Macon Native Debbie Daughtry Talks Hometown History & Rock n’ Rollin’ with Tom Hanks on Boss Radio 66

Debbie Daughtry’s life was changed by rock n’ roll, specifically an unhinged blur of landlocked surf from 1963: “I have a vivid memory of being 5 years old, and after church one day, we went to my grandmother’s house, and my dad went into the attic and brought down a box of his 45s he’d left there when he went to college. The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” was in there. They put that on the record player, and I just lost it. That’s a great record for a kid. That was it–that was the big ground zero.”

These days, Daughtry is the program director for Boss Radio 66, a Brooklyn-based online radio station that deals in mid-century mayhem. Nothing here is boilerplate. Instead of spinning threadbare classics, Daughtry and company specialize in garage, rockabilly, instrumental, R&B, and other genre-be-damned obscuros that detail a secret history of rock ‘n roll. Drop by this perpetual party and you’ll catch less-familiar cuts by icons like Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, Carl Perkins, and Ike & Tina Turner and criminally-ignored sides by shoulda-beens such as Don & Dewey, The Del-Aires, and The Fabulous Denos.

While Daughtry is synonymous with New York– she spent nearly two decades hosting WFMU’s weekly Rock ‘n’ Soul Ichiban, a raucous precursor to Boss Radio 66– she’s a native of Macon, Georgia. “I was born at the Macon Coliseum in 1968,” she says, “I went to school at Jonesco in Gray, a small, little country school. They transferred us to Mt. De Sales. We weren’t Catholic– we were Baptists– but they wanted us to go to the Catholic school, so my brother could get a football scholarship because he was a football player.”

The young Daughtry was ill-fit for the small city: “I fucking hated Macon. It was awful back then. But Mt. De Sales was integrated. That’s the weird thing. There were blacks and whites there. It was the first time I was really around black people, starting in 9th [grade] because Jonesco was mostly white people. They didn’t integrate that until after I’d left. I played basketball, and I listened to WIBB, the AM soul station in Macon. I had friends that were black girls on the basketball team. And that just changed my life. I was listening to soul music and having the best time. I kinda hated all the white people and liked all the black people.”

While racial tensions were overwhelming, she found refuge in the local music scene. She says, “Newton Collier used to have a record store on Riverside right across from the cemetery called Collier’s Corner. But he sold it, and it was called Play It Again Sam’s when he left. I was too young to know Newton when he was there, but I’d go to Sam’s, and I bought The Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up in high school. I bought records before that at yard sales when I was a kid. I remember buying a Crickets record. It was a low-rent Chipmunks. I still have it– ten cents!”

Another saving grace was AJ the DJ. “I listened to him in the ’80s,” Daughtry recalls, “I just loved it. He played the best– Prince and all that stuff that was popular at the time. That was my introduction to soul music. I used to tape his show. I’d go roller skating at Olympia every weekend and listen to cassettes of his show. That was my deal. That part of Macon was great.”

After graduating high school, Daughtry headed north to the University of Georgia. She explains, “I escaped because I went to Athens for college. They let you come in early, even before school started if you wanted to. The first day they let you in the door, I was there. I could not wait to get out of Macon. Athens was an oasis because of the music scene.”

Once in Athens, she wasted no time landing behind the board at UGA’s radio station, WUOG: “My college roommate ended up dating somebody that worked at the college station. She said the station needed DJs. I thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ Of course, I wanted to, but I was too shy. There was no way I could do that. That would be too awesome. But she and her boyfriend literally dragged me down there. I worked at WUOG from 1987 to 1991. For 4 or 5 years, I did the oldies show, “Who Put the Bomp?” College kids don’t like oldies. They were into R.E.M. and the B-52s and whatever was popular at the time. But I’ve loved the oldies because my dad was a big fan.”

Despite graduating, Daughtry found it difficult to transition. She says, “After I left WUOG, I missed being a DJ. In the late ’90s when computers started coming out, I found out that you could listen to radio stations online. I found WFMU and started listening. It was mind-blowing. I was like, ‘I want to go work at that station,’ which seems silly. I owned a house in Athens. I worked at the post office; I had retirement and health insurance. And I moved to NY because I wanted to volunteer at WFMU! I sold my house, so I had 3 months to make it work. I immediately started volunteering there. I didn’t expect to stay in New York very long. I thought I’d come a couple of years and go back, just for the experience. I ended up getting an actual paying job at a public radio station here WNYC. That’s why I stayed.”

In 2020, she was “permanently suspended” from WFMU, a move Daughtry considered a temporary setback, if not a blessing: “I decided to just go out on my own. I’d been doing it for ten years voluntarily, just doing all the work, and raising money to make it happen, but not getting paid for it. Once I got set free– that’s how I look at it– it was the best thing that could have happened. I thought, ‘I still want to do this’ because it was so much. People emailed me and said they’d like to help me start a new stream. But nothing really felt right to me until Pete Menchetti from Slovenly Records contacted me. We have a mutual friend, Bazooka Joe, who said, ‘Look, let’s do something here.’ Pete was trying to get something new started, The Rock & Roll Broadcast Service, a whole thing where we’d have Boss Radio 66 streaming online and a 24-hour video stream of videos from YouTube– new bands, old bands, tv shows. When we launched, Boss Radio launched on RRBS.”

Boss Radio 66 was an instant hit, with some help from a likely suspect, Tom Hanks, whose love of 60’s-era sounds manifested in That Thing You Do!

“When I first started the stream at WFMU,” Daughtry says, “I got a letter in the mail from Tom Hanks saying he was a big fan. I wrote him back and sent him a t-shirt. A couple of years later, he sent me another letter, and we became pen pals. When I got fired, I bought my own accounts, got the station going again, and then I wrote him a letter and said, ‘Hey, I got fired,’ and I told him why. He wrote me back and said, “I’m really sorry to hear that. What can I do?” I said, ‘I’d really love it if you would do a DJ set for us.’ He said, ‘OK, how does it work?’ I said, ‘You can pick the songs, or I can pick the songs, whatever you want to do. You can record it on your phone, and I’ll use my editing software to make it sound good.’ I sent him the playlist, and he looked everything up on Google, so he’d be able to have something interesting to say about the songs. He’s really good at it; he’s having a good time.”

Daughtry hints at additional Boss Radio action for 2023: “We got some good stuff cooking up. We’ve got a couple more stations coming. We’re gonna do a classic country station in the same style as Boss Radio– the hits but also some more obscure stuff. In July, Greg Cartwright’s gonna be here, and we’re DJ-ing a big event. I’m excited about the future for the first time in a long time.”

But she hasn’t forgotten her roots, her attitude towards the South softening with time: “I’ve grown nostalgic and romantic about the South. I miss it so much. I’m homesick all the time.”

“When I was in high school,” she says, “I don’t know how my dad survived me. We’d be driving around, listening to the radio, and I’d be in the back seat, and it’d be like a Beatles show with every song that came on. I’d just lose my shit, screaming, ‘Oh my god! I love this song!’ And my mom’s side of the family is musical. They can all play instruments. They played at Swampland in Toomsboro, Georgia, every Saturday night. There’s something in the water in Macon, right?”

Charlie Farmer is a Georgia writer and professor who loves his wife, his daughters, his students, his cats, his books, his LPs, and everything else one should love in life.