When Sam Phillips sold Elvis’ contract in 1955 he used the money to start an all-girl radio station in Memphis, TN. Set in a pink, plush studio in the nation’s third Holiday Inn, it was a novelty—but not for long. He hired models, beauty queens, actresses, telephone operators. Some were young mothers who just needed a job. WHER was the first radio station to feature women as more than novelties and sidekicks. The WHER girls were broadcasting pioneers. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, Vietnam, and the death of Martin Luther King—the story of WHER follows the women who pioneered in broadcasting as they head into one of the most dramatic and volatile times in the nation’s history. “WHER was the embryo of the egg,” said Sam Phillips. “We broke a barrier. There was nothing like it in the world.”
This encore broadcast of one of the stories closest to our radio hearts is in honor of the women of WHER who have passed on since we interviewed them twenty years ago—Becky Phillips, Marge Thrasher, Janie Joplin, and Bettye Berger who passed on to that big radio station in the sky just last week.
Bettye was a pistol. A beautiful, blonde, smart, savvy business woman, she was one of the first WHER disc jockettes—hired by Sam Phillips in 1955. Later in her career she became an artist manager and booking agent—one of the few women in the field in the 1950s and 60s. She formed her own company—Continental Talent Agency representing stars like Charlie Rich, William Bell, Ivory Joe Hunter. She launched her own record label, Bet T. Records, in 1959. And she was a songwriter—writing songs for Ivory Joe Hunter and Rufus Thomas. Bettye was a pioneer in broadcasting and in the history of Memphis rock and roll and soul. She will be missed.