Bob Carl Bailey

Robert “Bob” Carl Bailey
(bold, innovative, courageous, incomparable trailblazer)

(Sunrise October 13, 1935 – Sunset April 16, 2001)

            Bob Carl Bailey was a pioneer who achieved several “firsts” throughout his life.   He was the first African-American policeman hired in Huntsville, Alabama, (and the first to be fired for voicing objections to the ill treatment of Black officers).  He then became the very first Chief of Police of Triana, Alabama.  He was one of the first African American licensed professional radio announcers in northwest Alabama, and later become the first to operate both a Black formatted AM and FM radio station in the Shoals. He was one of the first African-American music retailers (as owner of three record stores with his wife, Odessa), and one of the first African-Americans to have a regularly scheduled television talk show in northwest Alabama (“Sunday in the Shoals” on WOWL-TV). 

            As Triana’s Chief of Police, Robert Carl Bailey made national news as part of Ebony Magazine’s feature on Triana, Alabama.  After leaving that position, he continued to support law enforcement and the court system throughout his life, while also working with judges, attorneys, and community leaders on behalf of those who were in need of a voice in the courtroom and in legal matters.  While he never chose to hold a political office, he often played an active role in local and state politics, advising many elected officials on how to best serve citizens.  He was a consultant for local, state, and national candidates. 

            Mr. Bailey owned several businesses under the umbrella of Bailey & Company.  As one of the first licensed African-American automobile dealers in the Shoals, he helped those who would not otherwise have been able to afford to purchase vehicles.  He later assisted dealership owner Fred Lee to establish Shoals Ford, the first Black owned car dealership in northwest Alabama.  He helped many other Black owned businesses.  An example of this was when he assisted the first Black attorneys to open a practice in the Shoals by paying the salary of their secretary for a full year.  He personally provided jobs and encouraged other employers to hire minorities.  He served on many local boards, and was the first President of the Shoals Area Business Association.  He was a charter member of both the Shoals Area Business Association and the Shoals Economic Development Authority, and he was a contributing partner in the establishment of Shoals Industrial Development Authority (SIDA).  He received recognition and honor for his many contributions.

            After speaking out about the vital role of small businesses in Alabama, Bob Carl Bailey was appointed by Alabama Governor Fob James to sit on the State’s Small Business Advisory Council and to head Alabama’s Small Business Administration, making him the first Black person to be appointed by an Alabama Governor for a cabinet level position.  He was a savvy political activist and influential policy maker, and was twice invited to Washington D.C. to visit the White House.  He was a national radio correspondent in 1976 when President Jimmy Carter launched his campaign in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

            In addition to being politically active, Bob Carl was a community leader and advocate, and a compassionate philanthropist.  He organized and sponsored countless benefits and tributes to various community leaders and organizations.  One such program was in celebration of retired teachers.  Bailey was generous with both his time and finances.  He bought fruits and vegetables for those incarcerated in local jails.  He paid church and home mortgages, rent, utility bills, car notes, college expenses, hospital bills, and more.  He bought groceries, and even coal as fuel for homes without electricity. He was there for many in their time of need.  

            Robert “Bob Carl” Bailey, was born in Leighton, Alabama.  He began his radio career at WJOI Radio in Florence as one of the Shoals area’s first Black announcers, after serving in the United States Army.  He was one of the first licensed Black radio engineers in the Shoals.  He and his wife, Odessa, became the first Black Radio Station owners in northwest Alabama to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission when they launched WZZA Radio.  When the Baileys also purchased WTQX in Selma, Alabama, they became two of only a few African Americans in Alabama to be sole owners of radio stations in multiple markets in the state.  In 1972, WZZA-AM became the first radio station to program exclusively for and provide a voice to the Black Community.  After establishing the AM and during the transition, the Baileys also operated the first ever Black or Soul formatted FM in northwest Alabama.

            Mr. and Mrs. Bailey became the first known African-American music retailers when they operated their first of three record store locations.  The original store was opened in Florence and was later moved to Tuscumbia.  Bob Carl Bailey also dabbled in music recording, producing a local group’s first studio recording.  He was a popular event promoter, often bringing concerts to the Shoals featuring artists such as James Brown and Shirley Caesar.  Expanding his broadcast media experience, Mr. Bailey created and hosted “Sunday In The Shoals” aired on WOWL-TV, which was one of the first African-American television talk show in northwest Alabama.  Bailey contributed to Muscle Shoals music history by introducing his friend, and fellow Leighton Alabama native, Jimmy Hughes to Rick Hall at FAME Recording.  That meeting resulted in the recording of the international hit song “Steal Away” (the first song featured in the documentary “Muscle Shoals”).  Bailey suggested singers to do background vocals in local recording studios. 

            On April 16th, 2001, his family, the Shoals area, and the world lost this incredible man who had provided a voice for all people in the Shoals.  Often referring to himself as “Bob Carl, the Loud Mouth”, he focused not only on issues that disproportionately affected people of color, but chose to be an instrument of positive change for the community at large.  Mr. Bailey made a difference, and his legacy will always be felt as WZZA Radio Station continues its celebration of over half a century of broadcasting.

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