Macon radio, TV personality Don King dead at 82

lfabian@macon.comAugust 14, 2013 

People passing by Don King on the sidewalk might not have realized he was one of the biggest names in Macon radio for more than 30 years.

The broadcast legend, who stood shorter than 5-foot-5, used to joke that he started his career a foot taller but was a victim of continual downsizing.

The 82-year-old had been retired nearly 20 years when he died Tuesday evening of complications after heart surgery.

While spending a decade at television station WCWB, now known as WMGT, he created gerbil races and his “Wild Bill Peacock” television persona, complete with a huge cowboy hat, leather vest and boots.

He’d greet folks with “people, people” and sign off with a trail of “Bye, b-bye, bye, bye, bye.”

Colleagues say his creativity fueled a promotional brilliance that anchored radio station WBML’s spot on the dial.

“Just genius stuff,” said Bill Elder, who ruled morning FM radio for three decades on WMAZ. “He would paint these pictures in the theater of the mind.”

While signing off, King often would tell listeners he was going wandering along the Ocmulgee River with a MoonPie and an RC Cola.

After earning a journalism degree from Mercer University, King joined WBML as a traffic reporter in 1955, but he was promoted to become one of Macon’s first rock ’n‘ roll disc jockeys a few months later.

He courted interviews with recording stars such as the Everly Brothers as they came to town for concerts.

Once, on the spur of the moment in 1956, he turned a weekend remote broadcast into a 125-hour, record-setting, live broadcast.

Ideas sprung forth from his head and took hold.

“He just made it up as he went along, and it made sense,” Elder said. “He had that kind of a mind.”

When Ben Sandifer launched a successful campaign to induct King into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2009, the two spent time reminiscing about King’s career.

“Don was just an incredibly fine guy with a creative wit and a fantastic sense of humor,” said Sandifer, who visited him recently in the hospital.

King joked that the staff wanted to keep him until October because the Braves were in the middle of a winning streak that he didn’t want to jinx.

While certainly a celebrity, King’s quiet demeanor almost seemed out of place in the spotlight.

Radio legend Hamp Swain said King’s voice was unmistakable and his antics indelible.

“He had his own little game going, and he stood out from the rest,” Swain said.

King helped Swain in his early days of broadcasting and was not one to crave being the center of attention.

“He’d just kind of blended in and went along with the flow,” Swain said. “Just a little meek, humble man who didn’t make waves.”

In recent years, Swain would see King reading to the elderly at a local nursing home.

“Just knowing he was out there somewhere, I’m really going to miss Don,” Swain said.

King’s pastor, Jimmy Asbell Jr., said the retiree worked tirelessly behind the scenes at Vineville United Methodist Church.

“He taught Sunday School here since right after Moses was given the Ten Commandments,” Asbell joked.

While he doesn’t know exactly how long King taught, Asbell remembers being a youngster 40 years ago in his elementary class.

He was teaching adults and seniors in later years, delivering meals to the sick, taking people to appointments and making sure candles were filled.

“Don was an extremely caring person and very, very faithful with a servant’s heart,” Asbell said.

To many of Macon’s broadcasters, including Elder and Sandifer, King was a gentle mentor.

As youngsters, both of them visited King at the radio station. He wasn’t too busy to encourage them and provide inspiration for each to eventually launch their own successful careers.

King also hired Oscar Leverette in 1964.

“Don was just the epitome of how you’d like to pattern yourself,” Leverette said. “He was cool, calm and collected, just an all-around good guy.”

From coming up with WBML’s pie-in-the-face promotion, his soda giveaway at the drive-in, to nicknaming the “Peek a Blue” radio building on Riverside Drive, King’s colorful phrases stuck with his audiences.

Jim Jones, assistant general manager for the Rome Braves, shared King’s love of sports.

They attended games together when they were co-workers at Channel 41, and when King returned to radio at WMAZ in 1986.

“To me, Don King was a rock star,” Jones said. “Don listened to you. He would tune everything out, and he did that so well and that’s a gift.”

King died at Coliseum Medical Centers about 6 p.m. Tuesday, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said.

King reached out to his audience by offering cash jackpots, sponsoring a Miss 17 Pageant and the “Nail-it-Down” club that included a lapel pin with membership.

The Augusta native, who grew up in Savannah where his father was a dispatcher for the old Central of Georgia Railroad, will be remembered Saturday at 11 a.m. at Vineville Methodist Church.

Not thinking he had any chance of beating out Atlanta talent to become a hall of famer in 2009, he had to be encouraged to attend the awards ceremony.

He wowed the audience with his ad-libbed string of one-liners as he accepted his award.

“If you get a little misty-eyed at these things, remember what my doctor said, Dr. Seuss,” he told the crowd. “ ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.’ Thanks to the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame, I’ve got enough smiles to last me a lifetime, or at least until the next station break.”

Writer Oby Brown contributed to this report. To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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