The Rev. Curtis Campbell of Mullins, SC, has for 43 years been the Picasso of radio for the County of Marion / Pee Dee Region as the General Manager and leading on-air personality of WJAY Radio.
“This is Rev. Curtis Campbell, your community pastor still,” are the words which mark the beginning and end of his broadcast each day. The “torch” of radio was passed to him by the late, great Thomas “T.J.” Hughes and his recollection of the early days are lines of demarcation, with WJAY in a class all its own. He says the station’s splendor in the area was in what it carries.
“What makes the station (so) popular and so needed is the small markets, Mullins and Marion,” which, says Campbell, rely heavily on the information which is broadcast. “The station WJAY would be the voice of the Pee Dee (County of Marion in particular); that’s why for 40 some years I had the interest and I still have the interest now.”
Every crucial moment in WJAY’s life is marked and scored to the tune of Campbell’s own voice or that of several other on-air personalities including Dion Campbell (the Rev.’s son), Tracy Crosland, Peggie Gunter, Cindy Mason, Kennedy Williams and Andre Wilson. From birthdays and deaths, to church news and song requests —– residents know that through the airwaves somewhere out there, is concern for what concerns them, Campbell says.
“It was the voice for them, for our churches. It’s been such an instrument to people as well as businesses,” says Campbell. “Where would we be in these small markets if it wasn’t for the radio station?”
WJAY’s official history exists, primarily and ironically, only as told through the person of Campbell because there is no full written account. The station was erected in 1949 and is still housed in the same spot between Marion and Mullins, SC. It began as a country music station and has since evolved into a gospel station. The building serves as a major mile marker between the two cities. Campbell says the Harrison and McMillan families of Mullins recognized a need for the station and readily met that need. After more than ten (10) years in operation, there came to be a noticeable change in programming: it began to include African-Americans.
Campbell’s mentor, “T.J.” Hughes became an on-air personality, while The Jackson and Daughters Funeral Home and Bishop R.F. Davis both had their own programs in the early 60s, according to Campbell.
He recalls that the morning radio broadcast served as the alarm clock for the community.
“That’s how I got up in the morning to go to school – The “Old Barn Show”. We would get dressed listening,” says Campbell. “In latter years, we would hear what was for school lunch in the mornings so we’d know whether to ask Momma for … it was only 10 (ten) cents for lunch.”
Campbell comically tells of a time when the radio was such a vital aspect of home life that it would play constantly and children were told, “Don’t bother that radio.”
Not that anyone wanted to turn it off. In the 60s, Campbell recalls hearing some amazing melodies. Hughes ushered in groups like The Fabulous Golden Tones, Rev. Jackson, and others who would perform live at the station. The station served as a studio of sorts. Hughes gave each group about 10 minutes to sing; he is credited largely with integrating the programming to include African-Americans, with the permission of then vice-president and general manager Forest Ramsey. Hughes also brought on the Rev. John T. Bell.
“He (Hughes) wasn’t employed but he had a 50 (fifty-)minute program then,” says Campbell. “Historically speaking, Thomas Hughes and Rev. John T. Bell were the first announcers on WJAY.”
Frankie Baxley later joined Hughes for Sunday morning programming.
Popular people and businesses such as Captain Kangaroo, Farmer Frank, Slim Mims, Jean Louis, Charlie Carpenter, Mullins See and Hear Shop and others were added to the line-up during this time.
It was in 1975 that Hughes and Campbell became acquainted. Not long thereafter, Hughes introduced Campbell to Ramsey. Campbell was later called into the station by Ramsey to audition for a Piggly Wiggly commercial, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Quite a few transitions have taken place since its inception. The original FM signal, WCIG was sold outside the County. The AM side of the station, WJAY 1280, was obtained by the late Bishop R. F. Davis, a local visionary who desired to preserve the station for the community. Under Bishop Davis’ ownership, the station purchased an FM Translator, 98.3, which enabled the station’s AM programming to be simultaneously broadcast on the FM dial, for a higher quality of presentation. Upon the passing of Bishop Davis, and with the endorsement of the Davis Family and The Greater Highway Church of Christ, the station again changed hands. The Door of Hope Christian Church (DHCC) in Marion, SC acquired ownership. DHCC hired Mr. Reggie Gay of Atlanta, GA, as interim general manager and broadcast coach for the station. He brings with him vast knowledge of the industry and a passion for innovation.
His goal is to “… do something new and refreshing with the radio station,” while maintaining its valued heritage. By means of a vital online presence, WJAY will make the transition from 20th Century to 21st Century – retaining its roots, while refining its branches. There are powerful, new things on the horizon for WJAY Radio, 98.3 FM, 1280 AM.
As told by Rev. Curtis Campbell, 2018