RICHARDSON: Priceless

March 30, 2014 

The year was 1982. I believe it was May or June. I had applied for the operations manager’s position at Piedmont Communications, operators of WDDO-AM and WPEZ-FM in Macon.

In truth, it was a shot in the dark. I had worked at a number of radio stations in California and Texas and was employed, but I had never worked in the South.

Out of the blue, or so I thought, the general manager for the stations, Randy Millar, called me up. We chatted for a while, and I asked him two questions: “Is this the Macon they are talking about in the 1974 movie, “Macon County Line?” He said “no.” He did not explain Macon County was about 50 miles southwest of the city of Macon.

My second question was, “Is this the city where Ronnie Thompson is mayor?” He said “yes,” but as I was about to hang up the phone, he explained Thompson had left office in 1975, and his tank (actually an armored personnel carrier) was retired with him. It’s amazing how far bad news travels.

Fast forward to the early 2000s. I was constantly fielding calls from my friends and family in California about our mayor at the time, C. Jack Ellis. At first the calls were very complimentary. His embrace of Atlanta pitcher John Rocker circled the globe, but as his first term unfolded the calls became more quizzical and complex. Baby’s daddy, divorce, you know the rest.

Ellis wasn’t the first local politician who had made national news besides Thompson. Ed DeFore made the front pages with his billboards depicting what a burglar might expect after breaking into a home -- a loaded shotgun pointed in his direction. While DeFore gets the credit for the idea, he actually copied it from Thompson.

Of course, I knew Macon was the home of Otis Redding, but while I enjoyed his music and that of his family (the Reddings were in heavy rotation in California), their presence didn’t say much about the town, nor did the fact that a song I whistled -- “Sweet Melissa” ­-- had been recorded here register.

It wasn’t until I moved here that I found a treasure trove of information that didn’t travel coast to coast. I didn’t know Southwest had won the mythical National High School Basketball Championship in 1979. Nor did I know about the horrible treatment the Patriots received for winning that title when asked to go overseas by the State Department. Nor did I know the Patriots were coached by a guy named Richardson. As far as we could guess, we are not related, but I claim him and his family anyway.

But good news travels far, too. It lingers for years, too. Last Tuesday I was in the Mercer bookstore buying something I had no business purchasing (a double 3 Musketeers bar). There was a couple from a town near the Kansas/Colorado border in front of me in line. They were traveling from Florida and had heard about Mercer. They pulled off Interstate 75 to give the campus a look-see. How cool is that? I didn’t catch his name, but an employee of the bookstore took his time to tell the couple all about Mercer. For all I know, he may have given them a tour of the campus. Good on him.

People remember the good as well as bad, but when your city is featured on national TV for two broadcasts -- as the MasterCard commercial says -- the exposure is “priceless.”

But let’s put “priceless” in context. The exposure would not have been priceless if the Mercer players and fans had acted like idiots -- throwing elbows and chairs. It would not have been priceless if Coach Bob Hoffman had been anything other than a perfect gentleman in victory and defeat. The Bears were humble in victory and laudatory in defeat. Why do you think Coach K, who has more national championship appearances than he has fingers, went to Mercer’s locker room to congratulate the Bears? Because their win was special.

In 1982, news traveled at the speed of ... but in 2014, it travels at the speed of light. “Priceless.”

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at crichardson@macon.com. Tweet @crichard1020.

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