Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Other Charlie Walker


While one Charlie Walker inched his way to fame from a KMAC-AM San Antonio, TX another in Kingtree, SC inching past his FCC obscenity fine on WDKD-AM. This Charlie Walker is infamous in some circles especially among those interested in obscure radio arcana and in certain rural corners of South Carolina

Walker was a radioman form the very beginning. He began his broadcasting career at 1230 WNOK-AM in Columbia, SC while still a teenager. He moved to 1310 WDKD-AM in 1949 shortly after it signed on. He stuck with the station for the rest of his 60-year radio career. Well most of it. He served in Korea and did a stint on AFRN while stationed there. He was named DJ of the year in 1950 and broadcast live from Radio City Music all that year. In 1986 he was recognized as having the best weekly column by the South Carolina Press Association. In 2002 he was formally recognized by the State House and Senate of South Carolina. In 2008, he received the Order of the Silver Crescent from Governor Mark Sanford.It is their second highest civilian honor in that state. He was also a renowned columnist for both the Kingstree Weekly News and the Florence Morning News. More here.

How could this pillar of the community get entangled in an obscenity fine? In short, it was a put up job. This whole fandango begins with a complaint in 1961 that let to a court case in 1963. Back then WDKD was a daytimer and Charlie hosted most of the day. He began broadcasting at 6:00 AM and did a country music show called “Grits and Gravy.” At 7:00 AM he did a pop show, that ran until 9:00AM. Then at 9:30AM, he hosted a two-hour gospel program. In the afternoon he hosted a hillbilly music program called “Sundown Hoedown” that aired until signoff. He sometimes got a bit raucous on that show. He told slightly off color jokes like this one
“…but Noah had a problem, see?”  Because the Ark didn’t have any bathrooms  on it.  So the only thing Noah could do, of course, was to take all the animals up  on deck.  But then he had a problem of how to get rid of it all, so he took a shovel  and they shoveled it all over the side of the Ark into the water.  So, it is that all of  it settled and that’s where Lake City came from..."
Or this one that's just tepid by modern standards
"Well, it seems that this couple had gotten married.  After about three days the old  boy got the first look at her feet, and he asked her why she had such big cracks  between her toes.  She said, ‘Well, you know, I got those big cracks between my  big toes from walking in that Georgia mud barefooted.’  He said, ‘Are you sure  that you didn’t spend your time sitting in that Georgia mud?"
Part of the problem might have been that WDKD let black people on the radio in rural South Carolina. Charlie was complicit with that actually and they might have blamed him a bit since he was obviously a ne'er-do-well. On Sunday mornings the station let black churches broadcast a service and that expanded to having a “Bebop, Boogie, and Blues” program on weekdays. Uptight old white racists liked that about as much as you'd expect.

The story gets better. The complaint then comes from a rival station WJOT-AM. Their OM, James Roper began taping some  of Walker’s broadcasts and used them in an FCC complaint. Walker was fired on June 8th, 1960 following a phone call from a D.C. lawyer working for the FCC Compliance Division. Station owner E. G. Robinson opted to plead ignorance and hang Walker out to dry. A hearing over the WDKD license followed and in 1962, that license was stripped. The ACLU joined an appeal which also lost. Walkers own court case and fine came a year later.

Miller V. California wouldn't narrow obscenity definitions for another 10 years. From 1957 to 1973 they FCC used Roth v. United States. Roth was bunkum. Obscenity was any utterance in which the "dominant theme taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest" to the "average person, applying contemporary community standards."  Well that's no fun. Charlie Walker died in 2010 at the age of 84.I can only hope he was proud of his legal contribution and I hope he framed that fine.