KWEM Radio, an historic West Memphis radio station that influenced the course of modern music, has returned to the airwaves as a streaming Internet station. Listen Live!
KWEM, which gave unknown or little-known Memphis-area artists the opportunity to perform live, aired its first broadcast on February 23, 1947. In 1954, the station added a second studio at 64 Flicker Street in Memphis.
Originally broadcasting on 990 kilocycles, the station offered an enticing concept to musicians. Anyone who could pay the $15 to $20 fee (or find a sponsor), could play their music live. Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Albert King, Scotty Moore, and others stepped up, paid up, and performed their magic on KWEM. People listened and loved what they heard.
In the 1940s, the legendary musicians who shaped the blues and created many of the first rock and roll records followed the winds of change and lust for fame to the back alleys of West Memphis. They found something not available to them on Beale Street – a wide-open, raucous town ready for entertainment – “the Las Vegas of the South,” as Memphis musician Rufus Thomas described it.
From the late 1940s until the early 1960s, West Memphis featured more than 30 all-night clubs with dancing and blues. On weekends, hundreds of people flocked from the surrounding countryside and from Memphis. During those years, West Memphis played host to Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Ike Turner, Little Junior Parker, James Cotton, Phineas and Calvin Newborn, Willie Mitchell, Hubert Sumlin, Albert King, Elmore James, Houston Stackhouse, Bobby Blue Bland, Willie Love, Roscoe Gordon, Willie Nix, Tuff Green, and others. By night, they honed their craft in the honky-tonks and juke joints that dotted Broadway. By day, they appeared on KWEM to promote themselves to a much larger audience in hopes of being discovered.
Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy became regulars with their expanded radio shows that included almost all of the blues greats as performing guests. Whether in studio or at KWEM’s Saturday Night Jamboree, black blues artists performed side by side with white country artists including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Johnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio, Reggie Young, Eddie Bond, John Hughey, Barbara Pittman, Warren Smith, Tommy Smith, Jim Stewart, Texas Bill Strength, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Larry Manuel, Bud Deckleman, Stan Kessler, Smokey Joe Baugh, Bill Black, Scotty Moore, and many others.