A Sunday Afternoon With Bud
When I was in the eleventh grade, a new radio station came to Tifton. Our local station, WWGS, was designed for standard broadcasting. It was a business that catered to the local establishments in its advertising and to the adult population with most of its programming. WWGS played Top Forty music only at night for about four hours. But, the new station, WTIF was geared for the young people. It was Top Forty all day long except for a few hours during the morning when good adult music was played.
Back in the fifties, Putt Putt was a new thing in Tifton and WTIF would broadcast a weekly tournament at the local establishment. It was a big deal. If you won the tournament, you were a celebrity in Tifton. Well, one night at the tournament, I mentioned to Jack Boyter, the manager of WTIF, that the person he had on at night simply could not read. His news casting was horrible. He stumbled over about every other word and had no expression in his voice whatever. Mr. Boyter told me who he was and I was floored that he was working at the station. I told him, "I could do better than that." He said, "well, I need another announcer, why don't you come down Friday night and sit in the control room with me? I will give you a job if you want it." Again, I was floored. Anyway, I went down to the station on Friday evening and was there at seven o'clock when the nighttime Top Forty show began. It ran until eleven o'clock when the station signed off, National Anthem and all (they really did that back then.)
Within a few minutes of my arrival, Jack said, "Come over here and sit at the controls. I will be right here beside you and teach you how to operate the switches and microphones." I sat down and was flabbergasted at all the electronic equipment. In a few minutes, Jack told me to "open the mike, and say: "This is WTIF in Tifton, GA, the Time is 8:20 p.m. and the temperature is 90 degrees." He said that that was all he wanted me to say. So, those were the first words of my radio career. I was told to come back the next evening which I did. Again, I sat in the announcer's chair but this evening had a great surprise for me. After about one hour, Jack said: "Well, I'm going home. You have it. If you have any trouble, just call me. Here's the key, turn off everything (he had shown me how) and lock the door. I'll see you tomorrow." He threw me in the deep end of the pool and I had to learn to swim on my own. That was the beginning of my radio career.
I soon discovered that we had some real characters working at our station. Radio in general was full of real characters! One that I distinctly remember was a fellow named Bud Mac. That was his air name and all I ever knew him by. He was about 5'4" tall and was a very unkempt person. We had to spray the control room when he left. He rarely bathed and it was most evident. Must have been allergic to soap or something. But, Bud Mac was one of the most talented people I have ever known. His voice was deep and sonorous. And, he could mimic a vast array of people. Bud could do a back and forth chat between Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (for those of you who are old enough to remember them) and it sounded as if they were having a conversation with one another. It was an amazing demonstration. He was like a human parrot mimicking voices with great accuracy. He could perfectly mimic President Kennedy, John Wayne and a host of others. If we needed a particular voice for a commercial, he was right there in our control room in Bud Mac. In those days of broadcasting, one actually had to have some talent in order to be successful. Bud Mac had loads of talent and plenty to spare!
But, Bud was bad to drink. Bad, Bad, BAD. He would report for his on air shift smelling like a brewery and extreme cigarette smoke but that voice was sounding just as great as ever! Radio allows a person to hear something and "fill in the blanks." To the listener, Bud was six feet tall, broad shoulders, flowing black hair, pearly white perfectly straight teeth, rich tan and drove a Corvette. The listeners' imagination was extremely kind and generous to him.
One Sunday, the manager, Jack Boyter called me in a panicky voice and said: "What are you doing right now?" I said I was doing nothing in particular and he said for me to get down to the radio station as quickly as possible. I inquired as to why and he said: "Bud Mac is drunk on the air and he has locked himself in the station." "He is saying and doing all kinds of wild and crazy stuff on the air." "Go relieve him and take over." So, I jumped in my '53 Plymouth and rushed to the station listening all the way to the fiasco taking place on air. Now, here's what he was doing: He was taking the turntables out of gear so they would rotate freely. Then he would place a record on it and spin the turntable backwards at a high rate of speed. Next, he would place the needle on the inside of the record and broadcast it backwards. When it slowed down, he would spin it some more and make it sound like a Chipmunk singing in reverse. Then, he would say: "I like that!!! Let's do it again!!" In addition to that little trick, he told everyone out at the Varsity (which was about 3/4 mile away), to come to the service station next door and buy one penny's worth of gas. There was a traffic jam in Tifton on Seventh Street that day. The poor owner of the station didn't even ring up each sale. He just stood there and put one penny's worth into every car that rolled up. All this time, Bud was on the air spinning records backwards and urging the penny purchase of gas. It was wild and all the teenagers were loving it!
When I walked into the outer studio and looked at him through the sound proof glass, he knew the jig was up. He just laughed, threw up his hands, got up and left the control room. I told him to go home, sober up and then call the manager to see if he still had a job. I had to spray the control room...several times. By the way, he still had his job. When sober, there was not a better voice on the air anywhere and the manager knew it. We kept a good supply of air freshener as long as he worked with us.
Some people in Tifton still remember that unforgettable Sunday Afternoon With Bud.
William F. Harrell