07/08/11 — Local broadcaster shared the news with Wayne County

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Local broadcaster shared the news with Wayne County

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 8, 2011 1:46 PM

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Vassie Balkcum

Pioneer radio broadcaster Vassie Balkcum, past president of the former Eastern Carolina Broadcasting Co., which owned WGBR radio station, is being remembered not only for his rich, unique voice, but for his service to his home community of Wayne County and to his profession.

Balkcum, 84, who died Thursday at Wayne Memorial Hospital, was active in the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, serving as president in 1987. He was presented the association's Distinguished Service Award in 1992 and in 2004 was inducted into its Hall of Fame.

A memorial service will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at St. Paul United Methodist Church, with the Rev. Jim Harry officiating. A private entombment will follow at Wayne Memorial Park.

The family will receive friends Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the residence.

Longtime friend and co-worker Robert "Bob" Hill called Balkcum an example of a person not having to leave his hometown to succeed in life.

"He came to the radio station as an announcer," Hill said. "He became program director, sales manager and later became general manager and then president of the corporation that started it back in 1939."

Hill and Balkcum first worked together from 1946 to 1948 before Hill left to serve a stint in the Marines and then attended East Carolina University. Balkcum hired him back in 1956.

Hill recalls how Balkcum got him started doing early morning interviews on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"Vassie took me out there one day and said, 'Why don't we do interviews out here?'" Hill said. "I said, 'OK' and 55 years later, he didn't tell me to stop so I am still doing it. Vassie was probably one of the most dedicated people I have worked with.

"He demanded excellence. He was praised by all the people in the region for the quality of the media, the equipment and the sound. He wouldn't go with just anything. He had to have the best of what was available and that is what generated such a following for WGBR."

In his letter nominating Balkcum for the Wayne County Museum Wall of Fame, Hill wrote that Balkcum had several jobs to sustain himself and to help his family while growing up during the Great Depression.

"Upon arriving at Goldsboro High School, because of his stature and his earned self-assurance, he was challenged to pursue a course through drama and radio to develop what would become a successful lifetime career," Hill wrote.

After graduating from Goldsboro High School, Balkcum continued his association with the school's drama group, the Goldmasquers, helping to develop a complete radio department which launched the careers of many Goldsboro High students, Hill wrote.

"Under his leadership, WGBR had a reputation in the industry of having the highest quality sound and production in the region," Hill wrote. "He was involved in bringing the new FM system of broadcasting to Goldsboro, adding WEQR to the company programming."

Wade Hargrove, general counsel for the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, worked with Balkcum for more than 45 years.

"I would say that every broadcaster who knew Vassie said that he was a credit to his profession," Hargrove said. "I think that the people of Goldsboro and Wayne County would also say that he was a credit to his community.

"He was an extraordinary broadcaster. He had extraordinary high standards for broadcasting. Vassie Balkcum's radio stations sounded as good as radio stations in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles."

Hargrove said Balkcum didn't set standards for anyone else that he wasn't willing to subject himself to as well.

"He was a class act in every sense of the word," Hargrove said. "He was a strong leader. He spoke softly. He had great judgment. This is a great loss for his profession, for his friends and everybody who knew him.

"(The North Carolina Association of Broadcasters) gave Vassie every possible honor and distinction, all of which were richly deserved. This is just a sad day. He was extraordinary gifted and unselfish professional. I will miss him."

Former county manager Will Sullivan called Balkcum an "honorable and upfront" person. Sullivan also had praise for Balkcum's service on the Economic Development Commission -- the forerunner of the Wayne County Development Alliance.

"I always had a lot of admiration for Vassie," Sullivan said. "You always sort of knew where he was at and what he was thinking. He was really just a good fellow. He was a good businessman and made good, business-like decisions."

Former county commissioner D.J. Pelt echoed those sentiments.

"Vassie was a good person for Wayne County," Pelt said. "He participated in a lot of things. Sometimes we didn't always agree, but I knew that his thinking and his heart were on the right side whether it agreed with mine or not.

"I really appreciate people like him."