The Legendary Grady Cole

WBT announcer Grady Cole, early 1950s

I became familiar with WBT Radio announcer Grady Cole’s lovable, memorable mug early on in my work with the Morton collection, but haven’t been able to find out much about him (other than the fact that a civic center in Charlotte bears his name).

There is a brief bio of Cole on page 50 of Making a Difference in North Carolina (where the image above also appears), which reads in part:

WBT Radio’s greatest star (and money maker), was an original, laid-back performer who dominated the morning air waves for over 25 years. “He talked with people, not at them,” says Charles H. Crutchfield, “and listeners believed in him and whatever he was selling.”

WBT Radio's Grady Cole at desk, early 1950s

Then I discovered the wonderful website BT Memories, an archival web project by and for former employees of WBT/WBTV Charlotte. This well-designed site is a treasure trove of photos, videos, articles, and reminiscences from the Jefferson-Pilot-owned stations. It’s here that I found a hilarious recording of Cole made during his noontime farm report. (Go to the Sound Vault and scroll down to “Breakups and Screwups” if you want to listen, but be warned — the clip contains some spicy language).

What a voice, and a personality! I can see why he was so popular.

Perhaps former WBT employees can share some Grady Cole stories, or help identify the some of the folks in the image below, taken at the celebration of Cole’s 25th anniversary at WBT (in what year)?

Party for Grady Cole's 25th anniversary at WBT Radio, 1950s

UPDATE, 11/10/08: Following up on Lew Powell’s comment about the pinback button — Linda Jacobson from the NCC Gallery provided me with the scan below, and it IS in fact the one worn by the woman in the photo above. Yahoo!

26 thoughts on “The Legendary Grady Cole

  1. They say that my great grandfather would leave his radio on all night, and broadcast would begin in the morning with Grady Cole shouting, “Good mornnnnnnning!” To which my Grandpa Seab would reply from bed, “Good morning, sir!” and get up to start the day. Even though I have heard a great deal about this man, I think this is the first time I have ever seen what he looked like. Maybe that is appropriate for a radio star.

  2. According to an article titled, “Grady The Great,” by J. B. Clark in the May 13, 1950 issue of “The State” magazine, Grady Cole celebrated his 20th anniversary at WBT in 1950. The article can be found on pages 3-4, and concludes on page 18.

    According to an article titled, “Mr. Dixie,” by William A. Emerson, Jr. in the April 19, 1952 issue of “Collier’s” magazine, Grady celebrated his 22nd anniversary at WBT in 1952. That article can be found on page 28 and is continued on pages 78-81. (This article contains a beautiful color photograph of Cole take at the WBT studio by Hugh Morton. Hugh is credited at the bottom of page 28). That picture can be found at the following link (the color picture on the right):

    http://btmemories.com/photos/grady_cole.htm

    So I would conclude that Grady Cole celebrated his 25th anniversary at WBT in 1955. The gentleman to Cole’s left in picture number 3 could be WBT Executive Vice President and General Manager Charles H. Crutchfield. There is a picture of Crutchfield from 1954 at this link:

    http://btmemories.com/articles/5thanniv_03.htm

    There is also a Grady Cole article in the December 2, 1944 issue of “The State” magazine. That article is by Bill Carley and is on pages 3-4. In both of the “State” magazine articles, there is a Cole picture to support the stories. Neither picture has a photo credit, but I would not be surprised to learn that Hugh took both of those pictures.

  3. there’s a pinback button in the nc collection marking grady coles’s 25th — as i recall, the caricature has him wearing a crown…

  4. This button is one of 2698 donated by Lew Powell last August 2007. The buttons cover a variety of North Carolina topics, including radio/television, businesses and organizations, sports, and politics. There are currently 175 of the political buttons on display in the NCC Gallery, and many of the buttons are available for viewing online http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/buttons/
    Stop by the Gallery in Wilson Library to pick up your copy of the poster!

  5. There is a beautiful Morton color shot of Grady Cole in the 2003 book, “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina.” The photo is similar to the first photo in this post and can be found on page 135.

  6. A Missed Opportunity

    Dad (Grady Cole, Jr.) shared with me an interesing story about Elvis Pressley & an almost meeting with granddad (Grady Cole).
    Elvis visited WBT early on in his career hoping to get on granddad’s show. Granddad would not see him & my dad (who also helped granddad with his show) was given the task of entertaining Elvis in the lobby until he (Elvis) could be sent on his way. Dad remarked that he was a likeable chap. (I guess Elvis was too wild for granddad).

  7. My dad was Platt DeWitt Cole. He had newspaper clippings of Grady Cole. He said Grady was his uncle. My dad’s father was Stancil Cole, I believe. Dad has a sister and alot of other relatives in Albemarle, North Carolina.

  8. I recently found a Hugh Morton image of the Grady Cole 25th Anniversary party at WBT Radio in Charlotte. This image is on page 135 of Hugh’s 2003 book, “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina.” The picture, which is similar to image #3 in this post, verifies the other gentleman in the picture as Charles H.Crutchfield, President of Jefferson Standard Broadcasting. However, the book caption says the picture was taken in 1959. You will recall that I found two other sources that put the 25th Anniversary in 1955. I think the difference in the two dates stems from the fact that Cole worked for WBT as a part-time employee for a few years before becoming full time.

    It looks like Charles Crutchfield is wearing one of those “Grady Cole 25th Year” buttons.

  9. I once heard a story regarding a limousine that was speeding down the back roads of a rural town. The license plate read “FDR.”

    A police motorcycle roared up alongside the car and the officer ordered it to the side of the road.

    The driver jumped out, rushed over to the officer.

    “Don’t you know who’s in that car?!?!,” the driver screamed at the officer.

    “I don’t care if it’s Grady Cole!,” the officer replied.

  10. I am dating Grady Cole’s great grandson. We spend every moment we can with Grady’s son, Ed and his wife. They are my boyfriends grandparents and are some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever know. I have seen and held first edition prints of the magazine featuring Grady Cole’s article stating his relationship with the president and his growing fame. Nobody can make you grow to love Grady like Ed can. He has played countless records of Grady’s show including one with an interview of Ed as a child! Ed shared one anecdote that has stuck with me and I feel you all would appreciate.

    As Grady went to work one day, a madman who had been listening to his show was waiting in the lobby with a gun. He walked up to Grady and said he was going to kill him. Grady ran to the elevator and told the attendant to go! The madman ran after him but the attendant said stop! Ain’t nobody gonna get shot on MY elevator! The madman stopped and looked confused. The elevator door shut as the man was tackled in the lobby. That elevator attendant saved Grady Cole’s life that day with his one statement. A story Ed loves to tell.

    Here’s another, somewhat less related to Grady, but a story I love all the same.

    As a kid, Ed stayed home from school one day. Grady was at the station, so Ed listened to his father’s show as he hung around the house. Suddenly, a man broke into the back door! Ed grabbed the gun Grady had given him for his birthday and screamed at the man to get out! The man turned and ran towards the backyard. Ed ran to the door and fired three shots at the man. The recoil jolted Ed’s vision, but he swore he saw the man fall! He rang the station and Grady came home immediately. The police searched the yard for any clues and found two bullets in a tree which Ed said the man had run past. However, they did not believe that Ed had hit the man because there was no blood in the yard and they did not see odd tracks. Ed and Grady were insulted because they took (and still take) great pride in their guns and aim. Two weeks later, a man was arrested while breaking into another house in Grady’s neighborhood. The mad had a bullet in the back of his thigh and a terrible home wrapping on it. When the police asked how it had happened, the man said some kid had shot him as he ran from another house. Nobody could say Ed couldn’t aim.

    I just wanted to share some of the history I’ve had the privilege of hearing first-hand because it’s awesome to see that other people have interest in Grady like we do! If anyone’s interested, there is (or was) a small exhibit dedicated to Grady Cole and southern radio legends in the Levine Museum in uptown Charlotte. The record player was broken last time we went there but maybe it’s fixed now.

  11. Rach – I think you’re a little confused. You are dating the grandson of Phyllis Cole, the second wife of Grady’s son, Ed and the mother of none of his children. There is no blood relation there at all…!!!

  12. I apologize if I’ve offended you in any way. I just meant to give a little background and share a few stories I’ve heard with other people who love history too. I am very aware that I have no blood relation, nor does my boyfriend. We simply share a love for radio and have heard countless stories that are fun to share. And I by no means meant to misrepresent the family tree, I just worded the relation in the least confusing way possible to move on and get to the stories I thought radio fans would like to read. But thank you for being rude, it was entirely necessary to put me in my place.

  13. I AM the grandson of Grady and the son of Beverly. No offense..as I cannot believe anyone would be. Relax Rach…

  14. I grew up on randolph road in charlotte. Mr. Grady Cole as we knew him, was a wonderful man! He always allowed the children of the neighborhood to play in his large yard at anytime and most time encouraged his grandchildren to play with us! He was known to always have cold coca cola and cookies on hand no matter how many children were there! I still remember seeing him chewing on a cigar, and in all the years never saw him smoke it! He was a great man!

  15. I first met Beverly Cole, Grady’s daughter at Florida Southern College, Lakeland, Fl. in 1947.
    She was 16/17 year old freshman and I was a WW11 Veteran around 26.
    5′ 2, cutest thing I had ever seen. Got her address, etc. and corresponded
    with her when back on active duty 1948/49.
    Came home in 1950, found out she was in Ft. Lauderdale, contacted, and visited.
    Grady’s influence (J.Edger Hoover, etc.) had her living with the local police chief (later head of FBI). The man REALLY had friends and CLOUT! He could have been Governor but preferred what he did.
    Talked Bev into coming down to University of Florida, where we both graduated
    in 1953. After a failed marriage I moved to Atlanta. Called Bev in Charlotte where her stepmother was very protective and only told me that she and her family lived
    in Boone, N. C. Nothing more.
    The following week, Bev called, filled me in and I went to Boone to try snow skiing.
    Visited several times, lost track of her around 1975 after my second marriage.
    Grady’s influence is still so great that you can find very little on the internet about his life other than the WBT stories. This extends to children and even published stories of his tragic death and the usual survivors and other funeral notices.
    Hard man to research without a personal contact or close associate.
    Sadly, most of us old folks are fading fast.

  16. Did Grady Cole write the song “Heaven”? “Since childhood I’ve heard of a
    heaven………………………”

  17. I dated Bev.[Little Bit] for four years, and knew Grady Cole very well. Im 87 now and live in Atlanta.

  18. I never had the chance to meet my great grandfather, but appreciate all of the positive things everyone has to say about him. One Christmas my sister and I gave my Dad a framed original picture of the one that begins this blog, and to this day I think it’s one of the greatest gifts he’s ever received. It would have been great to really know the impact he had on everyone in the Charlotte area. Thank you for keeping his spirit alive.

  19. It’s kind of strange reading these comments about Uncle Grady. His lovely wife, Aunt Helen, and my mama were sisters. We visited them often when they lived on Randolph Road in Charlotte and I lived with them for nearly a year in 1968/1969.
    I didn’t know the radio personality, Grady Cole, though he did love to tell wonderful stories about his job at WBT. I only knew Uncle Grady and Aunt Helen and they were wonderful people and had a great influence on my life.

    I remember his beautiful daughter, Beverly, who was a close friend of my mama, though she was younger. If any of Beverly’s kids read this, I wish you would get in touch with me, Cole, Craig or Mike. I remember what a wonderful man your dad, Skip was. I thought the world of him.

    I won’t mention anything about Grady and Helen’s son, Ed, because he’s is still alive and a very private person, except to say that he and I are still close and I love him and his son and precious daughter very much.

    In 1968 or 1969, I was with Grady and Helen at Grandfather Mountain when a dedication ceremony was held and a plaque placed dedicating the bridge to Uncle Grady. I wonder if it’s still there.

    I find it odd that there is now a Grady Cole Civic Center in Charlotte, but so few people these days even know who Grady Cole was. There are so few of us left who remember what a kind, funny wonderful man he was.

  20. I worked with Grady Cole’s son at State Beauty and Barber Supply. I use to love to hear stories ( :

  21. Jo Leslie, I am trying to find the author and/or singers of that great old song titled “Heaven”. My father used to play this on his 78 records way back in the 60′s and the song has forever stuck in my crawl. The internest brings up Grady Cole as the writer, but not sure if it’s the same man. If you find out, let me know. I gotta find this song sung by someone if not the original I grew up on. The song brings back so many wonderful memories of childhood. There are so many songs merely called “Heaven”, but the lyrics you gave are definitely the song I recall. I did find the lyrics although still searching for recordings of it.

  22. Does anybody on here know if this Grady Cole from the Carolinas wrote old gospel songs, in particular one called “Heaven”. Some of the lyrics…

    “In childhood I heard of a heaven. I wonder if it could be true. That there were sweet mansions eternal, somewhere up there beyond the blue. I wondered if people really go there. Then one day sweet Jesus came in, and I had a vision of heaven. My soul through all heaven I’ll spend. Heaven (happy home above) Heaven (land of peace and love) Oh, it makes me feel like traveling on. Heaven (supernal) Heaven (eternal) I’m so glad it’s real…..etc.

  23. Grady Cole was my Great Grandfather’s brother. My Great Grandfather’s name was Walter Stancil Cole. Walter disappeared from the Albemarle / Stanly County area in 1923. Our family has reason to believe he moved to Richmond County after he left. I believe he and Grady had other brothers and sisters. James Cole, Kizzie Cole, Iola Cole, Flossie Cole, Manly Cole and Thomas Cole. If anyone reading this is a descendant of ANY of those listed, I would appreciate you contacting me at darrencole1974@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/darren.cole.18 Our family is looking to find out what may have happened to our Great grandfather and we would like to trace our family tree back as far as we possibly can.
    Thank you,
    Darren Cole.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>