Remembering a family friend and local radio icon
By Billy Eye
“When you reach the end of your rope, hang on.” — Bob Poole
Attended a fab book launch party for Dr. Tomi Bryan’s book, What’s Your Superpower? (written under the pseudonym Tomi Llama) at the Divine Llama Winery. This is a terrific read, gathering all the most effective techniques allowing one, as Dan Holden states in the intro, “to align more fully with our authentic strength, purpose and power.” Tried and true coping mechanisms and superior lifestyle enhancements that anyone can benefit from. Look for it on Amazon. You’ll love it! We enjoyed a fun-filled Saturday afternoon. If you haven’t experienced Divine Llama, besides their luscious wines, you’ll be amazed at the dozens of llamas in every conceivable size, shape and color roaming the property.
The only hitch, a minor one for sure, was the super tricked-out luxury party bus that didn’t show up to ferry us there. Which served as a reminder of a mid-1950s mobile rumpus room piloted by my parents and Greensboro’s No.1 morning radio jock of all time, Bob Poole.
Stoneville native Bob Poole was WBIG’s booming baritone for 25 years beginning in 1952, having come from the Mutual Broadcasting System in New York where he’d won the TV-Radio Mirror Award as “America’s Favorite Disc Jockey” in 1949. He was also awarded Billboard’s “DJ Award” for three successive years. He even appeared as himself in the 1951 cult motion picture Disc Jockey. Literally the first post-Modern radio personality, every morning deejay you’ve ever heard has unknowingly adopted and adapted his style. “Poole’s Paradise” was a local sensation from day one.
For whatever reason, perhaps because they were all extremely witty and loved to imbibe, Bob and Gloria Poole and my parents hit it off early on. In 1955 they, along with some of Greensboro’s finest families, cruised to the Bahamas aboard the MS Stockholm where Bob and my father Bill, who’d gotten mightily smashed that first night at sea, spent the next day heaving over the side of the ship.
Also in the mid-’50s, years before liquor could be served legally in a bar, my father and the Pooles retrofitted a sidelined city school bus into a rolling speakeasy equipped with comfy sofas, drapes, side tables and throw pillows. Gloria Poole recalled to me in 2014, “I decorated it, we painted it turquoise and orange, we had all the seats taken out and had banquet seats and a bar put in.” Once aboard their rolling liquor cabinet, complete with a built-in refrigerator freezer, “We’d go to football games or drive around to people’s houses, park in their driveway and throw a little cocktail party.”
The days of Old Grand Dad on wheels and diesel fuel were a thing of the past by the mid-1960s when I was old enough to remember Bob and Gloria unexpectedly dropping by our humble home on Hill Street. There’d be so much commotion emanating from the living room, everyone laughing so volcanically, they’d be in tears. Being of the seen-but-not-heard generation (we weren’t even supposed to be seen!), I would eavesdrop from the hallway steps. Hearing me chuckling along with everyone one evening, Bob insisted I join them. None better in the art of the bad pun, Master Po taught Grasshopper how to spar verbally.
In my teen years Bob took a liking to me, perhaps because I was such an unabashed fan. I’d pass along jokes, trivia books and oddball magazines for show fodder, either at his home at 718 Dover Road or at the old radio station where Lowe’s is now on Battleground. Genuinely grateful, he’d credit me on the air when he knew I’d be listening, driving to Page High. I was reluctant to tell my friends, though. Bob Poole was considered decidedly square by the mid-1970s; WBIG was the station your parents listened to, while WCOG-AM and WRQK-FM dominated the youth market. When someone said they’d heard my name mentioned on the radio on the way to school, surprisingly classmates in Ms. Bell’s art class were in awe that I knew the man. We’d all grown up eating breakfast while listening to “Poole’s Paradise.”
My first contribution to his program had been when I was around 3 years old. My father hoisted me above his shoulder to visit Bob in his “Poole Room” studio as he was beginning a broadcast early one morning. Warbling his familiar theme song, I began whistling along with Bob, which caused him to burst out laughing.
Heroes have feet of clay. In the ’70s, Bob’s boozing got out of hand. Not that it affected his work, so far as I know. Alcoholism was, as one radio veteran informed me, an occupational hazard. Bob would take a half gallon of vodka and turn it upward, all alone, atop the then vacant hilltop lot at 707 Blair Street. As Gloria put it, “Bob thought no one could see him there but everybody could.” That spot was only two doors away from where we had moved, yet I don’t recall his ever visiting despite the fact my parents had a cocktail party attended by family and friends every evening.
In 1977, George Perry (as WFMY’s kiddie show superstar The Old Rebel) and Bob Poole hosted a live Saturday morning radio broadcast from the Piccadilly Cafeteria inside Carolina Circle Mall. Though it was radio, George Perry was still fully decked in his top hat and Southern Gentleman garb. Neither looked terribly comfortable in this format; Bob had just completed a months long hospital stay that almost did him in. He was thin, wan and performing before an audience of middle-aged mall rats wolfing down biscuits and gravy. That show lasted only a few weeks before Bob found himself once again bedridden. His medical bills were so extraordinary — hundreds of thousands of dollars — Joe Bryan and a bunch of local businessmen raised enough cash to wipe them out and more.
Mere weeks after signing off for the last time, Bob Poole passed away, almost 40 years ago today. He was 61. I visited him at Cone (back when it was just a hospital, y’all) on several occasions. The final time he greeted me with, “Great . . . probably the last time you’ll ever see me and I’m coming out of the bathroom!” Through it all, he never lost that quick wit or his innate curiosity.
Three years ago this month, I contacted O.Henry magazine out of the blue with a submission about, you guessed it, Bob Poole. I consider it an honor to tell you his story. Sometimes I don’t think it’s a pure coincidence that it was Bob who led me to such a happy association. OH
Born and raised in Greensboro, Billy Eye can be reached at Billy@tvparty.com.