Sports: Everyone’s Buddy for such a long time

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 10, 2022

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Local legend Charles “Buddy” Poole stays in perpetual motion. He’s 75 going on 25.

Quick with a handshake, a grin or a joke, he’s been everyone’s buddy, everyone’s pal, for a very long time.

Even if you hate radio and even if you hate Duke basketball, Legion baseball and the Boston Red Sox, it’s hard not to like Poole, one of the leading ambassadors for all of those things.

Poole is an old-school radio guy.

Radio still matters to a lot of people, mostly people with silver in their hair — or no hair at all. For many folks in Rowan and Cabarrus counties, Poole’s voice is the first sound they hear when they wake in the morning. It’s a merry voice that makes every day seem like Christmas. It’s a voice that smiles and winks at them as they get their day started.

Poole takes pride in being the first to tell everyone “Good Morning!” He’s got T-shirts to prove it.

Poole is general manager of three radio stations — Salisbury’s WSAT and WSTP and Concord’s WEGO. With the expanded market in Cabarrus County accounting for about 40 percent of the listeners, Poole says an average weekday morning show can have an impact on tens of thousands.

“We’ve got heavy hitters that give us a large audience — David Whisenant with the news, Al Conklin with the weather and (Buddy’s son) Lance Poole with sports,” Buddy said. “It’s not like it’s just me on the morning show. My job is to add a little comedy.”

Poole has been an important part of sports in Rowan County, especially during the last two decades.

For 20 years, he brought Catawba College football games into your cars and living rooms if you couldn’t make it to Kirkland Field at Shuford Stadium. He stepped away from that mic when the 2021 season ended for the Indians.

There have been a lot of high school broadcasts over the years, including incredible ones not long ago from Ting Stadium in Holly Springs.

It was South Rowan graduate Poole who delivered the play-by-play of South Rowan’s historic 3A state championship back to Rowan County. Poole still gets misty-eyed talking about it. He went to school with Larry Deal at South back in the mid-1960s and to see Deal’s son-in-law (head coach Thad Chrismon), daughter (AD Angie Chrismon) and grandson (shortstop Nathan Chrismon) playing their roles in that championship meant almost as much to him as attending his first Super Bowl a few years ago.

“Seeing South Rowan win was emotional,” he said.

Another of Deal’s grandsons, Jackson Deal, plays center field for the Rowan County American Legion baseball team and will be part of Poole’s final Legion broadcasts. Maybe he’ll run down a ball at the wall for the final out of Poole’s baseball play-by-play career.

Poole has been doing Rowan Legion games for 21 summers.

Tuesday’s home playoff game will be “Buddy Night” at the ballpark, but he insists that promotion — there will be lots of giveaways and prizes —  isn’t about him, it’s about the team. He wants this year’s players to experience the thrill of a really big crowd at Newman Park. He’s hoping they can get 1,000 people out there.

Poole wasn’t born with a silver spoon — he lost his father at age 4 when he was growing up in Salisbury — but that didn’t stop him from becoming a mover and shaker in the radio business.

How did he do it? Mostly he had the good fortune to have mentors for neighbors, guys who looked out for him and taught him things when he was just a pup in Salisbury.

Then his mom remarried and he relocated to China Grove.

That’s where he discovered the art of selling and mastered it while he was still a high school student, working for Harry Welch Sr. at WSAT.  That skill took him far in life.

Poole started out humbly in sports. He was a bat boy and water boy for China Grove High coach Lope Linder. He remembers vividly China Grove-Landis tussles that were about as close to matters of life and death as any ballgame can ever be.

He played quarterback in junior high. He didn’t have the size for QB after he got to high school, but his sports background landed him the assignment of “color man” for Harold Powell’s South Rowan football broadcasts. The next year Poole got to do make his play-by-play debut.

One day between his junior and senior years at South Rowan, Poole stopped by the radio station and told  Welch. that he wanted to pursue a career in radio and asked for a job. Welch hired him. That first week he sold $800 in advertisements and received $200 in commission.

“Harry Welch was so good to me, and I started selling so many ads for the station that I was driving a brand new baby blue Mustang that I bought from City Motors,” Poole said. “I probably was making more money than any of my schoolteachers. The biggest thing in selling is knowing what to say after you get that first no.”

He remembers getting the cold shoulder from adults who worked for the station.  They kept being reminded at every meeting that the high school kid was out-selling all of them. It took Poole a while to figure out why no one was speaking to him. He was making them look bad.

During his senior year (1964-65), Poole had his own night-time show on WSAT — “Buddy’s Beat.” He’d take requests from the cruisers in downtown Salisbury.

In 1965, the year American involvement in Vietnam escalated dramatically, military recruiters had a radio show in WSAT prior to  “Buddy’s Beat.”

A friendly sergeant advised Poole to enlist before he was drafted and to try to get into the Department of Defense’s Journalism and Broadcasting School.

After basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Poole was sent to broadcasting school in Indianapolis.

His Southern accent led to him being turned down for assignment, but when he went to see his commanding officer to protest, he fearlessly pointed out to him that the country’s military bases were largely in the South, and  the people stationed there spoke with the same accent that he did.

Poole could have been a lawyer. He won his case. Not long after that, he was broadcasting news and sports to soldiers all over the world from Nuremberg, Germany.

He finished his service hitch in Norfolk, Va.

It was a whirlwind of radio stations after that.

Poole went to work in 1969 for WTIK, a station Welch owned in Durham. That was the first full-time country music station in North Carolina.

Poole met just about every county celebrity, hung out with the Oak Ridge Boys, Loretta Lynn and Brenda Lee, even had his arm around Dolly Parton for a minute or so.

He organized a mall autograph party with Lynn and Faron Young that drew 3,000 people.

He was going places. Welch named Poole station manager of WTIK when Poole was 26.

Then he was general manager of WPCM, a 100,000-watt country FM in Burlington.

He was in Burlington the day he hung up on Duke AD Tom Butters during tense negotiations to make WPCM the flagship station for Duke basketball. Poole asked for ACC basketball tournament tickets as part of the deal. Butters basically told him he was crazy. “Find yourself another 100,000-watt station,” Poole said. A few minutes later, Butters called back. The deal was struck.

Along the way, Poole spent time with Howard Cosell, with Wolfman Jack, with Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Valvano.

“There was an N.C. State fan I was trying to sell, but I could never get him to commit,” Poole recalls. “I asked him what would it take for me to get his business. He said he really wanted to meet Jim Valvano. Well, Valvano was playing in the  Bing Crosby charity golf tournament,  so I asked Jim if he would say hello to the guy. He did better than that. He grabs him, hugs him, calls him by his first name and thanks him for supporting the Wolfpack. After that, I was selling that guy $1,000 a month in ads.”

Poole has been friends with former New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson since me met him at a Southeast Regional Legion Tournament in Sumter, S.C., Richardson’s hometown.

That friendship was instrumental in getting Richardson to come to Salisbury to speak at Rowan County coach Jim Gantt’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Ownership opportunities came for Poole in the 1980s, and he’s never been bashful. He seized them.

He went in with partners and purchased WTNC/WIST-FM in Thomasville in 1984. He was general manager there for 18 years.

That station got him back into sports and play-by-play, broadcasting Thomasville Bulldogs football on their annual playoff runs. The state championships and the memorable experiences piled up.

In 2002, he made a trip to Salisbury to visit Welch, who had given him his start in radio.

“Before I knew it, I had bought the radio station,” Poole said with a laugh. “So much history here. Paul Harvey did a broadcast from here.”

Poole came home that year. It worked out.

“How many people get to come back home where they started?” Poole said.

Besides the steady diet of sports, including the UNC Tar Heels and Carolina Panthers, WSAT provides the “Memories” music format that is popular with the Baby Boomers. The hits of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s just keep on coming from a WSAT computer database of 3,000 tunes.

“It was important that we called it Memories Radio,” Poole said. “When you call it oldies, well, that’s got some bad connotations.”

Poole lost his first wife, Helen, in 2012. They were married 46 years.

In 2013, he met sports-minded Dianne Harrington at a wedding. He would propose to her that summer with the ultimate grand gesture for a Red Sox fan — in front of  throng at Yankee Stadium.

“There were 56 people on our bus,” Poole said. “I knew I’d have at least 56 cheering for me.”

The cheers were deafening. She said yes.

Poole survived quadruple bypass surgery a few months after they were married.

He says bypass surgery wasn’t nearly as harrowing as one of his early small plane flights to cover Catawba football.

“I wake up and the pilot is talking about trying to figure out how to land and where to land,” Poole said. “It was a dime screw that came loose, but it had me doing Hail Marys up there.”

Poole sold WSAT in September 2014 to attorney Bill Graham, although he stayed on as general manager.

In 2016, the Pooles headed to California to watch the Carolina Panthers play in the Super Bowl. He marked that off the bucket list.

Like the musical hits, the ballgames have kept on coming year-round from WSAT, with Ken Anderson and Poole sharing play-by-play and color duties.

When he takes a well-earned breather from sports duties, Poole will have more time to sell ads, more time to handle the demands of the stations, more time to come up with jokes for the morning show and more time to spend with his family.

He even plans to finish a book he’s writing about something he knows absolutely everything about — stories about the radio morning men.

“I’ve met so many good people in this business,” Poole said. “So many friends I made through radio, and I’m lucky enough to be finishing at the same place where I started.”