The Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame recently announced longtime Lebanon radio personality Coleman Walker will be included in the organization’s 2021 induction class, placing him among the state’s most elite radio personalities.
“It’s really an honor and there are probably a lot of people like me who have worked a long time with one radio station and it’s probably a bunch of us that could be considered for that reason,” Walker said. “It’s definitely an honor and I accept and appreciate it. I’m very thankful.”
Walker joins a group of high-profiled radio personalities in the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame, including Mike Keith, Gerry House and Bill Barry.
“To be mentioned in the same breath as them is kind of overwhelming,” he said.
Walker’s career in radio spans 60 years, starting Feb. 12, 1961, when he was 21. Walker admits if he had his way, his radio career would have ended in the late 1980s as the station was subject to an absent owner and faced an industry decline in AM radio.
“When I walked out of here the end of March in ’89, I wanted to forget everything I knew about radio and I thought I’d never be back or didn’t have any aspirations to. I just wanted to make a living and do it in a little bit easier way,” said Walker, who turned to insurance sales before then-new WANT/WCOR owner Susie James contacted him about doing an hourlong show on the station.
“I thought it was all over until Susie,” he said. “We’ve been doing ‘Coleman and Company’ since October of 1993.”
The show runs weekdays from 7-8 a.m. on WCOR (1490 AM) and WANT (98.9 FM).
His inaugural show featured former Lebanon Mayor Bobby Jewell, former Wilson County Executive Don Simpson and Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings. Walker has welcomed thousands of guests since 1993 to his broadcast, where he questions mayors, councilors, business leaders and community organizers about the happenings of Wilson County.
“I think it’s been a phenomenal success. We have our advertisers and our guests, and it’s all local. Really, I think what we offer, as far as radio goes, is something you can’t get anywhere else,” Walker said. “I certainly appreciate their willingness to come out and be a part of it.”
Walker likened his show to the “Ed Sullivan Show” and said the numerous guests are why people tune in.
“I didn’t turn my TV on to see Ed Sullivan, but I did it on to see who he had on. I think my program kind of works like that, too. People don’t turn on my show to hear me,” he said. “They want to hear my guest and learn about what’s going on it the county.”
One frequent guest is Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, who said Walker’s voice resonates in Wilson County as much as sports announcers John Ward and Larry Munson.
“When you hear those voices, you know who they are. It’s the same way with Coleman,” Hutto said. “People rely on him in the morning to hear about what’s going on in our county. It’s easy to ride into work and listen to Coleman to find out the latest and what’s happening. He’s definitely an icon around here.”
Hutto said Walker has the ability to probe his guest while maintaining a relaxed, friendly program.
“When he interviews you, he always gets a little more of the story, kind of like Paul Harvey. He didn’t just cover the basics. He always dug in there. His voice is easy, in my mind, to listen to,” he said.
James said the friendship with Walker was one of the greater unexpected rewards with owning the radio stations.
“We don’t always agree but he’s like a big brother. He’s consistent professional discussions with members of our community has truly made him a legend,” James said. “I’m so proud that he will be recognized for his talents by being inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.”
Walker, a 1958 Lebanon High School graduate, said he enjoys gardening his tomatoes, golf, fishing and the Cincinnati Reds in his life away from the station. Walker was also responsible for the Reds being broadcast on the station’s airways for about eight years during the 1970s when the team featured Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez.
“They were my team and I happened to go to a game one time and had seen a picture of the director of broadcasting. As we went into the gate, there he was. I went over and introduced myself and told him that we might be interested in doing it, and the rest is history,” he said. “If a Reds game is on, I’m most likely keeping up with it if I’m not watching it.”
Walker also enjoys spending time at the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center and karaoke with his wife, Helen, who he admits is the better singer. Walker said his favorite songs to perform include Jim Reeves’ “Four Walls” and George Burns’ “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again.”
Walker said he also enjoy spending time with his family, including the couples’ three sons, Clark, Brian and Mike, and his grandchildren.
The 2021 Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame induction ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, July 31 at 6 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro.
As far as retirement, Walker said he doesn’t see a need to step away from the station at this point.
“I don’t see any need to. This gets me up in the morning and I get to sit here and talk to somebody for an hour and at 8 o’clock, I’m through with radio for the day,” he said.