Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

How B.B. King Got His Start in Memphis: WDIA Radio

SHARE

Blues legend B.B. King has a good time telling the story of how he got his radio gig at WDIA in Memphis, TN, a station that turned its sinking fortune around by becoming the first radio station in the country to create programming entirely for African-Americans. The white station owners Bert Ferguson and John Pepper King also owned a so-called medicinal tonic called Peptikon. When King approached the station for an audition for a show, the owners asked if he could write a jingle for their product. He did and it became the sponsor for King’s own regular show on the station. King sings the jingle in this excerpt from B.B. King: The Life of Riley.

KING: This new radio station was being opened in Memphis, so when the red light went off the air I went to the window and I knocked.

So he came to the door and said, 'What can I do for you, young fella?'

And I said, 'Well, I want to make a record and I want to go on the radio,'' and he laughed.

And Mr. Ferguson said, 'Well, we don't make records,' and then he had this deep look -- thought look on his face.

And he said to Mr. Williams, he said, 'You know, we've got this new product.'

He said, 'Maybe he would be good for this new product.'

So he went and got me a bottle, and he held it up like this.

He said, 'This is Pep-Ti-Kon.

Do you think you could write a jingle for it?'

I started to thinking about it, and I said, 'Yes, sir, I can write a jingle.'

So it went like this.

♪ Pep-Ti-Kon sure is good ♪ Pep-Ti-Kon sure is good ♪ Pep-Ti-Kon sure is good ♪ You can get it anywhere in your neighborhood ♪ He said, 'You're hired.'

[ Laughs ]

© 2021 WNET. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.