By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
BENSON — Russ McLamb Jr. spent the better part of his career working in radio.
He traversed the state for nearly 40 years, taking his talents from Fayetteville to the mountains as he learned all the ins and outs of the business.
The one area that eluded McLamb over the decades was the next step he wanted to take: ownership.
McLamb returned to the area where he grew up last September to work at WPYB and ended up finding just what he was looking for. The country station’s owner, Leon Tart, expressed interest in selling the business and McLamb took it from there.
“I’m from here. I grew up here,” McLamb said. “For family reasons I decided to move back and when I moved back Leon said the station was for sale. With almost 40 years in the business I felt it was time to take that next step.”
Tart owned WPYB for 25 years, but due to health concerns decided the time had come to step aside. A handful of potential buyers inquired about the station, but Tart was looking for someone who could come in and do something special.
“[McLamb] is a guy with experience and him and his dad were able to come together with a deal,” said Tart. “I think he’s a guy who can take the station and move forward with it. He’s local and I wanted to sell to someone locally. We had a few other options but some of them I knew were not a fit for the station.”
McLamb’s return took his career nearly full circle. George Beasley founded WPYB in 1961 and McLamb worked at one of his stations in Fayetteville. Being able to come back and assume the reigns of one of his former employer’s stations wasn’t lost on McLamb.
“It’s a pretty awesome thing that I’m able to purchase his very first radio station after having worked for his company,” McLamb said. “George Beasley put WPYB on the air the very first time. It’s great because I appreciate the heritage of WPYB.”
The transition completed on May 1 and McLamb hit the ground running, installing a new computer system for the on-air talent as part of his plan to usher in a new era at the station. Morning personality Randy Holmes started at WPYB in 2000 and while he’s still getting used to the new software, he is excited for the future under McLamb’s watch.
“It’s doing great,” said Holmes. “The buttons are pretty much the same, I’ve just got to reprogram my brain. It’s a whole different system that is a whole lot more seamless than the old one. I have more control over it and it really does the job. I’m getting used to it. We’re getting there.
“Russ knows what he’s doing. He’s worked at a lot of stations and he knows everybody in the business. When he says something, I don’t doubt it.”
New software accounted for just one facet of McLamb’s vision. WPYB returned to its classic country playlist and the mission going forward is to enhance the community engagement experience.
“Serving the community is what local radio is all about and that’s what we’re looking forward to continue doing and possibly doing it even more,” McLamb said. “The business has changed so much over the past 40 years for me. What keeps me around is being able to be here to serve the public. We do a lot of public service stuff, anything to serve the community we do and we’re a part of. Our goal is to take it to the next level as far as radio goes. We have a lot of things in the work to bring us to the next level as far as being a hometown radio station.”
Radio personality and sales rep Sylvia Jackson welcomed the challenge and is excited to see what heights the station might reach.
“We are rocking it,” said Jackson. “I like it. I’ve been here 26 years and its been a good ride, but I want to do more. I want to keep going up, up, up.”
As important as finding the right person proved to be to Tart, McLamb felt too often radio stations end up in the hands of people who aren’t out for its best interests.
“[The sale] was actually [Tart’s] idea,” McLamb said. “Some of these stations get sold to somebody who doesn’t know the business and it fails. Having been in the business and with radio in my blood, he knew we could come in and take it to the next level.”
McLamb leaned heavily on his in-house talent since assuming the reigns at WPYB last month. He referred to Jackson, Holmes, Johnny Norris and Scott Barton as the station’s “backbone” who are committed to providing a professional sound for their listeners.
“This station would not be able to function without them,” said McLamb. “We’ve got a great group. It’s been going fantastic. The response has been great and it’s been going real well.”
McLamb finally took the next step in his radio career. Now he’s ready to help WPYB take the next step.