By RICK NOLTE
Waycross Journal-Herald Staff Writer
For as long as Bill Shanks can remember, being a sports broadcaster is all he ever wanted to do.
“That was it,” the Waycross native said. “Be involved in sports and broadcasting.”
The phrase, “livin’ the dream” is tossed out by many to peg their life, but for Shanks, it’s true.
Before he hit his teens, Shanks was on the radio reporting high school schools. He was doing color commentary on radio broadcasts of local high school football before he could drive and had a weekly sports talk show shortly thereafter.
All that was in well before he graduated in 1988 with the last class at Southwood High School. Fast forward more than 30 years and Shanks is back on the radio in his hometown.
But this time as owner of Shanks Broadcasting, a company of 11 radio stations whose signals stretch from north of Macon to the Georgia coast in Savannah and Brunswick, and everywhere in between. His properties in this area are WFNS-AM 1350 and Wz53CI FM-98.5 in Blackshear/Waycross.
The acquisition of the local stations as well as two in Brunswick and two others in Savannah came late last month. “The Bill Shanks Show” and the company’s ESPN-based programming, went on the air two weeks ago.
“This is a thrill to do it in my hometown,” Shanks said last week. “To be able to come back on the radio there, it’s still kind of hard to believe.”
Shanks was speaking after finishing his 3 to 7 p.m. show at W226BZ FM-93.1 in Macon, the company’s base of operations. He acquired that station and went on the air June 1, 2016, and the operation has been expanding in South Georgia since.
Before the most recent acquisitions from Southern Media Interactive, Shanks’ holdings were on the FM dial in Montezuma/Warner Robins, Fort Valley, Pinehurst/Perry and Rochelle.
The conglomerate is dubbed “The SuperStations” and features programming centered on the state’s professional and college teams. The company holds broadcast rights for the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks as well as Georgia Southern football.
Shanks had no idea a family tie and willing staffers at the old Journal-Herald would be the beginning of his broadcast career. His mother, Charlotte Williams, was a high school classmate of the late Roger Williams, owner and publisher of the newspaper. She asked if her son could visit the paper when the sports section with all the high school football game reports was being prepared for print.
Gary Griffin, the paper’s sports editor at the time, quickly sensed the youngster’s passion for sports and gave Shanks’ his broadcast start.
“Bill was about 12 and he wanted to ‘job shadow’ on a Saturday morning,” recalled Griffin, who was managing editor of the newspaper when it closed on September 30, 2019. “He was just a sports nut all the way around.”
At that time, and until the former Journal-Herald closed, Griffin provided news/sports reports for a local radio station after finishing the newspaper pages.
“At noon, after we put the paper to bed, I’d call WACL and phone in the news, and it was live,” Griffin said. “So I let him read the high school football scores on the air. For him, it was a huge thrill.”
Added Shanks: “That’s where it started, the old Journal-Herald. I have Roger and Gary to thank. They were very kind to let me do everything.”
Shanks then provided reports for the paper on Southwood athletics and later had a column in the newspaper.
“He was a very good writer,” Griffin said of Shanks, author of the book “Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way to Build a Winning Team” who currently has a column appearing in state newspapers.
Shanks moved from scores as a middle schooler to radio broadcasts on WACL of Waycross Bulldogs football. He then had a weekly sports talk show on WWUF 97.7, “Sports Monday with Bill Shanks” that debuted on June 16, 1986, with Hawks head coach Mike Fratello as his first guest.
“Thirty-six years later I have my own show again in my hometown,” Shanks said.
In between, Shanks received degrees from Waycross College and the University of Georgia. His first job as a professional broadcaster came in Brunswick where he was Sports Director of WBSG TV-21 from 1993 to 1995.
Shanks’ 20-minute football highlight show on Friday nights was the station’s highest-rated program during his tenure, he said. From there, he moved to Macon for the same position at WGXA, where he continues to do Friday night highlights on now WMGT.
He moved to radio in March, 2007, in Macon, and started his own radio company nine years later.
He said the expansion to his home area was “a natural” and a long time goal. He said negotiations began earlier this summer with Southern Interactive before coming together last month.
“My knowledge of the area being from Waycross and working for several years in Brunswick made it natural for me when we were in position to do it,” Shanks said. “Even though I haven’t lived their since 1990, it’s home,which is why it’s such a thrill for me.”