The man behind the ‘Caravan’
by Jennifer Cohron
Sep 08, 2013 | 1771 views | 0 0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Cohron
Jennifer Cohron
Wayne Wallace, the longtime host of “The Dixie Gospel Caravan” on WDJC/ WXJC in Birmingham, died this week of brain cancer at the age of 68.

Ever since reading the announcement of his death on the station’s Facebook page Tuesday, I have been scanning the Internet for a profile of Wallace’s life and career.

Only one local news agency seemed to pick up the story, and that consisted of just two paragraphs of information followed by the funeral arrangements.

Maybe you had to be raised on Southern Gospel music as I was to know what he meant to this area.

In a way, Wayne Wallace was the Bill Gaither of central Alabama.

They both brought Southern Gospel classics and new favorites into our homes. The main difference was that buying each of Gaither’s videos could get expensive, and listening to Wallace didn’t cost anything.

He did, however, ask for your support of the show’s many loyal advertisers.

As a kid, I remember getting excited whenever I heard Wayne Wallace talk about T.D.’s Fine Furniture Outlet in Sumiton because it was so close to home.

Most of T.D’s spots were conversations between Wallace and the store’s owner. They had such a good rapport on the air that a young ear like mine could mistake these commercials for casual chats.

Like many others, my favorite part of “The Dixie Gospel Caravan” was the opening theme song, an instrumental piece called “Give the World a Smile.”

I used to be so disappointed those nights when I turned my radio on just a minute or two late and it had already played.

I didn’t listen to the show very much in recent years after it moved to WXJC, but whenever I heard that familiar tune on the radio, it never failed to put a smile on my face.

I had been a reporter at the Daily Mountain Eagle a little more than a year when I heard that Wayne Wallace was in our advertising department.

He and another representative from Crawford Broadcasting were in town visiting with advertisers. I’m not sure why they came by the paper, but I know the result was that I got to meet the man behind the voice that I had listened to for all of my growing up years.

I also ended up doing a Lifestyles story on Mr. Wallace’s 40 years in Christian radio broadcasting.

Of course, I mentioned that I used to be one of his youngest fans and that my grandmother loved the show too.

Three years later in July 2011, he came to Cordova with another radio personality from WXJC to do a remote in my hometwon after the tornadoes.

They set up outside the old Armory, which was already being converted into a City Hall. When I went down to cover the story, Mr. Wallace not only remembered me but asked about my grandmother as well.

It’s little things like that that make somebody feel special, and I hope I’m able to pay his gesture forward some day.

This was the quote he gave me that day: “I’m glad for the opportunity to come out and encourage people here to not give up because Cordova is going to be here until the Lord comes.”

Any reporter will tell you that interviewing celebrities isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes people who put on a good face for the public can be real jerks one-on-one.

Mr. Wallace was nothing like that. He hung out with some of the biggest names in Southern Gospel music for years, but he still cared about a no-name reporter from Walker County, Alabama.

Maybe it was because he never forgot that he was just a nobody from Fayette whose family moved to Birmingham when he was 7.

He told me during our interview in 2008 that people who knew him in those days would not have suspected that he would pursue a career in radio.

“I was a pretty shy fellow. Being on radio was nice for other people, but it wasn’t for me. That just goes to show you that when the Lord has something for you to do, he’ll get you out of anything, even shyness,” he said.

Before becoming a radio announcer, he had jobs as a motion picture projector operator and a salesman for a battery company.

After giving his life to Christ in 1964, Wallace expected to spend the rest of his life preaching in a small country church.

No one was more surprised than he when the doors that opened for him led away from the pulpit and toward a radio station in Bessemer.

“I think those kind of things are put before us when we first receive the Lord to see how much we will follow him,” Wallace said.

Wallace joined Crawford Broadcasting in 1968 and began hosting “The Dixie Gospel Caravan” in 1969.

He estimated that he lost 25 to 30 pounds during his first six months on the air because of anxiety.

He went on to win numerous Singing News Fan Awards as well as the Southern Gospel Music Association’s DJ of the Year in 1999.

Wallace told me that his secret for success was always being kind to others and staying true to himself.

“Don’t try to imitate someone else. If you do, the audience already knows there is one person like that. They don’t need two,” he said.

Which means God only made one Wayne Wallace, and they are now meeting face to face.

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” — Psalm 116:15