Source: Herald-Dispatch.comKentucky radio pioneer Ernest Sparkman dies at 84
January 18, 2010 @ 10:23 AM
HAZARD, Ky. —
Ernest Sparkman, credited with opening the first FM radio station in the eastern Kentucky mountains, has died. He was 84.
Sparkman died Friday at his home. Funeral services were held on Sunday.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Sparkman was an original owner of WSGS-FM in Hazard. Along with being the first FM station in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains, the station holds the distinction of being the only one in the state to broadcast every game of the Boys Sweet 16 High School Basketball Tournament for the past 61 years.
Sparkman, past president of the Kentucky Broadcasters’ Association, also played basketball at the University of Kentucky for legendary coach Adolph Rupp from 1944-45.
Sparkman is survived by his wife, Coralee, sons Faron and Shane, three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
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http://www.dailyindependent.com/columns ... d=topstoryMark Maynard: Remembering a legendary radio man: 1/22/10
Ernest Sparkman, a pioneering broadcasting legend in eastern Kentucky, died last week in Hazard at the age of 84.
Among many other things, Mr. Sparkman uttered the first words spoken on WTCR radio nearly 56 years ago.
WTCR, originally known as WWKO, began broadcasting in 1954 with these words: “This is station WWKO, signing on the air now for the first time in Ashland, Ky., operating with 5,000 watts of power on 1420 kilocycles.”
In a 1989 interview with WTCR, Sparkman recalled the moment.
“I had the privilege of being the first person to go on the air,” he said. “We signed on at about 15 minutes after 12 noon. I was what they call a morning man. I signed the station on at 6 o’clock in the morning and went to noon when Dave Jordan took over.”
Sparkman was a broadcasting legend who spoke the first words on other Kentucky stations as well, including WTCW in Whitesburg, WSGS in Hazard and WFLE in Flemingsburg.
Sparkman became interested in radio when he was in a country music band called the Kentucky Hilltoppers, which played on radio stations. He was loading instruments into the studio and saw the announcer on the other side of the glass, and was intrigued. He spoke to the announcer, drove to Minneapolis to be trained at Beck’s Radio School and was on the air in 1950, working with several stations.
Sparkman built WSGS in the late 1950s. He bought into FM radio when FM was a bit of a novelty. Most home radios and virtually all car radios only had AM dials.
Sparkman once promoted the new FM station by throwing fliers over eastern Kentucky from an airplane. He applied for as much power as he could get and soon WSGS became the most powerful station in the state.
The station became known for its charitable efforts, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Lion’s Club Radio Auction.
He covered many memorable news events, including the 1958 Floyd County school bus accident that killed 26 children. He reported it from the banks of the Big Sandy River. “This, by far, is the most tragic situation that has ever taken place here in eastern Kentucky ... tonight there are families, kids, teenage boys and teenage girls lying at the bottom of this cold river ... it’s a scene that is actually so tragic that it’s hard to describe.”
WSGS is the only station in the state to broadcast every game of the Boys Sweet 16 for the past 61 years.
Sparkman called the games himself for 40 years.
As a sports broadcaster, Sparkman called the historic 1956 state championship win by the Carr Creek Indians, his alma mater.
He grew up an athlete and played for Carr Creek under coach Morton Combs. Sparkman received a full scholarship to the University of Kentucky to play under Adolph Rupp.
In a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Sparkman’s son, Shane, told an infamous story about his dad’s freshman year at UK.
During a horrible practice at Madison Square Garden in 1944, Rupp reportedly told him to defecate at the corner of the arena floor, “then you can go back to Carr Creek and tell the folks back home at least you did something in Madison Square Garden.”
Sparkman was on the 1944 team that included Alex Groza and Jack Parkinson, scoring nine points that season. He was drafted at the end of World War II and served in the Air Force before building his career as a broadcaster.
Sparkman is survived by his wife, Coralee, sons Faron and Shane, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. His funeral was Sunday.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.