Friends of Georgia Radio
Hall of Legends
Class of 2022
In a stand-out career, there are many moments that must be “legend-wait for it—dary.”
Friends of Georgia Radio caught up with four recently inducted “legends” in Georgia Radio: Bob Houghton, Sandra Parrish, Lois Reitzes, and Neil “Hondo” Williamson.
FOGR asked the four, “What is that one stand-out moment in your career, the one you’ll never forget?” They obliged us with some short tales and some longer stories, but all of them were close to their hearts.
Sandra Parrish---WSB Radio News
The pinnacle of my 31-radio career was being named a Legend by Friends of Georgia Radio. Being recognized for all one’s hard over the years by those in the profession means so much.
Other standout moments throughout the years include the stories I’ve done that have really touched people’s hearts. I was there, in the beginning, more than 20 years ago when we launched the WSB Care-a-thon to fight childhood cancer and blood disorders. Interviewing those brave kids and their families have always been a humbling experience, and I love sharing their stories. I felt very much the same way about interviewing a wife whose husband suffered ALS during the infamous “Bucket Challenge” and the challenges they faced and had to overcome daily.
Lois Reitzes---WABE Executive Producer & Host, “City Lights”
Among the standout moments in my radio career is a recent interview with Smokey Robinson! At age 82, the man is full of vitality and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He still loves singing, songwriting, and performing. I was fascinated by his stories about the earliest days of Motown and the phenomenal impact of that music on our society.
Smokey also told me that he finds himself listening more than ever to Classical music now. That was unsolicited, and he didn’t know that was my background. What a joy to hear him talk about his love for Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff! He said he wanted his music to live on just like Beethoven’s. I told him I believed it will. And I thanked him for providing an important part of the soundtrack of my life, beginning in my teenage years, and continuing through the present.
Bob Houghton---President of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters
My standout moment(s) are that I’ve managed to be successful in five major markets: in New York as a National Sales Rep; in Chicago as General Sales Manager of WBBM Radio; in Dallas as General Sales Manager of KRLD; in Atlanta as General Manager of WGST and General Manager of Georgia Public Broadcasting; and in Minneapolis as General Sales Manager of WCCO.
My best job is, of course, my current job as the President of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters.
Neil “Hondo” Williamson--- WSB Director of Sales, Marketing, and Research
I think I’ll let David Meszaros answer that one for me. He realized it long before I did.
In early 2001, Meszaros -- then Vice President/General Manager of the Cox radio cluster – and I met for our weekly update session. I wore many hats at the radio stations: Marketing Director of WSB, Sports Marketing Director (in charge of programming, marketing, network affiliations, team relations/liaison with the Braves, Hawks, Georgia Bulldogs), Sports Sales (working with our Braves, Hawks, Bulldogs sales team and clients on a daily basis), as well as my on-air and executive producer duties with Georgia football. A lot.
David posed a challenge. He listed several great causes championed by our news/talk stars, e.g., Clark Howard’s Habitat for Humanity builds, and Clark’s Christmas Kids, Cap’n Herb Emory’s Toys for Tots drive, et al. “What we don’t have,” David continued, “is one big station-centric cause that everyone gets behind. I want you and Pete to create a legacy event.” So, I headed to the office of our smart, talented program director, Pete Spriggs, and gave him the news.
Pete and I kicked around several ideas, from radiothons to golf tournaments to drive-by donation drives and more. The following week we gathered our top talent, Neal Boortz, Clark Howard, Scott Slade, Cap’n Herb Emory, WSB’s Assistant Program Director, Condace Pressley, and News Director, Chris Camp, into a small windowless conference room just off the WSB newsroom. We had an easel, markers, and blank 3’ x 2’ oversized Post-It notes.
First, we decided we needed to agree on a single cause around which all on-air talent would rally.
A dozen or so worthy organizations were bandied about. Clark was more than willing to share his projects with the entire WSB team, but they were already branded to Clark, and those offers were soon rejected for various reasons. Boortz, in his patented gentle, consensus-building style, rejected several suggestions out of hand.
Sometime during the deliberation, Scott Slade chimed in with a vote for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. I can’t recall whether Scott specified the AFLAC Cancer Center at that time or not, but his suggestion rang the bell for everyone in attendance. We were searching for a cause the entire radio station could rally around annually and, not to sound uncaring, helping sick kids is hard to argue against.
Then we debated about what and how we would go about asking WSB’s listeners for money. There were strong pushes for several of the concepts Pete and I had already kicked around: a two-day golf tournament, tying in the Braves (including asking Chipper Jones and/or Bobby Cox, both daily featured guests on WSB), and Turner Field, auctions of memorabilia and signed stuff, 24-hour blitzes, and the like.
Because Pete and I had vetted these ideas on our own and with some explanations of our reasoning, the group unanimously agreed on a radiothon for CHOA. And so, we adjourned.
Then the work began.
Pete was busy running the top-rated (25-54, M-F, 7a-7p) News/Talk radio station in America, and David had laid the challenge at my feet (as if I didn’t have anything else on my plate!), but the two of us, Condace, our WSB promotions director Michael Dobson, and several CHOA Foundation employees began to piece together how we thought the fundraiser should be crafted. Bill Crane -- long before he was a regular political analysis contributor on WSB – was an old friend of mine who coincidentally represented Dan Amos and AFLAC in several public relations roles. Bill became involved along with Diane Vaughn, Sarah Batts, Shelton Stevens, and others from the CHOA Foundation. Dan Amos leaped at the chance to help (with additional monies than those he already gifted to CHOA for the AFLAC Cancer Center). Dan’s future wife Kathelen played a significant role too.
Dates and hours of broadcast were chosen. We planned to set up a call center at WSB for volunteers to receive pledges over the 37-hour broadcast. Charles Youngs, Operations Manager at WSB, captained the creation of our call center, working with the phone company to expand the number of lines we could handle, prevent overload blackout, and more.
Our core dozen or so people met, seemingly, every two weeks for seven or eight months, debating, molding, troubleshooting. Condace created the customized “book” of hour-by-hour clocks that the hosts and producers would follow. She and Camp and the news team members interviewed parents and patients and created heartwarming packages of their personal journeys. They crafted stories of the blessings-of-God-work performed by the doctors, nurses, and irreplaceable support staff and systems at CHOA’s AFLAC Cancer Center.
Scott developed a personal relationship with the center’s physician director, Bill Woods, and became so entrenched with the effort that years later he served on the Cancer Center’s board.
On game day, the WSB/CHOA/AFLAC team shined brilliantly. We set up a remote broadcast at the Cancer Center from which our hosts maneuvered skillfully between speaking to topics of the day, interviewing patients and their families, and asking listeners to donate.
And man, did the WSB listeners ever respond! They are among – if not the most – generous cohort on the planet!
In year one, at the urging of our all-star crew of hosts, WSB listeners and the AFLAC sales team raised in excess of $600,000. We were blown away.
In the years that followed our debut success, the core team of Spriggs, Pressley, Youngs, Dobson, plus Diane Vaughn’s crew at CHOA met numerous times a year to refine and improve our product and results. In the hours-long meetings we dissected spreadsheets of giving numbers: amounts, zip codes, matching sponsor hours, and more. We expanded the phone center capabilities, improved calls to action, air-checked interviews, re-worked clocks, built landing pages, examined differences in weak donation hours from strong ones, and more -- all to improve every minute of the 37-hour radiothon.
Speaking of goals, we decided from day one that, rather than posting an annual figure for ourselves and our listeners, the WSB Care-a-Thon would have a single, eternal goal: Our goal is to cure cancer in children.
During my annual review in December 2001, David Meszaros asked me what I was “most proud of achieving in 2001?” I remember listing record sales for our sports sales team and fantastic relationships with the Braves, Hawks, and Bulldogs front offices, million-dollar WSB marketing campaigns co-branded with the Braves and Hawks, and sky-high ratings for the radio station. In his distinct, direct-but-kind New Jersey manner, David’s incredulous reaction signaled that I was missing something big.
“Oh yeah! The Care-a-Thon,” I blurted out. David mocked me, laughing, “Oh yeah, the Care-a-Thon.” He shared that it was far better than what he had envisioned when he charged me with the task 11 months previous. We were able to bring together the disparate passions of our very opinionated hosts and create in a vacuum the necessary logistics of programming, engineering, call centers, promotion, remote broadcasts, etc.
David wanted a legacy event for WSB that could and would perpetuate long after the 2001 regime had moved on. An event that would meaningfully and substantially affect the entire Atlanta community while serving as an internal touchstone for the entire WSB staff.
In 2022, with the latest iteration of an ever-evolving cast of functionaries running the show, WSB listeners and clients donated $1,845,000. Since its inception, the WSB Care-a-Thon has raised more than $30,000,000, with 100% of the proceeds going directly to the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“When you retire,” David told me during that annual review, “this will be one of your greatest achievements.”
The WSB Care-a-Thon, of which I was a founding team member, remains today my proudest moment in radio.
Neil "Hondo" Williamson
The bottom four images are courtesy of Rick Diamond.
Friends of Georgia Radio members
previously inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame
"Matt Caesar” Mattioli
Mary Catherine Sneed
2022 Scholarship Winners
Future "Legends of Georgia Radio")
Univeristy of Georgia
Georgia State University