29 February 2004
I had just moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1961, and being in an occupation which took up most of my time third grade I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the radio beyond the Top 40 tunes (and the occasional oldie) being vended by WTMA. I knew there was radio outside the Low Country at night, it was possible to grab stuff like Nashville's WLAC, playing the latest R&B, or St. Louis' KMOX, where I could get the Cardinals' games but most other South Carolina stations were 5 kw or less and never made it into Charleston at all.
Which is how I managed to miss the flap over the first shock jock worthy of the description, a fellow named Charlie Walker, from WDKD in Kingstree.
Charlie Walker, by all accounts, was way over the top, considering the sanitary standards of the early Sixties. He ragged on local luminaries; he transmogrified town names (Andrews became "Ann's Drawers"); he invented straw men to trash. A sample:
He says: "I believe that old dog of mine is a Baptist." I asked him why he thought his old dog was a Baptist and he says, "you know, Uncle Charlie, it is that he's done baptized every hubcap around Ann's Drawers."
And one day, when the phone calls to the station manager were running higher than usual, Charlie Walker said something like this:
Now I done got sick and tired of all you fools giving me the devil about what I said about ol' so and so. Listen to me. Any of y'all out there that don't like what I said, y'all can all come up here to this radio station, and just kiss my ass...it's tied up right here at the back of the station!
The FCC hadn't defined "indecency" yet, perhaps because they couldn't imagine it. WDKD management had been blowing off the complaints, but when the Feds started making noise, the station began to sweat.
And after an investigation and a hearing, the FCC found that Walker's radio show contained "coarse, vulgar, and suggestive material susceptible of indecent double meaning[s]," and imposed the death penalty: not on Walker, but on WDKD, whose license was summarily revoked. (Does this sound familiar?)
The usual appeals followed, and a compromise of sorts was reached: WDKD was allowed to resume broadcasting, but Walker's third-class FCC license (then required for on-air personnel) was modified to specify that at no time could he broadcast live. For the rest of his career, Charlie Walker was on tape-delay.
And that career continues into the 21st century, seven seconds behind the rest of the world. The South Carolina legislature even honored him during the 2001-02 session. Today Charlie Walker writes a column for Kingstree's weekly News, and is revered as a solid citizen of the South; you'd probably never know that he'd anticipated Howard Stern by thirty or forty years.
(I am indebted to Jay Braswell, longtime SC and Georgia DJ, now a broadcast consultant in Hawkinsville, Georgia, for recounting this story at a radio message board I frequent.)