Bob Howell

I got to thinking the other day ... which is a dangerous thing for me to do. I was looking back on the celebrities I had met over my years in the TV business ...  specifically, singers and musicians.

So, here goes with a look back a sampling of the personalities I encountered along the way.

Growing up, I was a big fan of the comedian/singer who was born Harold Ray Ragsdale on January 24, 1939 over in Clarksdale, Georgia. You know him as Ray Stevens. His TV career began with several appearances on the Andy Williams Show in the late '60s.

Ray came to Ozark in the early '70s, appearing at the Ozark Convention Center. I took my wife, Paula, with me to see his performance and to tape an interview session with him. The most memorable aspect of getting to meet him was how genuinely shy he seemed. He was soft spoken, too, in stark contrast with the recording star that gave us novelty songs like "Ahab the Arab," the "Streak" and other hits.

When the city of Dothan held its grand-opening of its new Civic Center, one of the guests of honor was Bobby Goldsboro. I interviewed him for the WTVY news at 6 p.m. 

It didn’t take long to figure out that the folks in Dothan claimed Bobby as a Dothan native, although he was born in Marianna, Florida and lived there until he was 15. Bobby was with the Webs band in Dothan after high school and toured with Roy Orbison about that same time. After the Webs, Bobby went out on his own solo career and had a long list of hits which began with "See The Funny Little Clown." He had five more Top-40 hits before he struck gold with his smash hit "Honey," which spent 15 weeks on the Billboard chart ... five at No. 1. That was followed by "The Bobby Goldsboro Show" on TV. Quite a string of accomplishments, I’d say.

If I asked you to tell me the stage name of singer Thomas John Woodward, what would you say? Here are a couple of hints. He had 19 Top-40 hits between 1965 and 1994. He never had a No.1 hit on the U.S. charts. I’m talking about Sir Tom Jones. Yep, the Welchman with the powerful voice and a way with the women who showed up for his concerts. 

As soon as word got out that Tom Jones was coming to the Montgomery Civic Center in the mid-'70s, I let it be known that I wanted to do an interview with him. I was taken aback when I saw the reaction to the news from many of the women at the television station. They acted like school girls who wanted Tom Jones to be their homecoming prom date.

The guys around the newsroom wanted me to settle a long-standing myth that Jones was a short guy ... maybe 5’6” at the best. I was 6’2” so I was the perfect candidate to verify this rumor — for once and for all.

I remember waiting for Jones to make his way into the interview room. I must admit, in photos and on TV, he appeared to be the type of man who could intimidate even the most seasoned interviewer. 

The bottom line: when he walked into the room and I stood next to him to shake hands the bubble was burst ... he was within an inch or two of being as tall as me. I don’t think he was wearing built-up shoes, either. He was pleasant, answering all the same questions he was asked at every stop on the tour. 

The concert came off just as Tom predicted in our interview ... no different from the show you’d see in Las Vegas or any other famous setting. I walked out of the interview room thinking to myself “What a first class showman.”

While on summer break from college during the summer of 1967, I worked part-time for Montgomery’s WHHY radio. During that time, I had the pleasure of spending part of an afternoon with the band called the Buckinghams from Chicago. Talk about a great group of guys. They talked with me like I was one of the boys. 

They even invited me back to their motel room where they were working on a song to include in an upcoming show.  They recorded promos that I used on the air that went something like this: “This is Nicky of the Buckinghams. Whenever we’re in Montgomery, we listen to Bob Shane (my on-air name) on WHHY.” That was like gold to me.

There was another “must do” interview I went out on while at WSFA-TV ... and the entertainer might surprise you. It was Chet Atkins, one of the best guitarists in the world.  

He and his band were setting up for their sound check when we arrived for the interview.  I remember Chet as being gracious and accommodating for the questions from this non-guitarist. I remember asking if he thought it was possible for an instrumentalist to have a hit song. He quickly replied “no” and went on to explain why. Again, I feel fortunate to have shared a part of one afternoon with this revered icon of the music business.

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