I was eleven years old and clutching onto the three dollars Mom had given me. It was probably the most money I’d ever had at one time and I can’t recall what I did to earn it. But I held on to it for dear life as I walked into Nits Nats at the Henderson Mall. In front of me was this massive board with metal prongs sticking out, each one holding a 45 rpm record and numbered 1-100. In the center was a Billboard chart, the first one I’d ever seen and the beginning of a hobby I would cherish for years. It was the chart Casey Kasem used, and to me, that was big. Many years later, I was visiting the WHNC studio and saw my name on the side of an AT-40 box. I had sent in a question and Casey answered it, but I missed it. To this day, I’ve never heard it and no one claims to know where the records are now.
I bought three records that day: “I Gotcha” by Joe Tex, “Shambala” by Three Dog Night and “Down By The Lazy River” by The Osmonds. There’s no way to have musical taste stretched to that variety unless you listened to WHNC all day. It was the only place you could hear John Denver and Little Feat played back-to-back.
WHNC, or The Big 89 as they liked to be called (also The Rock of Henderson), was the closest thing Henderson had to a teenage cult. The DJ’s were local legends: Terry Wayne, Dave Foster, Don Morgan, Mike the Moose, the great Larry D. Williams, and of course Bob Harrison with the long and dragged out 5:00 news. If you were in a fender bender, Bob would tell everyone.
I don’t know if it were ever mentioned by anyone, but WHNC and Nits Nats (as well as Henderson Music Co.) complimented each other well. None of them had specialties and the radio station was a dungeon of death for playlists. If you wanted to hear it, they had it. If they didn’t, they’d order it. Nits Nats survived the record store chain boom which produced huge outlets like Record Bar, Sam Goody’s and School Kids. Only the latter ever came to Henderson. Billboard magazine recognized Nits Nats in an article about their ability to thrive as an independent in a very competitive business.
Recently, I saw former Nits Nats owners Phillip and Cheryl Hawkins at Thornton Library. That was a treat worth making the trip for. I probably invested three, maybe four million dollars into their little corner of the Mall and I don’t have a thing to show for it. But I have priceless memories and great friends.
In a great addition to the story, Phillip updated me on my favorite Nits Nats employee, Karen Bullock. Karen, a long time employee, decided she wanted to take a few courses at Louisburg College. LC later sent her to NC State, and State sent her to Columbia University. Today, she’s back in Pack country as a professor and head of the Department of Social Work. It could not have happened to a better person.
What happened to everyone else? Bob Harrison passed away several years ago but is still one of Henderson’s most cherished memories. Larry D Williams, who still reigns as the best DJ I ever heard, is also deceased. Last I heard, Bob Brogren was still doing radio part-time, now in Kentucky. The Moose, Michael E Smith, is Vice President and General Manager for several stations along the outer banks and still does a morning show on one of them. Terry Wayne (Freitag) is retired and still living in Vance County. Donald Norwood is a member of Oceanfront Band, a great beach music band. His brother Ronald is no longer with us. Dave Foster was in Virginia the last I heard. Mike Lassiter, aka Chadwick the Chipmunk in WHNC’s later years, is a lifelong friend of mine and is a local legend in his own rights. He, too, remains in Vance County.
Nits Nats is still alive and well and they still have plenty of vinyl to flip through. Owner Bill Harris can also get most new albums on vinyl, or any other way you want to buy. They are the last of the great record stores.
*Gill Clopton is the creator and an administrator of the “Remember When (Reminiscing About Henderson, NC)” Facebook page which currently includes 8,000+ members. Clopton says of himself, “I write blogs and preserve pictures of local history, all available on Facebook.”
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