One of the most influential figures in 20th century popular music, Sam Phillips was born January 5, 1923 in Florence, Alabama, and was eighteen years old when he began his radio career as a disc jockey and engineer at WLAY/Florence. The station’s “open format" allowed Phillips to play recordings by black and white musicians — a philosophy that would resound throughout his career.
Phillips later worked for WMSL/Decatur and WLAC/Nashville before landing at WREC/Memphis, where he engineered big band remotes from the roof of Memphis’ Peabody Hotel and hosted Songs of the West and the Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance. In 1950, Phillips used his music and engineering background to open a small studio, Memphis Recording Service, which later became Sun Records. At Sun, Phillips discovered some of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, including Elvis Presley, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich.
In 1955, Phillips became a station owner with WHER/Memphis, the nation’s first “All-Girl” radio station; Phillips’ wife Becky was its lead voice. Even after his success with Sun Records, Phillips maintained a close connection to radio as a multi-station owner.
Sam Phillips died on July 30, 2003.
He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2010.