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Jacobs put his best on the local airwaves

POSTED: November 27, 2011 12:30 a.m.

John Jacobs set a standard for giving back to his community that few will ever match.

He went off to college and left to go to war. He came back a decorated war hero who wanted nothing more than to become a contributing citizen in his hometown.

He succeeded well.

There were a few eras of radio in Georgia. There was a handful of pioneering stations that signed on during the 1920s, as radio was in its infancy. Not many stations started during the Great Depression. A few, like Gainesville's WGGA, began just prior to World War II.

But the greatest number of stations in the state began operating in the postwar era. Among them was a fledgling operation with the call letters WDUN. The "DUN" was for James A. Bubba Dunlap, an attorney and civic leader, who was among a handful of local business leaders who bought into the dream of John Jacobs.

WDUN signed on both AM and FM stations, although homes and cars with FM radios were virtually nonexistent.

Jacobs used to tell the story of when he would sell programs or commercials on FM, he would often have to take an FM radio to the business so they could hear it.

He would increase the power of his FM to make it a regional station that could be heard throughout Northeast Georgia. He would eventually sell the station to a national broadcaster who would move it into the Atlanta market, first as country station Y-106 and now as an oldies station broadcasting at 106.7-FM.

Jacobs had a melodious voice that kept its Southern flavor, even with a midwestern journalism degree from the University of Missouri. On and off the air, he was a Southern gentleman.

Jacobs was one of the last of the great Georgia broadcasters of his era. There were names like H. Randolph Holder, who created a radio dynasty in Athens, and Elmo Ellis, the longtime general manager of WSB Radio in Atlanta. They guided their stations to new heights, even in the competition of the emerging media of television. Jacobs is held in the same esteem with our state's finest radio broadcasters.

Jacobs also ventured into television, bringing cable TV to Gainesville with clearer pictures than had ever been seen with a mere antenna.

I had the honor of being a member of the staff of WDUN in the early 1990s. While Jacobs was in the process of turning the reins of his media empire over to his son, Jay, he never lost the heart of a programmer. He wanted his stations to have the same quality of competitors in larger markets.

In the early days, he used the term "showmanship" to describe the live and colorful presence of WDUN. While the showmanship label was long retired, John Jacobs wanted the men and women who represented his station to have a level of professionalism that made them stand out from the rest. They did.

One of my greatest honors was being asked to host a radio broadcast during the 2009 premiere signing of his book, "The Longer You Live."

Broadcasting the story of a legendary broadcaster was a tall order, as is remembering him now in print.

Our community is indeed a better place because of this fine man, who was a tall tower on the radio landscape.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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