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Johnny Shaw

Radio station owner and state representative Johnny W. Shaw was born on January 5, 1942 in Laconia, Tennessee. He attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, where he received a degree in theology.

In the 1960s, Shaw was the spokesman of a local gospel group’s Sunday morning radio program on WBOL-AM in Bolivar, Tennessee, where he was also the first African American staff announcer. He was later promoted to program director and assistant manager, and then as general manager of WBOL. In addition to his work at WBOL, Shaw served as a minister at Saint John Missionary Baptist Church in Stanton, Tennessee. He also sang with the musical group, the Shaw Singers, and worked as a psychologist.

In 1987, Shaw and his wife, Opal, founded the Shaw Broadcasting Company, LLC, where he served as chief executive officer. That same year, Shaw Broadcasting Company purchased WBOL. In the early 1990’s, Shaw acquired the license permit to construct a 6000 watt FM station in Bolivar, which was then built and began broadcasting in 1992 as WOJG-FM.

In 1997, Shaw was appointed as a co-commissioner of Hardeman County in Tennessee, where he served for one-and-a-half terms. In 2000, he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, representing District 80, where he became the first African American to serve in the state legislature in rural west Tennessee since reconstruction. Shaw won re-election in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. While in public office, he served as house member of the 102nd through 108th General Assemblies; member of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee; member of the House State Government Committee and Subcommittee; member of the Joint Pensions and Insurance Committee; and chair of the Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus.

Shaw is a lifetime member of the NAACP, and has served as a board member of the National Civil Rights Museum. He also served as board chair of the Western Mental Health Institute, and was a member of the West Tennessee River Basin Authority Board. In 2012, Shaw received the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters (TAB) Distinguished Service Award.

Shaw and his wife have six children. They reside in Bolivar, Tennessee.

Johnny Shaw was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 23, 2014.

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Love Elementary

Fayette Ware Comprehensive High School

Allen White High School

American Baptist Theological Seminary

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State of Tennessee

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God Cannot Get You Through It 'Til He Gets You To It.

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Short Description

Radio station owner and state representative Johnny Shaw (1942 - ) was the cofounder and CEO of Shaw Broadcasting Company, LLC, and owner of the WBOL and WOJG radio stations in Bolivar, Tennessee. He was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2000.



Saint John Missionary Baptist Church

Shaw Broadcasting Company, LLC

Hardeman County, Tennessee

Tennessee House of Representatives

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Johnny Shaw's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Johnny Shaw lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Johnny Shaw describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Johnny Shaw talks about his mother's education and aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Johnny Shaw describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Johnny Shaw talks about his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Johnny Shaw describes how his parents met and married

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Johnny Shaw describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Johnny Shaw talks about the sharecropper system

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Johnny Shaw talks about Tent City in Fayette County, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Johnny Shaw talks lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Johnny Shaw describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Johnny Shaw describes his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Johnny Shaw recalls the entertainment of his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Johnny Shaw remembers the influence of WLAC Radio

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Johnny Shaw recalls his early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Johnny Shaw talks about his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Johnny Shaw describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Johnny Shaw recalls his high school education

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Johnny Shaw remembers his father's voting rights activism

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Johnny Shaw describes his senior year at the Allen-White School in Whiteville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Johnny Shaw recalls his aspirations after high school

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Johnny Shaw describes his position at Whiteville Auto Parts and Hardware in Whiteville, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Johnny Shaw remembers Memphis State University in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Johnny Shaw talks about his employment during the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Johnny Shaw recalls being hired as a deejay at WBOL Radio in Bolivar, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Johnny Shaw describes the format of his radio show

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Johnny Shaw talks about The Shaw Singers

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Johnny Shaw remembers The Shaw Singers' hit singles

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Johnny Shaw describes his call to the ministry

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Johnny Shaw remembers founding Shaw's Broadcasting, LCC

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Johnny Shaw describes the gospel format of WBOL Radio in Bolivar, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Johnny Shaw talks about the challenges of radio station ownership

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Johnny Shaw talks about radio station ratings and wattages

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Johnny Shaw recalls the programming at WBOL Radio in Bolivar, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Johnny Shaw remembers purchasing WOJG Radio in Bolivar, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Johnny Shaw talks about WOJG Radio

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Johnny Shaw talks about the gospel programming on WOJG Radio

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Johnny Shaw talks about his competitor, Clear Channel Communications, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Johnny Shaw recalls his appointment as commissioner of Hardeman County, Tennessee

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Johnny Shaw recalls his election to the Tennessee House of Representatives

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Johnny Shaw recalls the opposition to his campaign for the Tennessee House of Representatives

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Johnny Shaw describes his challenges as a state representative

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Johnny Shaw recalls renovating the Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Johnny Shaw recalls Stacey Campfield's campaign to join the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Johnny Shaw remembers Barack Obama's presidential campaign announcement

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Johnny Shaw remembers Opal's Family Restaurant in Bolivar, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Johnny Shaw recalls his retirement from Shaw's Broadcasting, LLC

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Johnny Shaw talks about his role in the Tennessee House of Representatives

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Johnny Shaw talks about per diem limits for legislators

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Johnny Shaw talks about partisanship in the Tennessee House of Representatives

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Johnny Shaw talks about the future of the Tennessee House of Representatives

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Johnny Shaw shares his plans for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Johnny Shaw reflects upon his career

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Johnny Shaw describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Johnny Shaw describes his political advice to his congregation

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Johnny Shaw talks about reconciling his religious and political beliefs

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Johnny Shaw talks about the separation of church and state

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Johnny Shaw talks about the role of religion in government

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Johnny Shaw reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Johnny Shaw talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Johnny Shaw describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Johnny Shaw narrates his photographs







Johnny Shaw recalls being hired as a deejay at WBOL Radio in Bolivar, Tennessee
Johnny Shaw recalls his election to the Tennessee House of Representatives
But in the meantime, I had gotten a part time job working at the radio station, only on weekends.$$Now, now tell us how this, this job came about.$$The radio?$$And this is W- is this WBOL [WBOL Radio]?$$WBOL. Well, actually (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) In Bolivar [Tennessee], right?$$That's WBOL in Bolivar. I got hired when I first started--I didn't know this until later. I was hired because I was an African American, and FCC [Federal Communications Commission] had put pressure on southern radio stations and say that, "You got to have at least one black on your staff." So I got hired part time, became the local deejay; actually became, I guess, very popular in the community because I mean at that point in time, if you worked in radio, it was big thing; I mean people actually waited outside to get your autograph and, and whatever else. I mean (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So this is 19--what?$$This--we are now in the upper '60s [1960s]; we somewhere about '68 [1968], '69 [1969], somewhere about. And so I'm working on there weekends but because it became such--the show became so popular they said, "We got to put you on every day."$$Now this a trajectory of--you were telling me before we got started, you said that your gospel group [The Shaw Singers] was on the radio, right? (Simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, this was--$$--and the station manager heard you?$$No, this--right, we--what we were doing were, we would--I had this group--we're the little community group, we were singing, so station manager hears our group; I'm doing the announcing for the group, "We're gonna be at Brown's Chapel [Brown's Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Jackson, Tennessee] this Sunday evening at two o'clock, come and hear us sing." We had a couple of sponsors and do the sponsorship and that type thing. "Johnson Mays Appliance Company [ph.], you need your appliances fixed, go by Johnson Mays," you know. "Washing machine, dryers, et cetera," so forth; that type thing; Modeling Rivers Funeral Home [ph.] burial policies, all of that. So the station manager hear me making these announcements and decide that I'll make a deejay so he calls me and he hires me and I get ten minutes of training.$$So now what was his name?$$Ralph Clenney.$$Okay.$$Ralph Clenney in Parsons, Tennessee--lives there now; owns a radio station [WKJQ Radio] in Parsons now.$$How do you spell his last name?$$Ralph Clenney. You know I--I think he spells it with a K; he does. K-L-I-N-N-I-N-G [sic.], something like that, Ralph Clenney. But anyway, I got hired, so now I'm working on a radio station and I'm a local deejay every evening from three [o'clock] until whatever time the sun go down because this is a daytime station. I didn't get a chance to play the recorded commercials; everybody wanted me to adlib their commercials because I was ringing the cash registers. "If Johnny said it--," and I mean--and, and, and people in the community was going in saying, "I heard Johnny say, come by and get this and get that." And people were loving that, so I was doing all of my commercials live. Everybody else had recorded commercials but me.$$Can you do one for us the way you do one in those days?$$(Laughter) Gosh, I don't know. I'm trying to think what--you know, something like, "The Shirt Shack [ph.] at downtown Bolivar; get 10 percent off this afternoon. Go by and tell Vance [ph.], [HistoryMaker] Johnny Shaw sent you; they've got hot styles," or blah, blah, blah, you know--I don't know, I can't do that anymore, but (laughter) that kind of stuff (laughter). And that's how I started in radio, and that's when I was gonna share with you--I decided that I wanted to do production and I knew I had to be good; I knew I had to be real good with it, so I grabbed this Maxwell's Big Star [Bolivar, Tennessee] commercial and I go in the production room and I record it. I never heard it on the air; never heard it, so I asked the station manager. By now, my station manager is a different guy; it's not Ralph Clenney, it's a different guy. And I said, "I did the Maxwell's Big Star commercial and I never heard it; what happened to it?" He said, "Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you they don't want blacks' voice on their commercial." And I said to him, I said, "Well in that case, someday I'll just own their radio station." Kind of just said it as a response, went on, and it was years later that he walked in and said to me, "You said you wanted to own a radio station; we got one for sale, you wanna buy it?" And I said, "Sure."$$Now let's--I'm gonna breeze past all this time, but you were on the air for how many years?$$I was on the air, gosh, for twenty something years there, before I bought.$$Okay, this is 19--$$Yeah.$$--so this would be 1968 until--$$All the way up until--$$--eighty-eight [1988] or so?$$Yeah, somewhere about '88 [1988].$$Okay.$$Yeah, um-hm, you, you, you're right; you're exactly right.$Election to, to the House--now you, this is a campaign. Now you, you have to run, actually, for--$$For the House of Representatives [Tennessee House of Representatives]?$$Yeah, yeah (unclear).$$Well, that came about by a lawsuit that was filed by some concerned citizens, and I don't wanna get into name calling 'cause I'd leave somebody out and they'd be mad at me. But there was a lawsuit filed that there was not enough representation for the rural, especially African American, community in West Tennessee. They won the lawsuit; I'm sitting at my radio station one day, I get a call, and this lady says to me, "Whoopee, we won the lawsuit." And I said, "What lawsuit?" She told me, she said, "And by the way, we know we don't have to, but we would really like to name our candidate to run for that seat, and we think you would be the perfect person." And her name was Mrs. Minnie Bowmer [ph.], and I say, "Miss Minnie, I don't have no idea what a state representative does; I have no money to run for state representative, et cetera, et cetera." She said, "It's nothing to it, it's part time; you can do it." Said, "Besides, we got your back far as funding--financing you; we got your back." Said, "Just tell us you'll run." I said, "I need to do three things; I need to get permission from God, from my family, and from my church [St. John Missionary Baptist Church, Stanton, Tennessee]." I told my family about it, they were so excited they wanted to throw a party. I knew when I got to church and told my church about it they were gonna say, "Whoa, no," 'cause I presented it this way; I say, "Now look, I'm gonna be gone a lot, okay? And there'll be times when you'll need me, I'll be in Nashville [Tennessee], and I just want to be honest with you. I'd love to do this, but if you don't want me to do it, I won't." And the very person that I thought would be against it stood up and say, "Pastor, if you go and represent us and do this, we will make sure that the church ministry is carried on." Well, that was my answer from God, from my family, and from them. So that's where it all started. And I ran in 2000--1999, actually, was when I ran and won that November, and January--well actually, in November of 1999 I was officially elected as state representative for the eightieth district [Tennessee House of Representatives District 80]; and that's been fourteen years ago and, and here I am.