I was born in 1952 and grew up on a family farm in Dooly County. Like most folks in our neck of the woods we listened to WCEH Radio based in Hawkinsville, Georgia. It was 610 on the AM dial and had a strong signal.
Mr. Charlie Hill was their longtime announcer. He had a deep, rich voice and a bigger than life persona. He seamlessly blended humor and candor with music and news. He showed a tender side each morning when he would dedicate a song to Annette. His loving gesture was meant for his wife, but offered a lesson, perhaps unintended, for husbands throughout middle Georgia.
My earliest childhood memories include waking up to music with Charlie Hill. He would be on the air well before I reluctantly rolled out of bed. I wondered how he could be so cheerful before the sun came up. Neither darkness, nor rain, nor cold weather, seemed to have any effect on his attitude. His radio moniker was Jolly Charlie and was well deserved.
There was a lot to enjoy about Charlie Hill. He had a call-in show where listeners could air problems they had with local governments or businesses. He had a knack for separating what needed attention and what didn’t. Sometimes he would resolve the situation during the show. Other times he would close the segment by committing to personally follow up.
Charlie also hosted The Swap Shop for a long time, a segment where callers could let others know what they had to sell or wanted to buy. It was a busy market place that he handled with flair. He didn’t just announce a list of items. He entertained us with his ad libs and laughter. He was an extraordinary matchmaker of people and goods.
WCEH was a country station. As I grew older many of my friends were listening to pop music being broadcast out of Perry. Our home, however, remained steadfastly aligned with Jolly Charlie Hill. Mama turned the radio on in the kitchen each morning. We knew not to touch the dial.
My memories of Jolly Charlie and some of the songs that he played have lasted over six decades. Those memories are where I continue to find inspiration and sometimes amusement.
The chorus of one song went “Do what you do do well boy. Do what you do do well. Give your love and all of your heart, and do what you do do well.” That was a good message to hear in childhood. I still sing that chorus today. There’s a lesson in those lines that’s worth remembering.
The Kingston Trio had a song called Desert Pete that Charlie enjoyed playing. It was about a man traveling through the desert and running out of water. He finds a pump with a note from Desert Pete. The note tells where to find a bottle of water that was hidden under a rock, water that could be used to prime the pump. It cautioned against taking the easy route by drinking the water from the bottle. “Drink all the water you can hold, wash your face, cool your feet. Leave the bottle full for others. Thank you kindly, Desert Pete.” Sometimes it’s tempting to drink from life’s bottles and be on our way. I’m glad that Desert Pete still reminds me that it’s best to leave the bottle full.
Whistle While You Work was another of my childhood favorites. The words were simple. “Whistle while you work. Whistle, whistle, always whistle, whistle while you work.” Whistling was interspersed with the lyrics. I heard whistling from my parents, plus from watching Andy and Opie walking by a fishing hole near Mayberry. I still enjoy whistling and think maybe we should teach it in school. Another trip to Mayberry wouldn’t do us any harm.
Charlie played one song that my mother did not approve of. It was about “the girl wearing nothing but a smile and a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big old highway.” When that song came on, Mama would say that she wished Charlie wouldn’t play it. Sometimes she would quickly turn the volume way down low. I stared at my scrambled eggs and wondered in silence what highway that sign was on.
I never did see that billboard that Del Reeves sang about. That probably worked out for the best. I’d love to know if the fellow who painted that lady’s picture was whistling while he worked. I don’t think I’ll ask Mama’s opinion on that, but I sure do wish that I could call Charlie Hill.