In some ways, Christopher Rude’s job at WJBB in Winder brings him back to the early days of his career at a rock station in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He would show up to the station with a box of personal records and was free to play them whimsically. He’s now, as close to those days as he’s ever been in regard to the depth of his playlist. At WJBB, he’s queuing up more of the mainstream classic hits, but the former Atlanta-area radio personality and rock historian gets to pull out some of the deep tracks every now and then.

He’s not limited by the “classic rock” moniker that would limit a playlist to fewer than 1,000 songs per day. The “classic hits” characterization allows Rude to dig into Gladys Knight and the Pips, Wilson Pickett and Stevie Wonder.

“I just liked the vibe of the station,” Rude said of WJBB, where he’s worked as a morning show host since late 2018. “This reminds me of when I was working for a progressive rock, AM, daytime station in Charlotte. It was just a little station, very much tied in with the community. In those days, I just walked in with a box of records and I could play whatever I wanted. I can’t do that here, but this has that same feel.”

Rude has been an adaptable talent his whole career. After a successful run as one of Atlanta’s top radio personalities on 96 Rock for 12 years, Rude transitioned to sports talk with 680 The Fan. Following the termination of his contract with The Fan in 2018, he sat out a six-month non-compete clause until another job opportunity came up.

“I’m sending out tapes and resumes, as you typically do looking for your next job,” Rude said. “I’m sending them out everywhere, when I happen to notice an ad for news talk within driving distance of Atlanta. I sent it out on a lark, and it turns out the radio station is owned by the same guy who owns WJBB.”

Within 10 minutes of shipping off the tape and resume, Rude got a call from Jeff Batten, owner of Batten Communications, Inc. Batten couldn’t believe the talent that had fallen into his lap. He wasn’t sure if Rude was more interested in working in bigger markets, but he held onto Rude’s email with a vise grip.

Batten was trying to bring the big fish to his small pond.

“I felt like a guy asking the prettiest girl to prom,” Batten said.

Batten didn’t think Rude was a fit for the news talk station — and suspected Rude probably wouldn’t want the job — but he also knew WJBB would have an opening that would be a perfect fit. In the end, his pitch to Rude was that the situation was similar to the premise of the ’70s sit-com “WKRP in Cincinatti.”

“The guys in that show were way too talented but they enjoyed it and called it home,” Batten said.

Roughly eight months later — as Batten expected — ad sales are up, listenership is up and the feedback he’s received from the addition of a popular local personality has been mostly positive. Batten expected Rude to do little more than show up for morning shows five days per week, but the radio veteran is grinding day after day. Rude is producing his own show, researching and prepping filler on a daily basis along with co-hosts David Willard and Blake McCarrin.

He’s also trying to imprint his edgy brand on the radio station.

Rude co-hosts a morning show on WJBB — 107.1 FM in Winder — from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays. On June 27, Rude was in the studio with Willard and McCarrin and occasional guest, Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith. Willard and McCarrin are Swiss-Army DJs themselves. Willard cues up tunes in the hours after the morning show, while McCarrin writes ad scripts and researches for future segments. McCarrin is also busy around town acting as an ambassador for the station to its sponsors.

WJBB doesn’t just want to present a lively morning show, it wants to be Winder’s source for community news. The station is ingrained in the community by broadcasting high school football on Friday nights, and McCarrin said she writes and produces commercials for local advertisers and looks to provide a community spotlight for Winder, Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

“We want to tackle what’s on the minds of the people,” McCarrin said.

Rude said in the early years of his career, he’d always wanted to get to a major market.

“There was a reason 96 Rock was as successful as it was,” Rude said. “Chemistry is key.”

He now feels like he has chemistry with his co-hosts at WJBB. Decades and one career arc later, he feels more like the young man who was happy to get on the air back in Charlotte.

“I like the fact that it’s kind of a ’60s, ’70s, ’80s classic hits format, but at the same time, I’m playing Johnny Cash,” Rude said. “There’s some cool, tasty ‘oh wow’ music they’ve weaved into this classic hits format. I think it’s a great-sounding radio station.”

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories in the county he grew up in.

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