Skip to main content

Walter Johnson Brown papers

Identifier: SCL-MS-14431

Walter Brown’s first experience with radio left an indelible impression that was still vivid in his memory fifty years after it happened. In his talk on the occasion of WSPA radio’s fortieth anniversary in 1970, he recalled the first time he had heard a voice broadcast over the airwaves:

I was a student at [Georgia] Tech High in Atlanta and rigged up a clothes wire antenna, strung it out a window at my home on Capital Square to a big oak tree in the back yard. I connected it to a crystal set and earphones, and then the fun began. I kept playing around with what we called the "cat’s whisker," and all of a sudden, in came music, followed by the voice of Landen Kay saying: "WSB covers Dixie like the dew." Bringing a voice and music out of thin air over a 25 foot clothesline staggered my imagination in 1920, and this phenomenon of broadcasting has been doing it ever since.

Walter J. Brown (1903-1995) started his professional life as a newspaper journalist in Washington, D.C., in the late 1920s. In 1940, he moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he began a broadcasting career that spanned more than half a century. His company, Spartan Radio-casting Company, grew from an organization that operated one small station in 1947 into a telecommunications giant, Spartan Communications, Inc. At the time of Brown’s death in 1995, the company owned television stations in Georgia, Florida, Iowa and Kansas as well as WSPA-AM-FM-TV and WBTW-TV in South Carolina.

The Walter J. Brown Collection at USC consists of approximately twenty-five linear feet of material, primarily correspondence, 1940-1995, to and from Brown as president of Spartan Advertising Company (1940-1947) and Spartan Radiocasting Company (1947-1995). The collection also contains the routine memos, reports, speeches, studies, editorials, newspaper clippings, and photographs that were part of each company’s archive.


  • 1940-1955


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

All rights reside with creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact The South Caroliniana Library.


18.75 Linear Feet (15 cartons)

Walter Johnson Brown Chronology:

1903: Walter Johnson Brown was born 25 July in Bowman, Georgia, to John Judson Brown and Captora Ginn Brown.

1917-1920?: Attended Tech High School, Atlanta, Georgia.

1921?: Enrolled at Georgia Institute of Technology.

1924?: Student in the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism, University of Georgia.

1925 12 April: Married Georgia Watson Lee, granddaughter of Thomas E. Watson.

1929: Moved to Washington, DC, and worked for James S. Vance as a journalist.

1930: WSPA began broadcasting in Spartanburg, SC, on 17 February, the first radio station in the state.

1930: Established a Washington news bureau that served newspapers in the Carolinas.

1931: Began friendship with James F. Byrnes in Washington.

1935: Georgia Watson Lee Brown died, leaving one son, Tom Watson Brown.

1940: Moved to Spartanburg, SC, to become Vice-President and General Manager of Spartanburg Advertising Company, owner of WORD. Company also purchased WSPA on 1 June.

1941 3 July: Married Ruth Taylor (1916-1990), the daughter of Alfred Brandon Taylor, President, Spartanburg Advertising Company.

1943: Took leave of absence from Spartanburg Advertising Company to work as Special Assistant of James F. Byrnes, Director of Economic Stabilization and War Mobilization.

1944: Spartanburg Advertising Company forced to sell WORD because of the FCC’s duopoly rule which prohibited a company from owning more than one station in a market.

1945: Worked as Special Assistant for Secretary of State James F. Byrnes and was present at Potsdam.

1945: Organized and served as president of Georgia-Carolina Broadcasting Company and operated WTNT Augusta, Georgia, which began broadcasting 1 January 1947.

1946: Rejoined Spartanburg Advertising Company.

1947: Organized Hickory Hill Broadcasting Company, Thomson, Georgia, and radio station WTWA became operational the following year.

1947 17 March: Organized Spartan Radiocasting Company and purchased WORD and established WDXY-FM. WSPA sold to Liberty Life Insurance Company.

1947 20 June: Brown’s son, James Byrnes Brown, born.

1953: Spartan Radiocasting Company purchased WSPA and WSPA-FM from Surety Life Insurance Company for $400,000.

1956 29 April: WSPA-TV began broadcasting from studios in downtown Spartanburg.

1960 16 May: Fire destroyed the studios of WSPA-TV-AM-FM, but stations were back on the air the next day.

1961 1 August: WSPA-FM began broadcasting in stereo, the first in the southeast.

1966: Divorced Ruth Taylor Brown.

1970: Married Ann Revell Chadeayne Tindale.

1975: Inducted into South Carolina Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

1988: Appointed Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Spartan Radiocasting Company.

1990: The Walter J. Brown Briefing Center was dedicated in the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s headquarters.

1995 April: Awarded the Neville Holcombe Distinguished Award by the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

1995 September: Spartan Radiocasting Company changed its name to Spartan Communications, Inc.

1995 17 November: Died in Spartanburg and was buried 20 November in Thomson Memorial Cemetery, Thomson, Georgia.

Biographical Sketch

Walter Johnson Brown was born 25 July 1903 in Bowman, Georgia, the son of John Judson Brown (1865-1953) and Captora Ginn (1866-1956). Walter’s father, who came from a long line of northeast Georgia farmers, became involved in Georgia politics, first as mayor of Bowman, elected in 1910, and later, from 1917 until 1927, as Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture. Greatly influenced by his father’s career, young Walter developed an understanding of politics and politicians that stayed with him for his entire life. The Brown family moved to Atlanta in 1917 where Walter attended Georgia Tech High School; however, when it came time to continue his education, he found little to interest him in the engineering courses offered at Georgia Tech. Decades later, in a Christmas talk to his employees at WSPA, he lamented the fact that "I myself did not attain a college degree." He did spend one summer at the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady School of Journalism where Dr. John Drewey taught him "the basic tools of journalism." While in Athens he also wrote news stories about campus events for the local paper, the Athens Banner.

In 1925 Walter Brown married Georgia Watson Lee, the granddaughter of Thomas E. Watson, Georgia‘s maverick politician who had died in 1922 while serving in the United States Senate. J.J. Brown had long been Watson’s friend and political ally, and young Walter’s "boyhood admiration for the Sage of Hickory Hill" developed into a life-long campaign to keep alive the memory of the man he considered "the last intellectual to be elected to state-wide office in Georgia." It was at Hickory Hill, Watson’s home in Thomson, in 1916 that he first met Georgia Lee, the daughter of Agnes Watson and her husband Oscar S. Lee. In the years after the end of the First World War, Walter was often invited to Hickory Hill, a house he described as "the most beautiful place I had ever seen," where he continued his friendship with Georgia Lee. That friendship led to courtship and marriage on 12 April 1925. Watson’s two granddaughters, Georgia Lee and Georgia Watson, the latter the daughter of Watson’s son John, had inherited the family estate after both Watson and his wife died in the early 1920s.

For two years immediately following his marriage, Walter Brown worked for his father in the Department of Agriculture in Atlanta, but after his father’s defeat in the election of 1926, Walter and Georgia moved to Thomson, and started a mail-order book business in an effort to sell the stock of Watson’s books that Georgia had inherited. Also, the Browns started a monthly publication, The Watsonian. Brown’s columns in the paper attracted the interest of James S. Vance, the publisher of The Fellowship Forum, in Washington, D.C., and in September 1928, Brown was hired to cover the fall presidential campaign in the South. In writing about the campaign waged by Democrat Al Smith against Republican Herbert Hoover, Brown discovered that he had found a job that he not only liked, but also one that combined his considerable skill as a writer with his strong interest in politics.

For the next decade, he was a Washington-based journalist with his own news bureau. He wrote news stories for several Southern newspapers, developed connections with a number of politicians who often provided timely tips, and became friends with fellow reporters and publishers. After his wife’s death in 1935, Brown had total responsibility for the care for his infant son, Tom Watson Brown. Even though Brown lived in Washington, he maintained close ties with Georgia where his parents lived and where, as his son’s guardian, he looked after the half interest in the Watson estate that had passed from Georgia Lee Brown to her son. Years later, in 1947, Walter Brown purchased the other half of the Watson property, including Hickory Hill, from his late wife’s cousin, Georgia Watson Craven, the wife of Avery O. Craven, who was professor of history at the University of Chicago.

Brown, even though associated with WSPA for most of his long career in broadcasting, actually came to Spartanburg, S.C., not to operate WSPA, but to manage a new radio station, WORD, that would have to compete with the older, established WSPA for the advertising business in the area. WSPA had been the first commercial radio station in South Carolina. It went on the air 17 February 1930, beating by a few months WCSC in Charleston, S.C., and WIS in Columbia, S.C.. In 1938, after watching WSPA dominate the local radio market, a group of Spartanburg businessmen applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a construction permit for a second radio station. The Spartanburg Advertising Company, organized and owned by Alfred Brandon Taylor, Donald Russell, D.S. Burnsides, C.O. Hearon, and Walter Jackson, received FCC permission to proceed with the new station in May 1940, even though WSPA’s owner, Virgil Evans, had vigorously opposed the FCC application. Donald Russell had known Walter J. Brown in Washington and persuaded him to move back south to become general manager of the new Spartanburg station and oversee the crucial startup phase.

New to broadcasting but with twelve years’ experience in journalism, Brown soon found himself in charge of two radio stations, instead of just one. Unexpectedly, the owner of WSPA offered to sell his station rather than compete with WORD. Brown negotiated the transaction and, on 1 June 1940, the Spartanburg Advertising Company completed the purchase of WSPA. On 1 September of the same year WORD began broadcasting with both stations using the WSPA tower. Brown proved to be a very effective manager, and under his guidance both stations prospered, even in the midst of the uncertainty brought about by America’s entrance into World War II. The construction of improved transmitting facilities, affiliations with national networks, and the completion of new studios at Radio Center on East Main Street in 1942 were the results of Brown’s strong leadership and fiscal responsibility. "Radio Center is the showplace of Spartanburg. It is the most modern, the finest, and certainly the most beautiful establishment the city has to offer," Brown told his staff on 25 September 1942. In his Christmas Eve 1942 talk, Brown reminded his staff that "those of us in radio have an important part to play in winning this war. We should be proud of the opportunity and mindful of our obligation."

With the stations on a sound footing and the country deeply involved in the war, Brown, in 1943, responded to an invitation to join his friend and mentor James F. Byrnes as a special assistant after Byrnes had resigned from the United States Supreme Court to become Director of Economic Stabilization and War Mobilization. Brown began an indefinite unpaid leave of absence from his duties with Spartanburg Advertising Company and, on 1 April 1943, entered an eventful new phase in his life. For the next three years, Brown devoted himself to government service, but while in Washington, he stayed "in close touch" with the radio stations in Spartanburg and was clearly involved in management decisions. Before he left, he told his staff "my office will be in the White House and I will be available to help with any problems."

It was not until early April 1945 that Brown returned to Spartanburg and settled back at his old desk at WSPA. His return, however, was brief. With the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April and the elevation of Harry Truman to the presidency, Jimmy Byrnes was appointed Secretary of State and began those duties on 3 July. Brown once again took a leave of absence from the radio station and became Special Assistant to the Secretary of State. By the middle of July, Brown was in Germany at the Potsdam Conference. Brown spent much of September in London where Byrnes participated in the conference of the Council of Foreign Ministers. When Brown returned to Washington, he decided to leave his position at the State Department in order to resume active management of WSPA.

By early December 1945 Brown was back in Spartanburg, diligently working to improve WSPA. With the end of the war, electronic equipment was once again available for commercial stations and WSPA soon had new broadcast towers and was also able to increase its power to 5,000 watts, day and night. Another milestone for WSPA was achieved on 29 August 1946 when WSPA-FM, the state’s first frequency modulation station, signed on. The expanding post-war economy had increased business activity in Spartanburg which in turn meant more advertising dollars for radio. Radio properties therefore rapidly increased in value. In 1947 Spartanburg Advertising Company accepted an attractive offer from Liberty Life Insurance Company to buy WSPA. Brown at the time owned one Georgia radio station and had formulated plans to construct another. In 1945, he had organized Georgia-Carolina Broadcasting Company and, as its president, supervised the construction of a station, WTNT, which began broadcasting in Augusta, Georgia, on 1 January 1947. Also in 1947, he established Hickory Hill Broadcasting Company, secured a construction permit from the FCC, and built station WTWA in his hometown of Thomson, Georgia.

Brown also wanted to continue in the radio business in Spartanburg after the sale of WSPA and, in order to do that, organized a new company, Spartan Radiocasting Company, on 17 March 1947. He bought WORD, the other Spartanburg station, on 21 July. At his last WSPA staff meeting, Brown praised his employees. "It just did not happen that WSPA rose from a down at the heel radio station in 1940 to one of the South’s foremost radio stations in 1947. It took a lot [of] talent, a lot of drudgery, a lot of sacrifice and a hell of a lot of work on all our part."

Brown worked tirelessly to improve WORD and to compete successfully with WSPA for local and national advertising revenues. On 14 April 1948, WDXY, Spartanburg’s second FM facility and WORD’s sister station, went on the air. Brown also wanted to become involved with the post-war expansion of television broadcasting. In fact, he had been present when the new technology was first introduced to the public in a significant way at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. When he visited with a group from the National Press Club, he "was selected to make a talk over my colleagues in a different building on the fair grounds."

In August 1947, he consulted with Washington, D.C., engineer A.D. Ring about the future prospects for television, especially in small markets like Spartanburg. In 1950 he wrote: "As pioneers of radio development in Spartanburg, those who own and manage WORD and WDXY are determined that Spartanburg will stay abreast in the fast developing art of television." In the meantime, the FCC, in 1948, temporarily "froze" new TV station construction until a plan for granting licenses for both VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency) stations in a fair and equitable way could be worked out. Larger cities, under the FCC plan, would be granted VHF channels apportioned according to population. VHF channels were more desirable than UHF channels because of the larger geographic area their signals could reach. Just as with radio, the larger the audience a TV station served, the higher its advertising rates could be. The FCC had assigned Spartanburg channel 6, a VHF channel, in the 1948 allocation plan; however, in a 1949 revised version, Spartanburg lost its VHF channel and was granted, instead, two UHF channels. In fact, neither Spartanburg nor Greenville were allotted a VHF channel while Columbia, Charleston, Charlotte, Asheville, and Atlanta all received one or more of the preferred channels.

Spartan Radiocasting Company petitioned the FCC to assign a VHF station to Spartanburg and two Greenville UHF stations asked for the same consideration for that city. When a new allocation was announced in March, 1951, Greenville was assigned channel 4, Columbia was given channels 7 and 10, and Charleston was granted channels 2, 5, and 13. Spartanburg, again, was left without a VHF channel. The City of Spartanburg, with Brown’s company leading the way, launched a campaign to convince the FCC to reassign one of Columbia’s two VHF channels, channel 7, to Spartanburg. Armed with technical data, population figures, and with the active support of South Carolina’s two United States senators, Olin D. Johnston and Burnet R. Maybank, the Spartanburg interests persuaded the FCC to grant the request to allocate channel 7 to Spartanburg. At a luncheon honoring Senator Maybank, Brown informed the audience "that had it not been for the help given us by Senator Burnet R. Maybank, who then was Chairman of the committee which handled the FCC appropriation, we would not have received this channel and Spartanburg would [have] greatly declined as a trading center...." On 11 April 1952 when the favorable decision was handed down, Spartan Radiocasting Company acted very quickly to file an application for a license to operate WORD-TV on channel 7.

A short time later, Liberty Life Insurance Company, operating through Broadcasting Company of the South, the owner of WSPA, filed a competing application to establish a TV station on the same channel. After a year-long battle with Broadcasting Company of the South for the right to operate a TV station in Spartanburg, Brown decided that the quickest way around the impasse would be to buy WSPA from the competing company. On 24 November 1953, Spartan Radiocasting Company paid $400,000 for WSPA with the understanding that the Broadcasting Company of the South would withdraw its application for channel 7. The next day, the FCC granted Spartan Radiocasting Company a construction permit for a TV station and, once again, Walter Brown was owner of WSPA.

Brown had won his battle for the right to build and operate a TV station in Spartanburg, but he soon found himself in a war waged by television interests in Greenville and Anderson. This time the conflict was over the location of WSPA-TV’s broadcasting tower. In its initial construction permit application filed with the FCC, Spartan had indicated that rugged Hogback Mountain, about 25 miles north of Greenville, would be the site of its transmitter facilities. Brown was eager to get the new station on the air and decided that by using the more accessible Paris Mountain, six miles north of Greenville, as the transmitter location, he would be able to begin broadcasting in a matter of months, rather than in the year or so that it would take to secure electricity and water, and build the necessary facilities on top of Hogback. The FCC granted permission for WSPA-TV to operate on a temporary basis from Paris Mountain using the transmitting plant that WFBC-FM had formerly operated. In February 1954, Sterling Telecasting Company from Greenville, WAIM-TV, a UHF station in Anderson owned by Wilton E. Hall, and Greenville Television Company, owner of a UHF station, WGVL-TV, all lodged protests with the FCC in regard to the permit allowing Spartan to broadcast from Paris Mountain. In Brown’s words, "This started a legal battle that plagued the station for the next 9 years."

In the meantime, Brown moved forward with plans to provide a television studio and to buy equipment so the station could go on the air immediately after the legal issues were resolved. Accordingly, on 10 May 1954, Spartanburg’s mayor, Neville Holcombe, broke ground for WSPA’s television studio at 224 East Main Street. Another two years passed, however, before Dempsey & Koplovitz, the Washington law firm representing Spartan Radiocasting Company, managed to answer all the protests and petitions from the station’s opponents. On 29 April 1956, WSPA-TV began broadcasting from its East Main Street facilities using the tower on Paris Mountain. Brown’s friend James F. Byrnes, along with other local politicians, appeared on the inaugural broadcast and praised Brown for his determination and tenacity in the face of what seemed to be endless litigation. As a CBS affiliate, WSPA-TV during its first year on the air offered network programming that featured the "Phil Silvers Show," "Burns and Allen," "Our Miss Brooks," "Ed Sullivan," "Gunsmoke," Saturday and Sunday baseball games, and, in the fall, Washington Redskins football. Local programming included "Cousin Bud’s Settin’ Room," "an early evening around-the-fireplace-type show"; the "Jane Dalton Show," a carryover from radio where "Jane Dalton" (Llewellyn Williams Murray) began her talk show in 1940; and Cliff (Farmer) Gray, who also made the transition from radio to television with a daily, later weekly, program that continued until his death in 1979.

WSPA-TV also continued the tradition of featuring live broadcasts of local musical groups that had always been a popular feature on WSPA-AM. The Blue Ridge Quartet, a popular gospel group, performed on both radio and television. Don Reno, Spartanburg native, began a brief stint on WSPA-TV on 1 February 1965 where he was featured along with his Tennessee Cut-ups on Carolina Showtime, from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. Reno had performed on WSPA radio beginning in 1940 and had influenced the banjo style of a teenager named Earl Scruggs, who also gained some early experience on the Spartanburg station. Arthur Smith played his original composition, "Guitar Boogie," for the first time on WSPA radio. Even though Brown had little appreciation for the music of Reno, Scruggs, and Smith and lumped it all together as "hillbilly," he did invite Arthur Smith to the dedication of the WSPA-TV’s new building in 1979. Don Reno, who like Scruggs was a major contributor to the evolution of bluegrass music, resigned from his show after performing on WSPA-TV for only six months, citing "other commitments" as the reason for his departure.

WSPA-TV’s first studio was located adjacent to Radio Center on East Main Street, but when a fire destroyed both facilities on 16 May 1960, it was necessary to broadcast temporarily from the Paris Mountain transmitter building until a vacant building that faced North Converse Street near the burned facilities could be renovated into studio space. Amazingly, both radio and television broadcasts were resumed the morning after the fire thanks to the generosity of nearby stations. "With the assistance of WBTV and WFBC remote units and the cooperation of the telephone company," Walter Brown informed the FCC two days after the disaster, "WSPA-TV signed on at 8:00 AM May 16th with CBS network service from our transmitter on Paris Mountain....Before the day was out, we were originating local live programs." Compounding the loss of broadcasting equipment, was the destruction of many of Spartan Radiocasting Company’s records. Brown informed his Washington attorney that "apparently all radio logs [prior to 1 January 1960] were destroyed....All logs dated January 1st to the current date were still in the office files of the Program Department and have been saved." The television logs fared better and all survived the fire. Many other documents, however, were lost. Brown reminded his attorney in April 1963 that "as you know, a lot of our papers were destroyed by our fire." Most of the files that survived bear the scorch marks from the intense heat of that night.

For the next decade and a half, WSPA’s broadcast studios remained in downtown Spartanburg. With the addition of a small studio building in 1966, the existing facilities proved adequate until the mid 1970s when Spartan Radiocasting Company retained Lockwood Greene, Architects and Engineers, to "make a recommendation concerning the relative feasibility of retaining the radio, television and administrative facilities at their present location while permitting a reasonable amount of expansion required for future space needs." Even though the firm produced a positive report with a detailed three-phase building program, the complication presented by the decision of the City of Spartanburg to realign Converse Street by cutting through the property where the proposed new construction was to occur, prompted the Spartan Board of Directors, at their meeting on 22 December 1976, to vote to acquire land outside the city. The 35-acre site selected was near the intersection of Interstates 85 and 26, about two miles west of the city limits. Clearly Brown was sensitive to the implications of WSPA’s move from the city’s center to the outskirts, especially at a time when there was a concerted effort to rebuild the city’s core. "The proposed move—which is designed for the benefit of residents of the Spartanburg area—is not intended to change WSPA-TV’s responsibilities to its principal community of Spartanburg," Brown wrote as plans for the new construction were finalized. "It will continue to give the emphasis it has given to Spartanburg events, government activities, civic affairs and news."

Walter Cronkite was invited to Spartanburg to join with Walter Brown to break ground for the new building on 19 March 1977. Construction started on the 41,000-square-foot facility late in the fall of 1977 and a year and a half later, on 1 April 1979, it was finished and fully equipped. On 16-17 June the station hosted a dedication program and open house that attracted friends from across the country. South Carolina’s United States Senators, Strom Thurmond and Ernest F. Hollings, Governor Richard Riley, CBS network officials, and many of Brown’s personal friends, including Sol Taishoff, publisher of Broadcasting, attended.

While WSPA-TV’s studios remained in or near the city’s center, the station’s broadcast facilities, located on Paris Mountain since the first broadcast in 1956, were moved to Hogback Mountain in 1963. In 1960, the FCC rescinded WSPA’s permit to operate from Paris Mountain in response to the complaints of the "competing TV operators in Anderson and Greenville" but affirmed the company’s right to broadcast from some other location. Brown decided, after numerous surveys by Washington engineer Andy Ring, that Hogback Mountain would provide the largest coverage area for the station and, because advertising revenues were tied to the number of households served, would bring in more profit for his company than any other potential site. So, a decade after choosing Paris over Hogback Mountain for expediency’s sake, Brown and the Spartan Board of Directors made the commitment to move to Hogback in June 1963. Surveyors and engineers were working on Hogback Mountain in July; the tower was erected in September; and at 1:28 p.m., 21 October 1963, WSPA began telecasting with an antenna height 3,468 feet above mean sea level atop Hogback Mountain.

Brown’s correspondence illustrates the multitude of issues and problems that faced broadcasters who were operating within the smaller geographic markets in the country. Ratings were an essential measure of a station’s audience and Brown constantly sought ways to increase the audience size of all WSPA stations. Brown reminded his staff at the 1973 Christmas party that "one of our goals [for the year] was for WSPA to be the number one station in our market in radio and television. Today we are number one in prime time in Nielsen. In radio we are number one in the morning in AM, and our FM is the most listened to station in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville Metro Area."

Brown used technology to increase the number of viewers who could receive WSPA-TV’s signal. Even with a transmitting tower on one of the highest peaks in the area, there remained in western North Carolina "a few pockets behind high mountains on line with Hogback which did not have ghost free...reception...." To improve signal reception in the Asheville, N.C., area, Brown in 1963 began an ambitious program to place translators, transmitters with local coverage up to 20 miles, in fringe reception areas. A 1972 marketing map located these translator sites and touted "now-19 translators, now-greater penetration into western N.C. to generate the retail dollars."

Brown also found other ways to attract new WSPA-TV viewers and WSPA-AM-FM listeners. In 1964, WSPA-FM began broadcasting from the new transmitter and tower on Hogback Mountain which allowed the station to "serve an area extending from above Asheville to Columbia, S.C., and from Charlotte to Gainesville, Georgia." On 4 July 1965 WSPA-TV became "the first station in South originate local color programming," Brown announced in a news release. "Color is unquestionably the greatest dimension ever added to electronic broadcasting. Not only does it make the programs more entertaining and informative, but it also enables television to become the greatest advertising media ever developed for selling services and moving merchandise," he concluded. And with seventeen CBS programs scheduled for colorcast, Brown predicted that "color broadcasting will come into its own during the 1965-66 season."

Walter Brown also fought battles other than the ones for increased audiences. In 1968, as the nation experienced the violent aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination and the reaction against American involvement in Southeast Asia, Brown initiated a frank exchange of views with Dr. Frank Stanton, president of CBS, and Richard S. Salant, president of CBS News. Brown complained to Stanton that "I am quite concerned over the new role apparently the networks are carving out for themselves; and that is, attempting to shape history rather than to report news and events factually and objectively." To Salant, he wrote: "The breakdown of respect for law and order in this country is the most shocking thing that has happened in my lifetime. I cannot help but feel that television has been a contributing factor to this situation." Brown also expressed his displeasure over specific television programs that offended WSPA-TV viewers. After a Greenville viewer wrote that "on Sunday night...Oct. 27th [1968] the Smothers Brothers Show was the most sacrilegious thing I have ever seen on T.V.," Brown wrote Bill Lodge, CBS Vice President of Affiliate Relations, enclosed a copy of the letter, and added: "I do not feel any network should permit comedians or anyone else to broadcast programs which will offend the religious beliefs and sensibilities of a vast segment of our people." Lodge responded with the hope that "the boys are going to act more business-like in the future."

Even though Brown turned sixty-five in 1968, he showed no signs of slowing his pace or delegating any of his authority as president of Spartan Radiocasting Company to someone else. All the department heads reported to him, and Brown kept in touch with his staff through his frequent memos. For example, on 4 November 1975, he wrote eight memos to members of the staff. These memos provided specific direction, posed questions, inquired about the status of projects, or demanded accountability: "During October I have two memos that were not answered by you: One on October 21 with reference to the appearance of the FM studios and another on October 27 with reference to promotion of Grand Opera."

An organizational chart from around 1970 illustrates the chain of command for Spartan Radiocasting Company. Walter Brown as president managed and directed the company’s operations with the consent of the board of directors. Vice-President and General Manager Charles R. Sanders, who had joined Spartan Radio-casting Company in 1961 as the president’s assistant, became vice president and general manager in 1965. He reported to Brown, while the TV managing director, AM station manager, FM station manager, technical manager, and sales manager reported to him. In 1974, the board consisted of Brown; his son Tom Watson Brown, an Atlanta attorney; Dunklin S. Burnside, a friend since 1940 who had served as secretary and treasurer of Spartan Radiocasting since 1947; Broadus R. Littlejohn and Henry Gramling, both local businessmen and friends of long standing; and Charles R. Sanders, Vice-President and General Manager of the company. By the early 1980s, Sanders had retired and K. James Yager became second in command with the title executive vice president and general manager. Brown, however, continued his active role as president of the company. After Jim Yager retired in 1987, Nick W. Evans, Jr., president of WAGT Television, Inc., of Augusta, Georgia, was appointed executive vice president and general manager of Spartan. The next year, after Brown was named chairman and chief executive officer at age 85, he turned over most of the daily responsibility for company operations to Evans; yet, even after his ninetieth birthday, Brown remained active and involved with the management of Spartan Radiocasting Company.

When Brown died in November 1995, Nick Evans, speaking as president of Spartan Communications, Inc., praised Brown as "a pioneer in every sense of the word." Senator Strom Thurmond issued a statement in which he remarked that "no one could ask for a more loyal friend or valued advisor than Walter Brown." "I will miss the wise counsel that Walter provided—not only politically, but on a full range of communications issues," Senator Ernest F. Hollings wrote in the Congressional Record. Charles R. Sanders, WSPA’s general manager for sixteen years, perhaps captured best the relationship that existed between Brown and his work: "WSPA will always mean ‘Walter Brown’ to a lot of people."


The papers of Walter Johnson Brown (1903-1995) were transferred to the South Caroliniana Library by deed of gift in 2005. Information concerning copyright must be secured in writing from the Director of the South Caroliniana Library.



Repository Details

Part of the South Caroliniana Library Repository

910 Sumter St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-5747 (Fax)

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script