might work in his hometown of Lenoir City. When he got home, he immediately applied to the FCC for a station license. In 1949, he was granted a license to operate WLIL on the clear channel frequency of 730 kHz. WLIL Radio went on the air on May 27, 1950, with daytime power of 1000 watts (1kW).

FM radio was virtually unknown at the time, but on a lark, he also applied for an FM frequency on 100.3 MHz. The FCC granted the request, and WLIL-FM was born. Unfortunately, no one had an FM radio receiver in those days, and FM’s future overall appeared dim.

In 1956, WSM, the “Grand Ole Opry” station in Nashville requested permission to shut down their FM station. The reason? - FM was never going to catch on. Arthur figured that if WSM couldn’t make FM a success in Nashville, he sure didn’t have a chance in Lenoir City. So he too requested to go silent on his 100.3 FM in Lenoir City.

As fate would have it, a decade later, in 1966, the first big FM station came to Knoxville. FM became all the rage. And Arthur knew he had given up too soon. In 1967, he applied for a new FM frequency at 93.5 MHz. He was granted a license, and it was the second time there was a WLIL-FM.

Mr. Wilkerson, in his prime, also was involved in local and state politics, and is a past-President of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters. But he was best known locally for his lumber mill, Wilkerson Lumber Company, in Loudon County, Tennessee.  His company also built custom homes.

In past years Arthur also owned and managed other businesses, including a restaurant in Lenoir City, and was an experienced private airplane pilot. He maintained a single-engine Cessna that he flew regularly. His airplane was based at his private airstrip, located on the Wilkerson Ranch, on the banks of the Tennessee River, just below where the original 286 foot WLIL transmitting tower still stands today. Arthur was always found in the WLIL office most every business day up until near the time of his death in 1998.

WLIL-AM Radio has only had the three different owners in its’ entire history. Arthur Wilkerson, BP Broadcasters, who purchased the AM and the FM from Dwight Wilkerson after Arthur’s passing, and the current owner, Fowlers Holdings L.L.L.P. Mr. Don Fowler is the Chief Officer of Fowlers, and also owns furniture stores in Georgia and Tennessee.

WLIL was one of three other radio stations that were owned by ‘WLIL Incorporated.’ The other two were WLIJ-AM in Shelbyville, TN, and WLIK-AM in Newport, TN. All of which were founded by Arthur. Dwight Wilkerson, Arthur’s son, still owns the radio station in Newport and keeps the WLIK call letters. The Wilkersons sold the Shelbyville station some years earlier.

WLIJ was among the AM radio stations in the nation to try electronics giant Motorola’s “C-QUAM” AM Stereo transmission system. AM Stereo was another wonderful idea that never really got far off the ground in the US, as AM radio strived then to become FM’s equal.

WLIL-FM’s antenna and transmitter was originally co-located on the WLIL-AM tower. A new FM tower was FCC approved and constructed by BP Broadcasters in the late 90’s, in the Glendale community of Loudon County, less than a mile off Highway 321, near the Loudon-Blount County line. WLIL-FM (now Regional Mexican format - WKZX-FM) spent most of its’ Wilkerson-owned years as a simulcast sister station of WLIL-AM. The FM station was kept by BP Broadcasters, and WLIL-AM was sold to Fowlers Holdings in January 2007. WLIL plays Classic Country music, and has not drastically changed formats every few years, as other stations have, remaining a familiar voice in the community.



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