Many Villagers were shocked in 2015 to they found out that World of Beer was opening in Spanish Springs Town Square.
Some of the shock centered on the fact that a chain restaurant was coming to the heart of Spanish Springs on Alverez Avenue. But the real surprise centered on the fact that the beer-slogging eatery was going to push the highly popular Villages radio station, AM-640 WVLG, out of its longtime – and first – home in The Villages.
The excitement over the Spanish Springs World of Beer – the 30th location in Florida – was evident as the 4,624-square-foot tavern with a 1,100-square-foot patio opened its doors in July to a full-house. The Spanish Springs location was the second for the restaurant in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, with a goal of following in the success of the similar facility that opened in Brownwood in September 2013.
Residents also were excited because World of Beer was known for offering more than 50 different craft beers on tap, and more than 500 beers, ales and stouts in the cooler. And the tasty “Tavern Fare” menu that featured items like Giant Bavarian Pretzels, Guinness “Brat” Sliders, onion rings double dipped in stout and a brown beer, Margherita Flatbread and Chimay Burgers topped with melted Chimay cheese had many Villagers anxiously awaiting the grand opening.
But all that excitement couldn’t overrule the fact that The Villages’ radio station was being forced out of a town square that it largely was responsible for turning into a huge success. And to make matters worse for some – the iconic WVLG sign was going to stay on the building housing World of Beer that at one time also housed the quasi-Villages Chamber of Commerce.
What made the sting even worse of losing WVLG and its glassed-in studio where town square visitors could watch the disc jockeys work was the seemingly forgotten link radio played in the history of The Villages.
The community’s legendary founder, Harold Schwartz, got his start in radio in 1947 when he started purchasing stations. His thought process was simple – he would use his marketing skills to sell mail-order merchandise over the air and make a fortune doing so.
Schwartz then took his radio business south and purchased two Mexican stations known as “border blasters.” These high-powered operations were located just across the Mexican border from the United States and literally dominated the airwaves for miles and miles.
With television still in its infancy, these stations provided the primary source of entertainment for many American families. And that meant that like television stars today, disc jockeys and radio performers became highly popular in many households.
That certainly proved to be the case for one of Schwartz’s DJs with a bland name that certainly didn’t match his personality. Bob Smith was a young Brooklyn DJ who in the mid-60s took a job with one of Schwartz’s border blaster stations covering the Los Angeles and Southern California market.
Many longtime Villagers know the story of Smith and his connections to WVLG, but for those who don’t, Schwartz helped Smith become Wolfman Jack, the world’s most popular DJ. A starring role in the hit 1973 hit movie “American Graffiti” solidified his immense popularity. And suddenly Wolfman Jack was known across the globe – a fact that he never forgot as he often paid tribute to the founder of The Villages.
Of course, by the time the Spanish Springs radio studio went from being a tribute to Schwartz to a place to slog down beer and pretzels, Schwartz had been dead for almost 12 years. His son, H. Gary Morse – long considered the true brains behind the success of the world’s largest retirement community – had died several months earlier in October 2014. So the allure of preserving WVLG as a tribute to Schwartz and his radio background apparently wasn’t considered when World of Beer set its sights on the building and pulled out its checkbook.
Villages lore has it that there was some talk of moving WVLG elsewhere in Spanish Springs. But that didn’t happen and before long, the station that’s licensed in Wildwood but operated out of Spanish Springs Town Square was gone from the place where it started and grew up to become a part of Villagers’ lives.
WVLG ended up combining its operation into it’s Lake Sumter Landing location, which is located on Lake Shore Drive. That building offers its own appeal with the look of an old bait shop. But it doesn’t have anything like the large glassed-in area that literally made it feel like DJs were operating amongst those visiting Spanish Springs.
Today, World of Beer appears to be thriving in Spanish Springs. WVLG still broadcasts from the Lake Sumter Landing location. And many Villagers who have moved to the area in the last several years have no idea of the importance radio played in the creation of their community, or who Schwartz is and what he meant to the broadcasting industry so many years ago.