Carolina Conversations with WKML 95.7’s Don Chase

by Thad Mumau | Photography by Diana Matthews

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People have been waking up with Don Chase for a long time. He has been the WKML 95.7 morning man almost all of his 26 years with the country radio station, broadcasting out of Fayetteville.

The Lumberton native has been in radio 31 of his 54 years. Like WKML, he has become synonymous with country music, having been called on many times to serve as master of ceremonies for concerts and events.

Chase has been and continues to be very popular with listeners. They love him for his upbeat personality, knowledge of the music and its performers, and for his strong Christian faith, which he is happy to share on the air.

ONC: When did you first think you would like to be a radio broadcaster?
DC: At an early age. My late mother said I learned to operate a small transistor radio rather quickly. In my early teens, I knew that someday I would work at a radio station.

Why did you want to do that?
Like most everyone, music was the magnet and the way to get it was via radio. Early on, I knew I was different. For me, what made the difference was what the announcer said and did between the songs.

Was there another profession you considered?
Yes, electrical engineering. I earned my associate degree with a goal to transfer to N.C. State in order to get my four-year degree. Shortly before graduation, I was offered a job with Duke Energy in Charlotte. Later, I accepted a position with Progress Energy in Lumberton. After two years, I decided to pursue my dream of radio broadcasting. I knew I could always go back into engineering. It was a fantastic career decision.

Can you name some of the broadcasters who had an influence on you?
I could name many. I thought Robert Hester of AM 1440 WBLA Elizabethtown had the most beautiful voice. Buddy Edwards at AM 1220 WENC Whiteville played Carolina beach music, my favorite. I also have to include Alan Hoover, Chuck Kinlaw, Country Dan Hester, Bob Krokel, Robin Tyree, Bill Sellers, John Pittman … let me stop. I could go on and on.
Was country always your preferred genre?
No. Gospel was the first and still is. Many will be surprised that I am a huge Carolina beach music fan. Growing up in the 1970s, many radio stations aired “block” programming. With that method, I was introduced to many musical formats.

It would seem a good DJ should talk enough to inject some personality, but not too much. How do you balance that?
Yes. It takes planning. People allow me a few minutes of their time, and my goal is to make the most of it.
Do you continually critique yourself?
Yes, there is always room for improvement.

What makes a good DJ to you?
You must enjoy what you do. If not, people will know. People also want to know you care. I had a tremendous compliment a few months ago when a lady called and told me how much she appreciated me sharing my faith and asking for prayers on the air. That really meant a lot. Another tip is to always keep your ego in control. Never never let it go to your head.
In your tenure at WKML, you have come to be recognized as the voice of country in this area. Does that give you any special feeling?
Yes, I am very humbled by the things people say and write. God gets the glory for placing me in a career that I truly love.

Country music has really changed. It seems there is very little music similar to what was country when you first began your career. Can you talk a little about that?
Not only has country music changed, all music has. Look at pop music. Go back to the innocence of the 1950s followed by the Beatles, the Woodstock generation, the disco era, the one-hit wonders of the 1980s, etc. In country, Bob Wills added a fiddle to big band and called it country and western. People forgot about Western when Web Pierce, Eddy Arnold and Johnny Cash sang. In the ’60s, George Jones. In the ’70s, Conway Twitty; ’80s,Willie Nelson and ’90s, Garth Brooks. Today’s younger generation drives listener habits. In fact, the younger demographics always have. Our favorite artists had their time. Today’s artists better make the most of it. There’s someone that will take their place one day soon.

Who are some of the most likeable artists who you have met?
Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Scotty McCreery, Blake Shelton, George Strait, Miranda Lambert, Lauren Alaina . . . too many to name. I have only met a few “human hemorrhoids” as I will call them.

Can you share a few of your all-time favorite country songs?
“The Dance” by Garth Brooks; “The Rest Of Mine” by Trace Adkins; “Feels So Right” by Alabama-best slow song ever; “All Roads Lead To You” by Steve Wariner; “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell.

Do you editorialize much about artists and songs on your program?
Occasionally. If I share my opinion, I keep it brief and keep the show moving. For more in-depth coverage, I would take advantage of social media. If you ask, people will let you know what they think.

Doing anything day after day can become grueling. How do you leep the show fresh and entertaining after all of these years?
Each day is a gift. We all have the same amount of time. What makes the difference is how you think and what you do with that time. Life is very short. I am thankful for every moment. No two days are the same. Now, in addition to everything going on locally, I am inundated with topics and information on social media with Facebook and Twitter.
What is the most gratifying thing about your career?
I am uncomfortable admitting this, but every day someone will call about something I said and how it positively impacted their day. To know that I made a difference in someone’s life is the biggest blessing I could receive.

What will you do when you don’t do this any more?
I hope I am taken out of the studio in a body bag. I truly enjoy what I do and could not imagine doing anything else. If I had to leave radio, I would probably beg St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a job. I could also see myself working with a nonprofit such as Special Olympics. I am so blessed with a big soft spot for the less fortunate. Wherever God leads, I will go.