For nearly 30 years, Tom Hughes was a morning news fixture on Atlanta radio, most of that time on news/talk 640/WGST-AM.
He left the station in 2006 during a round of budget cutting that also ended the local radio career of Kim “The Kimmer’ Peterson.
Hughes, now 64 and in retirement, spends part of his free time writing books and playing “bad golf,” as he describes it in an interview at the Starbucks at the Edgewood Target Thursday morning.
His first literary efforts were obscure tales about Victorian-era clerical scandals that were only published in the U.K. (Yes, he has very eclectic tastes!) He said they didn’t sell particularly well so he decided to try to do something closer to home: a century-old scandal about an Atlanta woman’s alleged shooting of her husband that became the dominant headline for weeks in all three Atlanta newspapers of the day.
He used the headline from the New York Times as the book title: “Rich Georgian Strangely Shot.” (It’s available on Amazon.com here, though Hughes admits the $45 cover price is a bit steep. The pricing, he noted, was not his idea.)
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He had sifted through old newspapers on microfiche and thought this story was worth chronicling.
“It was a sensational, mismatched lovers, disastrous marriage,” Hughes said, his eyes lighting up. “He ends up shot up in his bedroom in Atlanta’s best neighborhood. He was shot and paralyzed. But he didn’t die immediately. He’d be carried into the courtroom in a stretcher. It was dramatic with bombastic Southern lawyers on both sides in white linen suits in 90 degree heat.”
He could imagine it would make a great movie. “If this happened today, it’d be something Nancy Grace and Greta Van Susteren would be all over it. There’d be satellite trucks up and down the block, forensic experts talking about blood stains.”
Hughes said at the time, the prosecution had to prove the case without testimony from the shot husband. Why? There was a law against a husband testifying against his wife at the time. “Too many husbands would have said stuff to get rid of their wives,” he said.
Why did the wealthy widow want to kill her second husband? “He was a layabout,” Hughes said. “He kept wanting more of her money. During their final argument, he supposedly pulled a gun. They struggled and the gun went off, she said.”
Back in the day, they lacked the forensics to prove if she had actually shot the gun or not. The husband in interviews with the press claimed she had shot and drugged him.
He is already working on another Atlanta scandal book, too.
Hughes and I also waxed nostalgic about radio.
Like most every other WGST expat, he laments that Clear Channel (which is doing major cutbacks nationwide today) dropped the station’s simulcast in 2000 and watched its slow decline through the 2000s. When the station died for good in late September, he said he only felt “sadness. I was associated with it when it built up and rode it through the News Monster days.” He said “it’s the curse of AM radio in the 21st century.” The station’s efforts to return to local talk in 2010 with Rusty Humphries and Rob Johnson “was like charging the enemy guns blazing. It was kind of doomed.”
WGST was very competitive with WSB in the 1990s and many of WSB’s stars (Neal Boortz, Clark Howard, Sean Hannity) came from GST. It’s oddly apropos that WSB nabbed WGST’s most prized asset Rush Limbaugh the minute he was available in late September.
I asked him his thoughts of some of the personalities who were his GST mates for a time:
Boortz: “I liked him because he wasn’t as predictable as people thought he was. He went off the reservation many many times on certain issues. He was a fun guy to work with. In the early days of computers, he’d bring a cart with a computer the size of a microwave at 8:45 a.m. I’d give him a hard time about making so much noise while setting up his arsenal.”
Hannity: “He was this good-looking aggressive kid from Long Island who came from a Huntsville, Ala. station. He was a nice guy but we thought he was a Rush wannabe. Now, I see him on TV every day. He’s the biggest success to come out of the GST stable. He’s a household name. People hate him or love him. He’s unbowed. I remember him standing in my kitchen at the Christmas party. He had a plan. The plan worked for him.”
Howard: “He was on in the afternoons so I didn’t see him much. But he always brought candy at massive discount. There’d be 400 pounds of atomic fire balls!”
Hughes said he feels fortunate he was able to stay in radio for 35 years and was paid a healthy six-figure income by the time he departed. (His salary when he arrived in 1977: $315 a week.) He enjoyed interviewing all sorts of important people over the years such as Jimmy Carter, Maynard Jackson, Newt Gingrich and Saxby Chambliss. He even gabbed with Bill Clinton a couple of times. Biggest jerk? Actor Tom Sizemore. He remembers Sizemore being so disgusted with a question, he told Hughes, “It’s in your notes.”
He hardly listens to the radio much anymore, opting for 790/The Zone in the mornings and a Braves game here and there, when he’s in town. (He spends part of the year now at a summer home on Long Island, where his wife Kathy is originally from.) He hasn’t even given the new All News 106.7 station a try yet. “I’m in the demographic,” he said, “nobody cares about.