The alarm clock buzzes, coffee brews and a hot shower beckons – the day has begun. As the daily grind begins you reach for your TV remote to check in on the events that took place while your head was ensconced in your pillow.
After catching up with the news, you get a little bored and flip through the channels. “Turn your television set down!” says the irritated man at the desk. “What on earth have I found?” you say. “And why is this guy so annoyed?”
For seventeen years, Joe Hagler, the man at the aforementioned desk, has alternately engendered feelings of love, anger, provocation, and sympathy. Ever the hamming provocateur, he is the host of Good Morning Montgomery.
The local television call-in talk show has aired for 17 years and can be seen weekdays from 5:30 AM until 7:00 AM on WNCF, an ABC affiliate station in Montgomery, Alabama.
“We may be bad, but we’re different,” muses Hagler, a legend in Alabama broadcasting circles. Describing Good Morning Montgomery as “just entertainment,” the host also takes pride in the fact that his show is so much different than a newscast.
“A newscast is not my cup of tea,” Hagler continues. “You have the same stories over and over and then you have the weather. We cut up and have a good time and you don’t do that on a newscast. Don’t get me wrong, they do a great job on the news, but we are here to entertain. I wanted to be different and we are.”
Though Hagler displays an even-keeled demeanor most of the time, he does have one huge pet peeve and actually, it’s not without just cause. For all of these years, callers still have seemingly not grasped the fact that when they phone the program they cannot be heard unless their TV is muted. The reason for this is that the show is on a five second broadcast delay.
Hagler’s sidekick of almost six years, Alva Lambert, will agree that some people will never learn to turn down the volume. By day, he is the Executive Director of the State Health Planning and Development Agency, but during the wee hours of the AM he joins Hagler for discussions on politics, crime, and Alabama football. Lambert amazingly juggles the two careers with consummate ease.
At certain times during various telecasts, the camera pans around, and a robust, bearded weather “fairy” in a pink tutu appears, softly whispering “kissy kissy” to the audience at home. “What the heck?’ you may ask yourself. Then you find out that It’s Windee Breeze, one of the many amusing characters portrayed by Johnny Green. The comic relief and sometimes fill-in host, Green has been a fixture on the program almost since its inception.
IN THE BEGINNING…
Good Morning Montgomery has certainly led a vagabond’s existence. In 1992, the telecast premiered on Storer Cable Channel 3, which later became Charter Communications. After a year or so, it was moved to WNCF (after it changed from WHOA) and stayed there for about four years.
The next move was to CBS Channel 8 at WAKA, and after another four years the program was televised on UPN in Troy, Alabama, where it remained for the next five years. It returned to ABC-32 WNCF studios where the show has aired for the past twelve years.
The first two hosts of the program were Hagler and Larry Pate, who also had a previous career in radio. Unfortunately, Pate’s health problems ultimately led to his death and Bob Gambacurta, a journalist and former television anchorman, took over the co-host duties. Gambacurta left in about 2004 to launch a second career in political consulting, advertising, and public relations.
Although the show still contains some of its earlier elements, the addition of Lambert has added color to the program’s palette by bringing an attorney and seasoned impressionist into the mix. In between impersonations of such political luminaries as the late Alabama Governor George C. Wallace and Mayor Emory Folmar, Lambert also fields legal questions from callers.
And as sure as the sun will rise, every morning at 6:30 during the broadcast, a sweet southern voice enters the studio through the phone lines. Miss Gail Royal, owner of Down the Street Café, enumerates her list of scrumptious meats and veggies, and ends with the phrase, “everybody’s favorite dessert, banana pudding.” Hagler usually answers good-natured Royal in a snarky (but playful) tone, mentioning the “varmints” that reside in her place or her latest “wig.”
Though sometimes he appears to have a tough exterior, there is a soft underbelly that is exposed when heinous crimes against children are committed or when a caller reflects about being ill with a serious affliction. Hagler quickly becomes a comforter, empathizing with the situation, even jotting down their telephone number so that other callers may assist.
Hagler, Lambert, and Green are as different from each other as Good Morning Montgomery is from a typical news program. Daily callers who sometimes incite disagreements or controversies, coupled with the trio’s combined talents, are the essence of the show.
Hagler, a former radio DJ for WHHY radio station in Montgomery, simply possesses one of the most famous on-the-air voices in the south and he is recognizable by sight to the public at large all over the state. Hailing from Union Springs, Alabama, his family moved to Opp when he was in the 10th grade. Hagler has worked in radio and in TV broadcasting most of his adult life.
“I used to be with WHHY radio… that was back in 1910,” says Hagler, chuckling. “When I was young I either wanted to be a broadcaster or an attorney. Maybe I should have picked attorney, I don’t know. But, I have enjoyed broadcasting, I really have.”
The Hagler family consists of wife Katherine, sons Ben and Bill… and then there is Dolly, a precious Shitzu, who for fourteen years has been the “love of his life.”
“I tell you,” Hagler begins, “you can take my wife… you can take my children… but you cannot take my Doll. We call her Doll because that is what she is. I can’t even fathom the fact that I didn’t want her in the beginning. Katherine got her from a shopkeeper in Grayton Beach, Florida, and I wasn’t thrilled, so I never would have guessed I could have gotten this close to an animal.”
Though he adores spending time around the house with his wife and pooch, Hagler is not considering retirement at this time.
“I have not thought about leaving it,” he affirms. “When I had my heart attack I was lying in bed and had chest pains and pain in my left arm and knew exactly what it was… then I went to the hospital. But, this show is not too much for me. I must love it to get up at 3:00 in the morning to do it!”
Born in Andalusia, but raised in Dothan, Alabama, Lambert’s academic resume is impressive. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama, Jones School of Law, Auburn University at Montgomery, and holds an Honorary Doctorate at the University of West Alabama. He was formerly a Deputy District Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit and is currently employed with the State of Alabama.
Lambert’s exceptional impressions of political and sports figures are some of the highlights of Good Morning Montgomery. He also has performed in several theatrical features in which he took on the role of Wallace.
“I’ve done Crossing the Bridge that was a production by the History Channel and I portrayed Governor Wallace,” declared Lambert. “It centered around the new release of the tapes that Lyndon Johnson had in the White House and it focused around that meeting between Wallace and Johnson.”
“I also act in an annual play in Clayton, Alabama, called Wallace: The Clayton Years. That is specifically about the time Wallace was a judge in that circuit and running for governor for the first time in 1958.”
Lambert asserts that juggling two daytime jobs is perhaps a little demanding.
“It gets somewhat challenging to maintain the hours and to go from here to the full time job, but I really enjoy it and I like the association with these gentlemen,” Lambert states. “But, ABC-32 is a great place and I have a good time doing the show.”
Green is a large part of why people tune in to Good Morning Montgomery every day. A self-labeled class clown and Montgomery native, Green is the father of a son, Heath, and a daughter named Angie. His career of choice was sales until that fateful day he asked Hagler if he could be his “weather girl.”
“When people ask me where in the world do these characters come from, I just tell them that all you have to do is go to the mall and sit on a bench and they walk right in front of you,” Green says with a snicker.
In addition to Windee Breeze, Green’s other cast of characters includes Rev. Jedediah Pettibone, Duwayne Lumpkin, Yassir Imafat, Dr. Seymore Butts, and Johnny Bob Buford.
“Johnny Bob Buford really did come from a character that I met one time,” Green explains. “I was in an Army Guard van and we were broke down. A guy came up with a bubble on his car… had a lavender roadrunner with a fin on the back. His gun was so far down his leg he would have to lay down to draw it. He had Johnny Bob Buford written all over him.”
Green lends his talents to local roasts and banquets, and also emceed the former Comedy Zone located on Atlanta Highway in Montgomery.
“I’ve opened up for Ramsey Lewis and the All Stars at the Governor’s House years ago before I ever started this show. They had two shows there with over two thousand people a show,” related Green.
“I also opened for Billy Joe Royal once. I had just started doing Windee Breeze, so the crowd really didn’t know who I was. There I was in a tutu with cowboy boots and they are wondering who the heck I am! I said, you think you’re disappointed, what about me? I thought I was opening for Billy Joel! That brought the house down.”
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
Over the years, Good Morning Montgomery has brought much enjoyment to the people of central and south Alabama. They have laughed, shed a tear or two, and lost their cool on the air for all to hear on the longest running TV talk show in Montgomery history.
A recent caller phoned and cited two cases of Swine Flu in the Luverne school system. After much discussion and Lambert authoritatively stating that the people most likely to fall dangerously ill from the H1N1 virus were the very young and the elderly, an off-topic dialogue began on whether it would be prudent to take a shot to ward off shingles.
“I’ve had shingles and you don’t want them,” Lambert said. “But, have you ever heard of people eating dirt to stay healthy?”
“Well, you’ve got folks who eat dirt and you’ve got folks who play with snakes in a church,” Hagler replied. “They’ve got to be kind of kooky too, right? If you eat dirt, and you play with snakes, something is wrong up here!” Hagler maintained, as he gestured with his finger in a circular motion around his temple.
The program has had its moments of controversy, but it has entertained, informed, and inspired. Whether it’s banter about the latest college football season or Hagler’s rants on thugs, the one thing you can never call Good Morning Montgomery is boring.
“There is plenty of doom and gloom on the news as it is,” opines Green. “I feel like the success of this show has been that we talk about the issues and move on and then you get a little comedy. Hopefully, people will ride to work with a smile on their face. You can either love us or hate us, but we are watched.”
Article by Melissa Parker and Marc Parker
© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.