Call Bill Bowick a DJ and he would have crawled through the radio dial and poured a hot pot of Folgers in your lap.
"I never jockeyed a disc in my life," he said. "I was a radio personality."
And what a personality he was. In an era when the voice was more important than the music Bowick was a morning man, inviting listeners to have coffee with Bill.
His generation of radio had an unpredictable spirit that isn't often found in today's cookie-cutter medium that resembles a jukebox, playing music between blocks of prepackaged commercials.
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Bowick, and others like him, lived down the street and gabbed about the towns in which they lived. They entertained and communicated and could have been sitting across the breakfast table from their audience.
His death Thursday at the age of 91 is a reminder of radio in its formative years when voices like his were part of a community's fiber.
That he died the same day as Dot McClure is strange. Her late husband Chuck brought Bowick to town from Albany, Ga. in 1955. McClure heard him on his car radio and hired him at WGBA, an AM station whose call letters stood for Georgia Bordering Alabama.
The McClures already knew the Bowicks. At the University of Georgia Bowick introduced Chuck and Dot. For the next 19 years, Bowick worked for McClure, seamlessly moving his show from Albany to Columbus.
Television was a novelty and radio was dominated by unforgettable characters.
There was Cuzzin Al, a homespun character created by Hudie Brown who never stepped out from the shadows. There was Jimmy Deere, a man of a thousand voices whose paycheck went to Jimmy Treston. There was Country Boy, who became the Rev. Jimmy Cook. There was Ben Parsons, AKA Uncle Benny. There was Dr. Jive, given name Ed Mendel.
And there was plain old Bill Bowick.
He moved up and down the radio dial but he always came home to Cassie and their six children. People saw him at church and the gym. They saw him at St. Anne's School where his kids got a Catholic education.
Others hid behind pseudonyms. He hid behind Fillup Space, a wicked little character who said things Bowick couldn't say. He tagged along from Albany where he emerged when a preacher didn't show up for a show and Bowick had to fill up space.
For years, after his clan
gathered for Sunday dinner, Bowick excused himself and went to bedroom and crafted Fillup's material for the week. He kept meticulous files of jokes and in 2003 -- long after he retired -- he gave them to Wade Collier, better known as Bear O'Brian, in an unusual meeting at the Macon Road Winn-Dixie.
"Those are the corniest jokes in the world but they're mine to preserve and I will always cherish them because they are a huge part of what made my friend a household name throughout this area for over 50 years," Collier said.
Even loyal listeners might not know that his wife of 67 years cooked breakfast for him before every show, that he was a University of Georgia cheerleader and that he had a walk-on role in "The Phenix City Story."
He cheered for the Bulldogs in 1946 and 1947, back when cheerleaders didn't do back flips. He played a young soldier in a campy movie about the Phenix City cleanup in a scene where voluptuous Meg Myles belted out the "Phenix City Blues."
Bowick mostly worked alone, except for the ubiquitous Mr. Space who will be buried him on Monday. His only live sidekick was Jim Devitt and Diamond Jim became Bowick's biggest booster. In an era of brassy copycat DJs, he said Bowick stayed cool and comfortable.
"Bill was a calming voice to thousands of listeners, "Devitt said last week. "Radio was an extension of his personality. It was like waking up with a friend."
The business has changed. Many of the personalities we hear are based in Parts Unknown. Their show is generic and so are they. There aren't many places for clever voices that live among us.
Last week, before he slipped away, Bowick showed a nurse at St. Francis Hospital the glibness of an old morning man. He had been bedridden for too long and his backside was hurting so he called for help.
His son-in-law, Don Coker, helped him turn over so the nurse could examine the affected area.
"Let me go get a camera so I can add pictures to your file," she said.
"That's the best offer I've had in a long time," the wisecracking radio guy said.
She returned with a camera and photographed his posterior. She was about to leave his room but Bowick had a parting question.
"Color or black-and-white?"
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org