Passing of Andy Griffith brings back many memories

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Upon learning of the death of 86 year old Andy Griffith last week I was reminded on that day in the early 1950s when I heard his first recording.

Wayne Butts was on the air that day at WATM and he called me from the newsroom where I was gathering news for the next newscast.

Wayne was bent over laughing as Andy’s record was being played over the air. My initial response to Wayne was who is this guy? He told me it was a new recording Tom Miniard had brought in. As I listened to the recording I began laughing too.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The record actually was a monologue about a football game spoken with a down-home backwoods accent which later became Griffith’s trademark. His unique description of the game generated more and more laughs, in fact Tom came in and asked us what all the laughing was about. It only took him a minute or so before he began chuckling. As the record ended Ernestine came in told Wayne a listener had just called in and wanted him to play it again. Sam Ford heard all the noise in the control room and he broke away from his duties of writing commercials and joined us. Before that day was over all of us announcers played that record over the air a half dozen times.

Our station was extremely popular in those days as we had no competition. Unlike some heavily saturated stations today we knew our listeners were tuned to us all the time. That was reflected in the number of commercials we aired and the number of letters and phone calls we received. Listeners from adjacent counties were always with us because they did much of their shopping in Atmore. Our format continued until Tom sold the station and the new owners apparently experienced difficulty establishing a contemporary format. Tom ran that station the way it should be run staying with a format the listeners enjoyed. Unlike some other radio stations that came on the scene

Tom kept our operational costs down and our commercials very profitable.

Well that recording ascended Andy’s popularity to record heights and as Paul Harvey would say “now you know the rest of the story.”

Three generations grew up watching Andy on TV, especially the current syndicated show depicting this North Carolina native as Sherriff

Andy Taylor on the “Andy Griffith Show”.After he retired from TV he concluded his career by recording  a couple of church hymns albums.

He was once quoted wanting to record soft, serene, hymns that he grew up with in his small boyhood church. He wanted those hymns to be symbolic of those memorable church services he grew up with. He liked those non energetic sermons and he wanted his songs to reflect that serene environment. His albums contained soft orchestra and chorus accompaniment, never using instrumentation that would detract from the beauty of the hymns.   And, you know, he and I are on the same page in our music and church appreciation. I too, am inspired by sermons and hymns just like these at church services.  Some denominations rendering hymns  a capella, not using musical instruments, are, indeed just as beautiful.

Many regard Griffith as a hero, so to speak, by nature of his pure down to earth personality. His offscreen life reflected culture and a broad knowlwdge of world affairs. Yet some would poke fun at his conservative nature  projected in his TV shows and movies and his religious recordings. But his overall friendly, country style personality overshadows the criticism of a very few.

So Andy is gone now. His introduction to the world was that monoloque “What It Was is Football” and his final endeavors were wonderful resonant recordings of church hymns. But, he will be remembered for all his talented contributions.

In other news things appear to be still lively between the Creek Indians and some of the county commissioners (notice I did not say ALL commissioners). The commission- appointed Montgomery attorney is apparently still bent on his determination to bring aspects of change to the tribe’s operation. Evidence of this can be found in George Altman’s piece on Monday. Remember my telling you over and over this story won’t die. Well, again, it airs regularly and who knows how and when it will end.

We will have more news from Atmore’s yesteryears in our column next week.

“…yes,.. it always whispers to me…those days of long ago….”

Lowell McGill can be reached at