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Catching up with Tom Hughes, former WGST morning man, who has written a book

Former WGST morning man Tom Hughes shows off his book "Rich Georgian Strangely Shot," chronicling a lurid century-old Atlanta real-life tale. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Former WGST morning man Tom Hughes shows off his book "Rich Georgian Strangely Shot," chronicling a lurid century-old Atlanta real-life tale. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

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.)

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.

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26 comments Add your comment

NoShamSam

December 7th, 2012
8:44 am

Tom Hughes, you were one of the best news guys on Atlanta radio for so long…miss you a lot. Good luck in your retirement.

Jim

December 7th, 2012
8:46 am

Need you back, Tom Hughes! 750/WSB has gone off the deep end except for Clark. All News 106.7 is a refreshing change. But liked you on GST.

Kelly McCoy

December 7th, 2012
9:07 am

“The King’! Always has been…always will be.

Phillip

December 7th, 2012
9:08 am

Tom Hughes is first class all the way. One of the all time greats.

bob from smyrna

December 7th, 2012
9:09 am

Yes, we need you back. With 5 million residents in the metro area, the major news station needs competition. And that major player is mostly talk, talk, talk and republican that I am, it is very unbalanced. Tom gave us the news, great interviews, knowledge about the ATL and had no match as an anchor. Best wishes to Tom Hughes and thanks for his efforts to provide Atlantans with real news.

Robert Wildes

December 7th, 2012
9:17 am

Tom Hughes was the first person I recall listening on WGST when I returned to Atlanta in 1985.
He was a giant and Atlanta radio is much poorer without him.

jd

December 7th, 2012
9:18 am

Tom, the King! Emailed several times, he always wrote back, met him in person, genuinely nice guy. So intelligent, funny, great news personality! Huge mistake letting him go. I would lock 640 back into my dial if they brought back Tom and the Kimmer

Oxwinkle

December 7th, 2012
9:21 am

Just ordered the book! When will The KING have a signing for the book in Atlanta?

Listening to All News 106.7, it’s evident that many of the anchors were influenced by Tom “THE KING” Hughes which is a true testament to his professionalism.

KimmerRocks

December 7th, 2012
9:34 am

During a former corporate communications life, I dealt with Tom frequently on air and off for nearly 10 years. A gentleman, and perhaps the best radio voice and personna Atlanta ever had.

Hope he’s enjoying retirement…and bring back the Kimmer.

Woodpappy

December 7th, 2012
9:41 am

Tom Hughes, would love to get together with you on a book that needs to be written.. Miss you on the radio.

Kneal

December 7th, 2012
9:59 am

Tom Hughes was one of the best! His humor while reporting the news made conservative talk radio palatable. When he left WGST I stopped listening to their morning news all together. I’m not suprised they’re totally gone now.

Richard Nelson

December 7th, 2012
10:06 am

‘Thinking about you yesterday and what you have been up to. Six years gone from the airways and your unique approach to broadcasting is still greatly missed.

CP from SWGa

December 7th, 2012
10:45 am

Loved Tom, the Kimmer and WGST back in the glory days. With the holidays approaching, does anyone else remember the Kimmer Show’s 100,000 watt George’s horrible, terribly funny rendition of “O Holy Night”?

Kat

December 7th, 2012
10:49 am

Tom “The King” (trumpets blare) Hughes – one of the all-time greats of Atlanta radio. I met him at the IHOP on Ponce de Leon (when it was not a Chinese restaurant). He was professional, endearing, and immensely likable. Not a bad word to say about him; probably because he doesn’t talk poorly about others.

GoaskBK

December 7th, 2012
11:02 am

Miss the Kimmer….herp ho herp ho…and Wayne No Offense…and the Glorious Leslie Dove….etc etc….

Those guys made afternoon drive time bearable….

RIP WGST…and glad to hear “The King” is alive and well…

Barackisha

December 7th, 2012
11:25 am

Tom Hughes was a fixture on Atlanta AM radio for ages, very good at what he did and very easy to listen to. Wish he’d come out of retirement and get back into the business.

People forget what a force WGST was at one time. It was on par with, some would’ve said better than, WSB. I believe the main reason for their demise was weak signal strength, after sundown most days you couldn’t hear them out in the burbs.

Charon Eve

December 7th, 2012
11:30 am

Tom you were The King. I looked forward to your morning broadcasts and hoped you would find another AM radio home. Please schedule a book signing and I’ll try to afford the $45. Thanks for all the great work during your career.

RGB

December 7th, 2012
1:16 pm

Intelligence + Humor + Personality = Tom Hughes.

Tom, no one equaled you–and today still, no one does.

It’s quite sad that when I (now accidentally) push my 640 car radio pre-set I hear Spanish gobbledygook. That the radio station geniuses couldn’t continue to prosper with Tom Hughes speaks volumes about them.

Those guys made a sow’s ear out of a silk purse.

Good health and Merry Christmas Tom!

Highlander

December 7th, 2012
1:40 pm

Most of what I was going to say has already been said by everyone above, dammit!

I hope the executives at Clear Channel who were successful running GST into the ground are happy. Yeah, 640 always had a weak signal at night, but during the day, Tom, “the king,” in the morning and the Kimmer in the afternoon were the shyte.

The Kimmer

December 7th, 2012
4:40 pm

Tom Hughes – THE KING!!!

Bullwinkle J. Moose

December 7th, 2012
4:46 pm

The KING said it best on November 21, 2006 when he closed his final broadcast with words from the chorus of a World War II song:

“Until we meet once again, you and I, wish me luck, as you wave me goodbye.”

640AM and 105.7FM

December 7th, 2012
7:09 pm

Best morning news host in Atlanta, EVER. Never verbose or shrill, never just a time and temp guy, just the facts with loads of warmth and personality.

tc

December 7th, 2012
10:21 pm

Back in the 80’s WGST had the best lineup of any station. Forrest Sawyer and Dennis O’Hayer, Tom Houck, Tammy Lloyd just to name a few. I miss Tom and the great station Atlanta had. WSB has turned into an all day Obama hating station. The only hosts worth listening to are Clark and Adam Goldfeind, and they put them on late at night.

Mary Jo Peed

December 10th, 2012
12:07 am

Everyone knows what a great radio man Tom Hughes is but who knew he was a wonderful writer as well. This book is great read – Hughes does a great job of describing Daisy, Gene, the lawyers and how Atlanta looked in 1912. Now, on my daily walk that takes me past 11th St. I can truly visualize Gene lying sprawled on the bed with a gunshot in his chest – did Daisy do it? I can’t wait to get to the verdict!

Meg Burns

December 11th, 2012
10:47 am

What an historian–digging deep into intriguing (and sordid?!) relationships— Tom Hughes shows us that murder, intrigue and lifestyles of the poor rich are steeped here in our own hometown, Atlanta.

Reading Fool

December 13th, 2012
11:58 am

I actually read the book. It’s a solid account of a pretty salacious scandal-shooting for the time. Learned a lot about the Atlanta of day’s of yore. Tom’s right – it would make a great movie.