Ole Red McLaughlin of WOWL Broadcasting Fame

The man known as “Ole Red” to thousands of mid-20th Century Shoals radio listeners was born Nelve Pancie McLaughlin on August 26, 1910, in Lauderdale County. His home was near Green Hill in a community called Cow Pen, a fact he often made mention of in his radio broadcasts.

As a young man, Red married Helen Redding, and they were parents to one child, Gene Howell McLaughlin who died a short time after his birth in 1931. Helen died in 1981, eleven years before her husband. 

While Red’s primary occupation was that of an ironworker at Reynold’s Metals Company outside Muscle Shoals, he also toiled as a disc jockey at WOWL Radio in Florence, raised horses, and even ran for sheriff in 1960, but it was his second calling as a Country & Western entertainer which brought him regional fame. For a short while, his radio show also branched out into weekend programming at WOWL Television each Saturday. 

Red’s favorite song was North to Alaska, and few shows went by that he didn’t perform the Johnny Horton classic accompanied by his band the Ranch Hands. The country entertainer also made it a point to feature new talent in his line up and was one of the first to introduce local legends Melba and Peanut Montgomery to the public. 

Richard Taylor is a Florence native who now resides in Linden, Tennessee. The owner of Singing Wood Guitar Company, Richard was already a virtuoso as a young music student. He shared this memory about Ole Red and the Ranch Hands:

“My guitar teacher, Lyndon Smith, was the guitar player in that band and he used to let some of his students go on the show and do a song or two. My family lived next door to the TV station and I remember walking across our yard with my guitar and singing "That's All Right Mama" with Lyndon Smith standing beside me encouraging me all the way. He was a GREAT teacher; and Ole Red and his band treated me really nice. This was in 1958 or 1959. My first ever time to play on TV.”

In the late 1960s, networks began to leech more time from independent radio and television stations, causing such programs as McLaughlin’s to be phased out. Ole Red McLaughlin passed away on October 16, 1992, and is buried next to his wife Helen in the Emmaline Stutts Cemetery near El Reposo Nursing Home in Lauderdale County. His memory lives on in those he entertained for decades. 

Note: The photos in the above collage are WOWL publicity stills and were hand colored by Keith Williams for the Lauderdale County, Alabama, History page on Facebook.

Bette F. Terry holds a degree in History from UAH

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28 Oct 2019

By Firenze