Saturday, November 16, 2013

Do You Know What Time 'Hit Is?

Judy Cooley was kind enough to send me Mark Washburn's excellent article from the Charlotte Observer about the Wilder Building and the original home of radio station WBT.

Of course you do.

 'hit's Briarhopper time!

That's the way the show opened every afternoon. You may even remember how each show closed,

"Well the old clock on the wall says it's time to go......"

But unless you read Mark Washburn's excellent article in the Charlotte Observer last week you probably didn't know where the wall that clock was hanging on was.

In your mind, you say?

Don't be a smart alec!  I'm trying to write a serious feature.

As I was saying, that famous clock was on the wall of WBT studios in the Wilder Building. All three are gone now. the clock, the wall and the building; replaced by 25 words engraved on an historical marker at 239 South Tryon Street.

Now, here comes the "in your mind part."

Words alone are inadequate to describe the relationship Charlotte had with WBT. I began listening to the station when I was about 5 years old and somehow figured out when it was time for my favorite programs by the approximate position of the shadow of my house in my backyard. (Unfortunately that gave my parents the false hope that their "little Eddie" might turn out to be kind of smart. That only lasted until my report cards began arriving from Elizabeth school.

But little Eddie's love of radio never wavered.

I don't believe anyone younger than 65 or 70 can really appreciate how important radio, and particularly WBT was to us. It was an emotional experience. Radio itself was only 10 or 15 years old in the mid 30's so not enough time had elapsed for our parents or anyone to take it for granted. Meanwhile, it was rapidly becoming a part of our family.  Grady Cole, the Morning Man, thought like we did and talked like we did.   When he said the weather was "hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk,"  He went out and did it.

The station brought us the serious news as well; daily reports of the fighting in Europe and the far East during WW2 and like all other stations brought this nation together as it has never been before or since. It gave us kids Jack Armstrong, the all American Boy, Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, the Green Hornet, and the Shadow, to name only a few programs we never wanted to miss.
It was (like the cliche it later became) a part of our family.  Really.

The Briarhoppers and Charles Crutchfield left of mic
But what most media historians agree made WBT radio the broadcast giant that it became was....a hillbilly band named after a rabbit an announcer and a friend spotted one day while hunting.
"Look at that briarhopper go," said the friend. The announcer, Charlie Crutchfield, thought that would be a clever name for the "country pickers and singers" his station had promised a prospective sponsor they would hire.

Every little boy growing up in Charlotte in the 40's and 50's who had dreams of someday becoming a radio announcer wanted to work for WBT. Those were the days of the "Deep Voices."  It was widely believed back then that voices like that were more easily understood over the airwaves than higher pitched ones.  That's one reason females were so rare on early radio.

A Young Charles Kuralt
Crutchfield who was the first announcer for the Briarhoppers had such a voice. Later, when he became station manager, he continued the deep voice policy. If you remember Charles Kuralt's  (CBS-TV) voice, that's exactly the kind I'm talking about.

That's why, even if, as Mark Washburn's story says, the David Brinkley tale of being turned down for a job at WBT is not true, it certainly could have been. His voice was not the kind that Crutchfield would have hired.

Incidentally, Kuralt once worked for WBT as a summer replacement announcer when he was 14 years old!

I was one of those little boys who dreamed of someday becoming a radio announcer.

So was Julian Barber. However, neither one of us ever got to work directly for WBT.
Walter Cronkite and Julian Barber

Nevertheless, by the 1960's Julian had become the number one news anchor in Washington, DC broadcasting daily on WTOP-TV.

By then, I was also hosting a daily TV show on Washington's channel 9 as well as a weekly radio show that Glenn Miller began for the US Air Force called SERENADE IN BLUE that aired on at least 2,000 or more stations in this country and worldwide.

In those days the CBS Washington bureau shared studios with WTOP.  As announcers and newsmen, we also were regularly called upon to broadcast over the network, which included all the CBS stations in the country. (One of which was WBT)

Ed Hosting the US Air Force's
Serenade in Blue

Julian told me that the first time he did that...he thought to himself, "I finally made 'BT...the hard way!"

That's exactly how I felt too.