Tom Lawrence is a mainstay in the Franklin community and a loyal fan of the Franklin Rodeo, as well.
The Franklin resident, longtime host on WAKM 950-AM radio and former co-owner of the station, has attended every single Franklin Rodeo in his nearly 69-year life. He was even at the first one, in 1949 – “in utero,” he laughs – before he was born.
Lawrence grew up on the family farm outside Franklin as one of three children of Red and Miss Maxie Lawrence. His father farmed, but when Lawrence was 14, his father took work as the electrician at Sewell’s Appliance Store. Mr. Sewell owned and operated a radio station in the upstairs warehouse of the business, and Lawrence spent time there.
“Mr. Sewell decided I was too much of a lightweight to be manhandling those air conditioners, freezers, refrigerators and stoves,” Lawrence said. “He sent me upstairs, telling me, ‘See if you can make yourself productive there.’ I did, and I never left.”
It was love at first sight. Lawrence did everything at the station, from changing tapes to commercials to speaking the news and sports. The station, which was WFLT at the time, broadcasted sports events from Little League baseball to the rodeo. He remembers in his teen years being a deejay on Saturday nights until 10 p.m. He wasn’t old enough to drive, so his mother came to pick him up when work was over.
After graduating from Battle Ground Academy in 1968, Lawrence attended Lipscomb University in Nashville. He graduated with a degree in political science and considered law school, but radio pulled him back.
Lawrence returned to WFLT and learned how to do everything at the station. In 1982, he and partners bought the AM station, which was called WAKM. He put in 80-hour work weeks on air, selling advertising and managing the business.
“I was in love with radio,” he said.
Lawrence has a second love: the Franklin Rodeo.
When he was young, Franklin had a population of 15,000 and was an agricultural community. Now, the city’s population is 75,000, but the rodeo is still a big deal.
“It’s still a huge event,” Lawrence said.
As the town has grown and changed, so has the rodeo. It used to be the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby, in early May, and the rodeo was on Friday and Saturday nights, with a Saturday matinee and the parade at high noon on Saturday.
The rodeo is big business, too, Lawrence said.
“It’s major league,” he said. “It’s like NASCAR or the NFL or NHL. It’s right up there.”
He has so many memories of the rodeo, including the voice of Tex Townsend, the announcer, with a “big baritone voice that I can still hear today.” As a member of the Boy Scouts, Lawrence sold cokes during the rodeo.
He has a couple of things that are his favorite parts of the rodeo. He loves the calf scramble, because of the kids, and he loves the pageantry and the bull riding, because of the thrill.
Lawrence and his partners sold WAKM radio station in 2017, but he’s still on the radio doing the Hometown Radio Show every morning. He’s also the public relations director for Landmark Community Bank.
Come May 16-18, Lawrence will be at the Franklin Rodeo, in the stands, taking in all the action.
“The big event in our community, when I was a child, was the Franklin Rodeo,” he said. “It is still a huge event in our community.”
This year’s Franklin Rodeo is May 16-18. Performances start at 7 p.m. each night at the Williamson County Ag Expo Park. Advance tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for kids ages 12 and under and are available online at www.FranklinRodeo.com and at the gate.
For more information, visit the www.FranklinRodeo.com or call 615-RODEO-11.