One Man’s Opinion: Now Listen Here McDougald!!!

Though 2021 has been a vast improvement over 2020, we continue to lose too many friends, family, and those we care about, to COVID19, cancer, this latest round of the flu, and too many lights and luminaires have become extinguished all too soon.

You may have seen the occasional luminaire, a candle or small light, typically concealed in a bag, glass box, or another device to keep away the wind to light a path or a trail ahead. They are very festive and occasionally in vogue for holiday parties. Like that, a luminary also lights the way and sets a path which many others choose to follow. We lost another luminary last week, this time in Rome and Northwest Georgia, a giant in the broadcast industry, particularly in radio in Michael Hall McDougald. There were five brothers, McDougald, originally hailing from Statesboro. I had the pleasure to learn from and get to know two, and was aware of three McDougalds, like me all also of Scotch/Irish/Welsh descent.

The first of those was Professor Worth McDougald, a journalism professor and later mentor of mine at the Grady College of Journalism at UGA. Worth was also the tender and keeper of the flame of the famed Peabody Awards for many decades (fonded in Georgia and at UGA, but that is another story for another day). In my late 20′s and early 30′s, I tried to assist Worth in developing a Peabody Award Museum at CNN Center. Our valiant efforts came up short...maybe someday.

Not long after, I would cross paths with the second of my McDougald friends and mentors in Mike McDougald and his wife and business partner, Leeta McDougald. Mike was already by then a legend in Georgia and Alabama radio circles, and owned two large and well-established radio stations in Rome, Georgia, his adopted home since 1977. Working for several campaigns and statewide elected officials in those years, from both political parties, if you cared about getting votes in Northwest Georgia, you made stops in Rome at The Rome News/Tribune as well as paid a visit to Mike McDougald or his News Director Doug Walker at WRGA-Radio in Rome, the 6th oldest broadcast outlet in the state.

Mike McDougald’s interest in the industry preceded its existence. He worked part-time as a high school student at the first radio station in Statesboro. His brother Don McDougald would later go on to own a radio station in the city. Mike left Statesboro for Emory University in Atlanta, about the time WSB-Radio was getting ready to sign on. Mike knocked on their door on the first planned day of broadcast, asking to ‘watch’ that first broadcast. He was told no... But he kept going back and knocking, and at the age of 19, he became the first Morning Newsman on WSB Radio, a position he would hold from the station’s early days atop the Biltmore Hotel in Midtown, to its later relocation to the White Columns address at 1601 West Peachtree where WSB-Radio and TV still reside today.

Mike had made a brief stop at WRFC Radio in Athens, and worked in the Gasden, Alabama radio market, before coming to own his first station, WCHK Radio in Canton, which we all now know as WGST News Radio 640. Mike eventually made his way to Rome, met and married Leeta, and became a pillar of the Floyd County seat, as well as a broadcast exemplar. Along the way, Mike created a less sophisticated alter-ego and beloved character for his listeners, Grady Frisbee. Where Mike McDougald was a man of letters with multiple degrees, business successes and a pedigree...Grady was a man of Budweiser, some common and country sense, street smarts and perhaps the occasional belch. Regular listeners were in on the joke and conceit, but the casual visitor to the airwaves of WRGA would swear that Frisbee and McDooooogle as his foil often called him were two polar opposites.

McDougald would win honors, awards, and accolades aplenty, but he also picked up a nice piece of hardware for his friend Grady in the form of a Marconi Award from the National Association of Broadcasters. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue would tap McDougald to chair the board of Georgia Public Broadcasting, and he would later lead its foundation. McDougald served as President of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters, and due to his continuing ties to radio in Gadsen, Alabama, he would later find himself in the rare position of being named broadcaster of the year in both states, and still later landing in both respective Halls of Fame.

Across the last three decades of getting to know Mike, a man with an immense vocabulary, we didn’t yet have Google. We just had McDougald. In our chats, he would introduce me to words like vituperative, polemic, and assiduously. The last one even sounds a bit profane, though it’s not. A visit with Mike typically meant a follow up flip through Webster’s.

He was also particularly masterful at giving multiple meetings to even the simplest, one-syllable words. It does not translate really in print, but he had at least three distinct meanings for the word, “” in addition to the three already available in any dictionary. We frequently both attended the prestigious Peabody Awards luncheon, held each spring at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The ballroom was packed, with dignitaries and award-winning broadcasters from across the globe. Mike and I occasionally arrived together at the luncheon, but we were rarely seated at the same table. During one memorable luncheon, at my table, was actor, Sir Patrick Stewart, picking up a Peabody for a PBS Shakespeare revival, but better known to most as Star Trek Captain Jean Luke Picard. Two seats over were two cast members from Modern Family, which also won a Peabody Award that year. And to my left an empty seat. About 45 minutes into the program, a very slight Asian woman took the seat, dressed head to toe in black, with a brimmed hat blocking the view of one eye and nearly half of her face.

As a Peabody was announced for HBO, and producer Julian Lennon for a documentary on his late father, John Lennon, the woman seated next to me stood up to applaud, with her hat falling slightly askew and me realizing that I was seated next to Yoko Ono, who never uttered a word, and left shortly after Lennon, Jr. carried off his trophy. McDougald would stroll over just after the luncheon, with his trademark Cheshire Cat grin, known to anyone familiar with the brothers McDougald to say, " all that?” His table was nearly halfway across a very crowded ballroom, Mike was then in his mid-70s, and yet he could somehow identify Yoko, who was never introduced, and it took her attempting a standing ovation for her step-son, also not fully realized, for me to realize who I was seated next to... Mike was always surprising me, his community and his loyal listeners like that. A hard fall several years ago dimmed that bright light. And on December 19, 2021, at the age of 90, it went out completely. But I have no doubt now that a McDougald reunion is underway on high, and just as they are about to solve the problems of this world, another twangy voice will chime in, a bit off-key, it’s Grady Frisbee, with another, “Listen Here McDoooooglllll.” They both will be missed. And don’t worry my friend, many of us will be looking out for Leeta in your stead.

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