HOUSTON – Robin Mathis will be the first to say Houston has been good to him.
Mathis and his brother co-founded WCPC radio station in 1955 and though he sold the station several years ago, Mathis, 83, still shows up at the red-brick building on old Highway 15 in Houston five days a week.
“Radio is a people-oriented business and I love people,” said Mathis. “It’s been work – a lot of hard work – but it’s always been a lot of fun.”
And the people Mathis has met range from presidents and politicians to Nashville stars and local talent.
Robin was born in rural Chickasaw County between Houlka and Van Vleet. His father Lacy Mathis farmed and that meant the boys were in the field early and stayed late.
“We went to school in Houlka and I later went to Mississippi State and majored in agronomy,” said Mathis. “I worked my way through college on a .35-cent an hour job sweeping the library and experimental station and taking mail around campus.”
But it was a stint in the U.S. Air Force that got Mathis into radio.
“When I entered the service the captain said the tests showed I had an ‘interest’ in electronics,” said Mathis. “They sent me to Keesler AFB for initial training and then it was off to Japan as a second lieutenant.”
Mathis’ brother Ralph landed a job with South Central Bell and also did a tour in the military.
“He and I saved every penny we could knowing we wanted to build a radio station,” said Mathis. “We had help, but the only money we borrowed from the bank came after we opened and we used it for operating capital.”
WCPC 1320 AM went on the air at 6 a.m., Oct. 21, 1955 with a 200 foot tower and 1,000-watts. The call letters stand for Webster, Chickasaw, Pontotoc and Calhoun counties – the station’s initial coverage area.
Mathis and his brother fanned out over the community gathering news, selling advertising and putting people “on the air.”
“We loved it,” Mathis said. “I always tell people we were playing and having fun.”
In the late 1950s WCPC covered elections, sports, grand openings and local events and they did it live. Crop reports for farmers, weather for mothers getting kids ready for school, national business news and of course music that everyone could enjoy.
“I always call our style ‘general programing,’” said Mathis. “We played country, gospel and also rhythm and blues.”
And the people Mathis met reads like a who’s who list of recording artists.
“Tammy Wynette’s first radio appearance was on WCPC as a teenage girl from Tremont,” said Mathis. “Some of Johnny Cash’s earliest appearances were booked and promoted by WCPC.”
Bobbie Gentry, the Pilgrim Jubilees and Jimmy Gilreath also were heavily backed by WCPC. Local talent with a local following included James Mask, Carolyn Taylor, Mac Banks, Buck & Buddy, Jimmy Roby and Clayton Taylor.
And they also did live entertainment.
“Every Sunday afternoon we had ‘The Open House Show,’” said Mathis. “Anyone could come into the studio and sing or play an instrument on the radio. The show got to be so popular we even had a live audience that showed up to enjoy the music.”
Two young girls from Bruce, Shirley and Carolyn Carol – The Carol Sisters – became favorites of the radio station.
The girls also caught the eye of Robin Mathis and his engineer J.B. Skelton. Mathis would end up marrying Shirley and Skelton married Carolyn.
“Shirley and I got married in a ceremony that we aired live right here in this studio,” said Mathis with a grin. “We’ve been entertaining each other ever since.”
And the radio station boomed.
WCPC went to 50,000-watts in 1964 and was Mississippi’s first “clear channel” station covering all of North and Central Mississippi, and portions of Alabama and Tennessee.
“And at sunrise and sunset that signal would skip around the world,” said Mathis. “I’ve gotten letters from Italy and Australia from people who have heard our station.”
And again Mathis said it all goes back to people talking or singing to people over this medium called radio.
And broadcasting has allowed Mathis to stand in the Oval Office with President Jimmy Carter. To shake hands and develop relationships with Bob Dole, Bill Clinton and Patrick Buchanan.
“We have always tried to be one of the people,” said Mathis. “We know our listeners, our advertisers and our community. They are who we are.”
Mathis sold the station to Wilkins Communications Network of Spartanburg, S.C., five years ago. Houston’s Chris Hester is the station manager. Mathis still sells advertising and covers local ribbon cuttings and sports events.
In 1989 Mathis was the second recipient of the University of Mississippi’s Silver Mike, the state’s highest honor in broadcasting. He served at a trustee on the Radio and Television Committee of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
Mathis has also served as President of the Houston School Board. He is an active member of First Baptist Church, Houston Exchange Club and is on the Boy Scouts Pushmataha Council Executive Committee.
“Houston has been good to me,” said Mathis. “I’m still trying to give a little something back.”