Over the last year, I’ve been working on my memoirs. I’ll be posting some of that work here over the next months as I attempt to reflect upon my life, career, and accomplishments. I hope you enjoy reading about my journey.

Chapter One


By January 1958, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president, had already been in office for five years. The average yearly wage in the United States was $4,600. Gas cost 25 cents per gallon. The minimum hourly wage was $1.00. And the average price of a home was $12,750. The top song was “At the Hop” by Danny and the Juniors. The most popular car was the Ford Thunderbird. It was a very different world from today. No one had heard of the Internet, social media, laptops, smart phones, Amazon, or Netflix. Televisions were not all that common. America was in recession and unemployment was 7%. Things were not easy for people of humble means and the global economy was still recovering from the aftereffects of World War II.

Cecil Pope Staton

It was a cold January day when an unemployed 22-year-old man named Cecil Pope Staton drove his 21-year-old wife, Shirley Hughes Staton, to the Greenville General Hospital. She was in labor with their first child. They had met at church, Brandon Baptist Church, where both their families attended, and had been married for a bit more than two years. It was 39 degrees at 1:26 AM on January 26, when after hours of strenuous labor, a baby was born to this young couple, trying to make their way in this difficult world under challenging circumstances.

Shirley Anne Hughes

The baby had red hair and a ruddy face, not what the new mom expected. Still groggy from labor and delivery, upon seeing the child for the first time she told the nurse, “Take that baby away, that can’t be my baby.” Despite this inauspicious beginning and being assured there was no mistake, mother and child bonded, and following the requisite time in hospital the couple and their first child headed to their home at 8 Alabama Avenue in Greenville, South Carolina, full of hope and joy in the midst of life’s impediments.

The baby was named Cecil Pope Staton, Jr., the first grandchild for both sets of grandparents. Edith and James “Pick” Hughes, Shirley’s parents, lived in the Brandon mill village, eventually buying a house from the mill on Sturtevant Street. Memommy, as Edith was named by the first grandchild, lived there till she died at age 83. Pick worked at the Brandon mill. They raised three children in the mill village, Shirley, James, and Charlie. It was a short walk to the mill where Pick and his two sons worked, and to the Company Store where you could buy just about anything you needed. I remember walking to the Company Store with my mother and grandmother on numerous occasions, fascinated by all the things for sale and the unusual smells throughout the store, which I can still conger up. My grandmother did not drive till was in her 50s. She worked for a clothing manufacturer in Greenville and was a good seamstress, making most of the clothes that my mother wore growing up. Nothing was wasted. Even the cloth from a large sack of flour was used to make undergarments during their childhood.

Not the most attractive start in life at 1:26 AM on 1/26/1958

Edwin and Mary Staton, my father’s parents, lived in a slightly larger house with a bit of land and a large garden on Earle Drive. They raised four boys. Cecil was next to the oldest. While youngest, Roy, went into the military for a career, John Edwin, the oldest, headed to San Diego, California, where he and his family lived until his retirement. Fred made his way to college and eventually became a middle school principal. But school was not for my father. He dropped out before finishing high school. He was a hard worker, but the recession and resulting high unemployment had not been kind to this tall blond haired attractive man with an outgoing personality.

Edwin and Mary met while students at Mars Hill College, then a two-year institution. Mary eventually finished Furman University in June 1958, just five months after I was born. I still have her college diploma from the university that I would also one day graduate from. She worked as an elementary school teacher in Greenville. Edwin drove a truck for many years before going into business with my father.

Edith White Hughes and James “Pick” Hughes

My mother, Shirley, was smart and should have gone to college, but there were no resources to pay for that in the Hughes family, and no support or previous experience with higher education to help her find her way. Her first job had been at Kress Five-and-Dime Store in downtown Greenville. She frequently walked all the way to downtown when she couldn’t catch the bus. The early days of my life were difficult for my parents. I remember my mother talking about my father picking up soft drink bottles on the side of the road, which were taken to the grocery store for refunds in those days. My father did whatever he could to get some money to buy baby formula and otherwise to help put food on the table, but it wasn’t easy.

Cecil and Laura with their grandmother, Mary Pope Staton

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a strong work ethic and perseverance. My mother worked even though that required finding someone to take care of her new baby, and eventually my sister Laura as well, born three years later. My mother’s career went from working at the “dime store,” to being a secretary, to working in the mortgage banking industry. By the time I was in high school, she helped start a mortgage banking company. She eventually ran the servicing arm of the business until she retired at age 82. She was responsible for a team that managed a portfolio of over $1 billion in loans and was a respected female executive in that industry. It is unlikely someone can replicate that career path today without a college education. A remarkable woman of hard work, faith ,and devotion, she always served as a role model for me and our family.

Cecil, Laura, with Mom and Dad

My father had different jobs during the early years of my life. When I was in elementary school he drove a truck for R C Cola bottlers in Greenville, delivering the high caffeine and sugary drink to grocery stories and gas stations all around the area. But eventually he found the job that would be his focus for the rest of his life. He and my grandfather, Edwin, opened a shoe repair shop. The first one I remember was in West Greenville. Eventually they made their way to north Main Street downtown. By the time I was in high school, they had expanded from just repairing shoes to selling new shoes. Even then my father worked a second job running the projector at a downtown movie theater during the evenings. My grandfather and father worked together for years, till my grandmother Mary’s stroke and declining health required the full attention of her husband. This coincided with a fire on North Main Street in 1974.

Grandfather E T Staton in front of Shoe Shop on Main Street Greenville SC

I remember my father coming to Carolina High School where I was attending a basketball game to tell me the shoe shop had burned. I went with him to see the shattered remains of the shop that was his livelihood. Fortunately, he was able to save and repair some of the expensive equipment. Undeterred, my father took the meager insurance funds and reopened the shoe repair shop a few doors down North Main, finally on his own. He stayed there until the poor economy of downtown Greenville forced him to relocate near the new mall on Haywood Road. He worked there until his premature death at age 63 in 1999, following surgery for an aneurysm. If he were alive today, he wouldn’t believe the renaissance of downtown Greenville which is currently thriving.

The Shoe Shop on Main Street after the Fire

Both of my parents were small business people, entrepreneurs really, though I didn’t think of them that way growing up. I can’t help but think their busy savvy, survival skills, and work ethic influenced me in ways that led to my own entrepreneurial attitude and success.

My childhood was unremarkable by normal standards. My mother, however, tells the story of a near death experience when I was still a toddler. I came down with pneumonia and almost died. It was a time when a child with a high fever was literally put into a bath of ice water. She told me that she believed I was preserved by God for some important purpose in life. Her faith made an impression upon me as throughout my life I’ve always trusted that she was correct.

Our home on Alabama Avenue was a four-room house that contained a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and one bathroom. We couldn’t afford a television for some time. I remember going to a relative’s house when we learned they had gotten a TV. Though my sons would be unimpressed, I remember our first television, in a metal box with a screen no more than 18 inches across. Of course, the programs were in black and white. There were only three channels, and of all things you had to get off the couch and walk over to the TV to change channels. You might even have to adjust the antenna, on top of the television after changing channels, to improve the over-the-air reception and get rid of some of the “snow” you would see on the screen.

A Young Cecil P. Staton

Eventually we moved to a house on Wentworth Street, a major upgrade, and then after a difficult time for my parents and some time in a rental duplex in Dunean, we finally moved when I was eight years old to the home my mother still lives in on Kathryan Court in the Chestnut Hills neighborhood.  Until I was a teenager, there was only one phone in the house, mounted on the wall next to the kitchen. There was no such thing as a private phone call. I remember going to a Radio Shack store once I started driving to buy a long phone cord so that I could make a private call, stretching the cord all the way into my bedroom where I could close the door. My parents were not impressed.

During the summers, I remember hanging out at my mother’s office and the shoe shop. In the early years of elementary school, we stayed at Momma Allen’s daycare until my mother picked us up after work. But by the time I was in the 4th grade, my sister and I walked a little over a mile to get home after school.

In October 1968, when I was only ten, I stood in the widow of the shoe shop on Main Street so that I could see over the heads of those lined up on the street for a parade honoring Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Nixon’s campaign headquarters was in the same block as the shoe shop. I went into the headquarters many times, fascinated by the signs, flyers, and badges that were on offer, an early harbinger of my attraction to politics. I still have one of those badges.

Cecil and Laura, Mom and Dad, 1962

One Christmas my grandfather purchased a guitar for me from the local discount store. I remember wanting one and, of course, my mother arranged for lessons after school at Woods Music on Cleveland Street. She dutifully carried me to those lessons for a couple of years until the instructor took her aside and told her, “Mrs. Staton, you are wasting your money. Your son simply has no rhythm.” That has been the family joke for many years. Growing up, I’m sure that stunted my personal growth to some degree, or so I joke. Sometimes, the truth hurts! But this was before the time of participation trophies and no one thought much about that in those days.

My childhood revolved around family, church, and school. We were frequently in the homes of my grandparents. Almost every Sunday we were at Memommy’s house for lunch after church. We affectionally called my grandmother Hughes Memommy, a name I gave her as the first grandchild.  The extended family was there almost every week in that small mill village home. My grandmother was a great cook in the best tradition of southern food. She made the best fried chicken I ever ate. She always had green beans, macaroni and cheese, and homemade biscuits. Her fried okra was the best. The only biscuits that could compete with Memommy’s were those of her mother, my great-grandmother Munner (Rossie C. White), who lived in Beaufort, South Carolina.

And in those days, most of the men and some of the women smoked. My grandparents’ small house would seem cloudy or filled with smoke as no one thought anything about secondhand smoke in those days. I still remember the smell of my cloths on those Sundays after we left their house. We needed fresh air and an airing out!

I remember Memommy kept her biscuit bowl under the cabinet in the kitchen. She never seemed to wash it. She made biscuits so often, that she just added additional flour, lard, and milk as needed, and then right back under the cabinet it went. Today, we would think that unsafe, but no one ever got sick that I remember.

My mother and Memommy both enjoyed southern gospel music. One of the great memories of my childhood was going with them to all night gospel singings at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium. Several times a year my mother would buy tickets and we would arrive at 7:00 and stay well into the early hours of the morning, listening to one gospel quartet after another. I remember the Dixie Echoes, the Florida Boys, the Statesmen Quartet, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, the Blackwood Brothers, the LeFevres, and my favorite, the Happy Goodman Family. Who can forget Howard Goodman playing the piano, or his wife Vestal belting out her soprano on songs like, “What a Beautiful Day for the Lord to Come Again,” or “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now.” As I got older, I would walk around during the concerts, meet some of the children of the singers, and even walk up on the side of the stage. Wearing a coat and tie, no one every stopped me or asked me questions. I knew almost every inch of that auditorium, torn down many years ago to make way for a larger venue.

Later I would try my hand at promoting concerts. While in college, the minister of music at Washington Avenue Baptist Church and I promoted concerts with Andre Crouch and the Disciples, and with the Happy Goodmans. Neither made money. In fact, my share of the losses was around $4,600, which I paid off in 30 payments to the bank. Some lessons in life are learned the hard way.

My family didn’t have the resources for extravagant vacations, but we did make it to Disney World a couple of times. My father loved Florida and just about every year he would close his shop the week after Christmas and drive down to south Florida for some deep-sea fishing. Occasionally I would go along for the journey. He drove his van as far as he could, but occasionally we would stop at some small side-of-the-road Florida motel for a few hours of sleep. I remember going all the way to Key West with him. He never minded the long, tiring drives, and he knew how to negotiate with boat captains to get us out for a day of fishing. My father was an expert fly-fisherman as well. I remember many nights spent in his boat under a bridge fishing, or the coves he would go into to utilize his fly-fishing skills, catching Bream or Crappie.

Often our family made our way to my great-grandmother’s house on Cuthbert Street in Beaufort for vacations. She lived right on the intercoastal waterway, in a small house on property that today would be quite valuable. From there we journeyed to Hunting Island State Park for days at the beach. I loved climbing the stairs of the old lighthouse. This was before all the concern for over exposure to the sun. I remember coming back to her house in the evenings in pain from the long day in the sun. Sleeping, usually on a couch on the porch, was painful, but some concoction bought at the drug store eased the sting just a bit.

On one occasion I remember holding onto my cheap rubber float when suddenly, my feet could not touch bottom. I was not a great, not even a good swimmer. I found myself drifting further and further away from shore. As I clung to the float, I remember screaming for someone on shore to help as I was unable to overcome the current that was taking me further out. Fortunately, a man eventually heard me and came to my rescue, pulling me back to safety. I sometimes wish I knew who that man was. It was a serious moment when I could literally have drowned. There are instances in life when a total stranger quite literally may have everything to do with your success or survival.

Rarely did we eat at restaurants in Beaufort, but a stop where the shrimp boats came in meant we always had great seafood. My father and I would go crabbing down the banks behind my great-grandmother’s house. I still remember her throwing the crabs we caught into a large pot of boiling water. The shrieking sound they made as they attempted to crawl out of the pot is something I’ll never forget. Then she would pick them apart with her bare hands, knowing which parts to through into the mix for her famous crab casserole. Together with her homemade biscuits, there was no better meal, ever. Sadly, her crab casserole recipe went to the grave with her. It was never written down.

Munner, as she was called, lived alone following the death of her husband in 1967, when I was only nine. Later my great-aunt May, her younger daughter, came to live with her following a divorce. Munner saw a lot of tragedy in her life. She lost one son in World War II, another in a work accident, and then Aunt May from cancer in 1982. She died in 1985 at age 84, a classy lady, stalwart member of the Baptist Church at Beaufort, and someone who influenced my life is significant ways.

In fact, Munner gave me my first sip of alcohol! I had driven her back to Beaufort after visiting the family in Greenville. When we got back to Beaufort, we were both a bit tired from the journey in the orange Volkswagen Beatle I drove. Her drink was gin and tonic with a slice of lime. As she slid the drink across the table she said, “I’m sure you need this as much as I do.” She was a different kind of Baptist than the rest of the family, but her trust in me seemed to reflect the journey I was on and the kind of Baptist I would become!

Her daughter, Memommy, didn’t drive until she was 53. My grandfather, however, bought her a car about that time, an orange Chevy Nova SS that years later she had painted maroon, her favorite color. Although a muscle car, she drove it proudly for many years. We both got our first driver’s licenses the very same month, just after my 15th birthday. My grandfather Pick died in 1978 of a brain tumor. Memommy went to work making biscuits at a small breakfast restaurant to make ends meet. It wasn’t long before she moved to the larger Dixie Family Restaurant where she worked until she became ill and passed away in 2004 at the age of 84. She opened the place up before 5:00 each morning and made biscuits till the breakfast crowd was satisfied. At her funeral, my sons passed out copies of her biscuit recipe to all who attended the service.

Grandmother Edith Hughes or Memommy making Biscuits at the Dixie Restaurant in Greenville SC about 2003

Before I was a teenager, my father decided that he wanted to learn how to fly. He went in with a friend and bought a small used airplane with only two seats. I remember Sunday afternoons being at my great grandparents, the Hughes, in Liberty, S.C. Their modest four room house sat on cinder blocks. You could literally see under the house from front to back. There was no central heating, only a coal burning stove in the living room to heat the entire house. I remember how cold it was in the winters, especially in the bedroom. And there was essentially an out-house on the back porch that served as the bathroom. We would go outside at the prescribed time and watch my father fly over us in the small plane. My father, something of a daredevil, would turn off the engine of the plane for a few moments, sending terror through my mother, until we heard the engine turn back on.

Although we saw my father’s parents less frequently, I remember drives with my grandfather to visit his brother in Slater, S.C. on Sunday afternoons, and the Pope family reunions we went to with my grandmother Staton’s (Mary Pope Staton) family at Wadesboro, in Anson County North Carolina, held every Thanksgiving. Once my father talked someone into loaning us a larger plane and we flew to the reunion. The only option was to land in a field that served as the closest airstrip. After a rough landing, my mother was convinced we would never make it out of there alive, but my father proved her wrong as he and his friend guided the plane, with the precious cargo of his family, to a safe take off, ascending over the trees at the far end of the field, our stomachs filled with the great pot-luck lunch that was the center of the family reunion.

After family came church. The Hughes and Statons attended Brandon Baptist Church during my early childhood. So, we all saw each other at church on Sunday mornings. When I was eight years old, in March 1966, Billy Graham came to Greenville for a ten-day crusade. The crusade’s local director was First Baptist Church’s Senior Minister Dr. L. D. Johnson, who would later become Chaplain and Religion Professor at Furman. He would play a large role in my life during my college years. On the final day of the crusade, a Sunday afternoon, I heeded the evangelist’s call, walked the isle, and gave my life to Christ. I still remember the interactive materials Graham’s association sent to me to complete and send back in. I was baptized at Brandon Baptist Church a few weeks later by Pastor O. B. Lancaster.

But not everyone in the family attended church, at least not regularly, when I was young. My grandfather Pick didn’t attend. However, he found a renewed since of faith later in life when he and my grandmother joined the Truth Missionary Baptist Church. My father was also not a regular church goer. Eventually we moved our membership to Washington Avenue Baptist Church. It was there that I would spend my teenage and college years. Eventually my father’s parents also joined Washington Avenue. While Brandon was in a mill village in decline as textile manufacturing moved overseas, Washington Avenue was thriving and growing.

My pastor was W. Daniel Greer and the minister of music was Claude Turner. The church was one of the fastest growing and largest churches in the South Carolina Baptist Convention in the 1960s and 70s. It had dynamic programs for youth. It was one of the first churches to use television and radio. We were there every time the doors opened, which, of course, meant Sunday School, morning worship, Training Union, evening worship, visitation on Tuesday nights, Wednesday prayer meeting, as well as a regular sequence of revivals and youth events.

We were Southern Baptists and we were proud. I became more and more active as I grew up in the church which played such a large role in my life. There I encountered the likes of evangelists Eddie Lieberman, Hyman Appleman, Vance Havner, Eddie Martin, and J. Harold Smith, to name just a few of the visiting preachers who came to Washington Avenue. The church had a home called the “missionary residence” which always housed a Southern Baptist missionary family at home for a break. Those missionaries told stories of the great work being done overseas to win others to Christ. By the time I reached my late teenage years, I felt that God had some special purpose for my life, and I dedicated my life to that purpose, whatever it might be.

Our pastor took me under his wings, and I began to work in the bus ministry of the church. On Sundays we would send out as many as eight buses to pick up adults and children who might otherwise not be able to get to church. We developed a children’s church for those who attended without their parents to have a more comfortable and approachable service for them. I led those services for several years.

In 1970, when I was 12 years old, Greenville County Schools were desegregated. After attending the Dunean Elementary School, I attended Augusta Circle School for the 5th grade. Because of desegregation, I was now required to attend Sullivan Street School for the 6th grade. Sullivan Street was formerly an all-black school located in a predominately black neighborhood. My parents could not afford to send me to one of the private schools that developed in response to these changes, not even the private school that began at our church. I consider myself fortunate. Sullivan Street was a difficult experience, but I’ve never regretted being part of that important and historic transition. While some parents bitterly fought against these developments, children for the most part quietly went to school with other children and the color of skin was not nearly important for them as it was for some adults.

Looking back, that experience was the beginning of my personal journey toward embracing the importance of diversity. I made the personal decision in my youth not to judge people by the color of their skin, but following Martin Luther King, “by the content of their character.” No race has a monopoly on character and integrity and no race is without it. Evil is real and meanness is a reality, but it comes in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Having been raised not to consider skin color in relating to people, I find the current trend of resegregating and focusing upon race very difficult to understand or accept. Every life is precious, regardless of skin color. We are all God’s children.

For the 7th and 8th grades, I attended Tanglewood Junior High School. During that time, I started wearing glasses because of poor vision. I learned to play chess, but otherwise remember little of those two years except that I hated gym class. I made my way to Carolina High School in the fall of 1972. Carolina High School was in a part of town that attracted middle- and lower-income families, black and white. It wasn’t a school for the rich kids. My high school years were unremarkable. I was not athletic, and a bit of an awkward kid. Making friends wasn’t hard though. I was a good student, but never went the extra mile. I was too busy with church and other activities. My friends consisted of other kids from church, school, family, and the neighborhood.

I got my first job before I could drive. I rode my bicycle to the Dunean Drug Store in the Dunean Mill Village, about 2 miles from our home on Kathryan Court. I worked behind the counter as a soda jerk, heating prepackaged sandwiches, serving ice cream, and selling cigarettes. I guess that wasn’t illegal for a 12-year-old back then. Before long I took on a paper route, first in the afternoons and then finally a morning route. I mention this only because I remember riding my bicycle at least three miles to pick up my papers, delivering them in what was a dodgy part of town. The morning route required me to bicycle long before sun-up to pick up papers, prepare them with rubber bands, and then deliver them, arriving home just as the sun was coming up and in time to get ready for school. I remember knocking on doors to collect money and still recall those who would stiff a kid out of the 50 cents for the weekly subscription. My wife and I have discussed how we would never have let our children do what I did, but it was a different time.

At Carolina, I served as President of the Sophomore Class, was defeated for Junior Class President, but rebounded to serve as President of the Student Body my senior year. Thanks to my grandfather Pick, who bought me my first SLR 35mm camera, I also served as photographer for the school newspaper and yearbook and was even named South Carolina Scholastic Press Association’s photographer of the year my senior year. The school even funded building our own dark room, to develop back and white film on site, and I was given the responsibility to pick out the equipment we needed.

Like most high school students, the life-changing experience for me was getting a car. My father helped me get my very first car, a well-used Chevy Nova, but we kept it for only a few short days when having to slam on breaks, the dashboard literally fell into our laps. Fortunately, the seller took it back. I advanced to my first new car quickly. Volkswagens had been sold in the United States since 1949, but they were not ubiquitous in Greenville in 1973. With my parents help, I bought an orange Volkswagen Beetle. Orange was one of my high school’s colors. I still remember the price we paid, $3,213.01. I agreed that some of what I made working after school and on the weekends would go towards the payment of $96 a month. The car only had an AM radio and there was no air conditioning. The heat came from vents in the floor that circulated warm air from the engine. You had to keep those vents closed in the summertime!

The need to make money had been very real for me from an early age. My parents were generous under the circumstances, but to buy the things I wanted and to go out with my friends required my own source of funds. A friend at church gave me my first proper job, delivering furniture. Before I could drive, someone from the store would pick me up after school and I would go along for deliveries or clean the store and polish furniture until my father came by to pick me up about 6:00 PM. I was a tall kid and strong enough to help get furniture onto a truck and into houses. But it didn’t take long for me to determine that there had to be an easier way to make a buck.

After getting my driver’s license, I decided to get serious about what had been a hobby till that point. I loved radio and was fascinated by radio stations. I listened to the radio frequently. It was still mostly AM in those days and many stations had to sign off the air at sunset. I loved listening to the skip of the signals of powerful AM radio stations at night, keeping a log of stations from around the country I picked up after dark.

My mother had bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a stereo system with a turntable I used, pretending to be a DJ afternoons after school. I bought the necessary books and started studying all that was necessary to get an FCC license, required to work at and operate a radio station in those days. Sometime in early 1974, I went to the offices of the FCC on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta to sit for the test for a third-class FCC license with a broadcast endorsement. I passed on my first attempt, unusual for a 16-year-old. The test required some serious math, which was not my strength. You had to be able to calculate the power output of a transmitter, long before computers did it all for you. With my license in hand, I set about to find my first radio job.

By the time I started my junior year in high school, I had my own radio show every afternoon after school. But this wasn’t an ordinary radio station that “normal” high school kids listened to. This young aspiring DJ didn’t play rock-in-roll, or top 40 records. I went to work for a gospel radio station, and an AM station that could only operate during day light hours with 1,000 watts of southern gospel power. What I learned from those all-night gospel sings came in handy.

The Young Aspiring DJ about 1975

WBBR—AM 1580, in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, was owned by Bill and Frances Kirby. Kirby, as he was called, didn’t have a license to run the station he owned. At that time someone with a license had to be on hand every hour the station operated. So, a kid willing to work for minimum wage came in handy. I worked from 4-6 PM most weekday afternoons, except in the winter when the station would have to go off the air at sunset, as early as 5:15. I’d also work half a day most Saturdays and Sundays, all while going to school. Eventually Kirby convinced me to try my hand at selling advertising. I earned 20% of every dollar I brought into the station. This experience would prove useful later when I worked at other stations to support my education and when I decided to launch my own broadcasting and media company.

Sadly, with the demise of AM radio, the station on 1580 khz licensed to Travelers Rest, South Carolina since 1964 is no more. The station signed off sometime in 2017 and the tower was taken down on July 4, 2020. That same story is playing out for AM radio stations across the country. There was a time, however, when such stations were important to their communities.

One day a man on a mission walked into that radio station. He was there to buy some advertising and promote a circus that was coming to Travelers Rest. It was the Hoxie Brothers Circus, and the main attraction was Mongo the gorilla. The station owner walked into the broadcast booth and asked the young DJ to interview this man and help drum up an audience for the circus that was coming to town. “Why not?” I replied. What could be more appropriate than a gospel radio station promoting a circus?

Circus Promoter Jim Pitts in the Center Ring of a Circus sometime in the 1970s

In the next hour two people met for the first time, and my life and world were forever changed. That circus promoter was none other than Jim Pitts.

Jim and I spent a lot of time together over the next few days promoting the circus on the radio. I learned that Jim was the associate chaplain at Furman University as well as a circus promoter in his spare time. Jim’s association with circuses, circus owners, and performers was a hobby for Jim, but also a ministry. It just so happened that going to college was on my mind. I knew of Furman because my pastor had attended the university. I also learned that Jim had an association with my home church, Washington Avenue. In fact, Jim had been ordained there, as I later would be. We had other things in common. Jim also worked in radio earlier in his life.

I took the yellow WBBR gospel broadcasting van out to the circus midway for live remote broadcasts. Jim would bring by various circus performers for me to interview, including the ring master, clowns, and others from the midway. But the real treat was getting to “interview” Mongo. We had a contest which allowed a lucky listener to join me in meeting the famous gorilla. Jim always had a promotional flair, and it all seemed to work well as there were plenty of spectators for the several performances under the big top. Travelers Rest ended up being a successful stop for the circus that year as far as I could tell. But something far more important came from that providential encounter between the circus and the gospel radio station, between the gospel DJ and the circus promoter, way back in 1975. What developed was a friendship that would last for more than 45 years. It is not too much to say that it was a friendship that impacted my life in so many important ways and led to so many opportunities for that young, then 17-year-old kid.

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